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From the Letters to the Editor column in the October 2002 Perspectives

The Polymath Professor?

Nicole Herz, October 2002

To the Editor:

I read with great interest the responses—from James W. Cortada and Jonathan Sperber—printed in the May 2002 issue to Lynn Hunt's February 2002 article. There's no denying that a dismal glut pervades the history job market, and that graduate students like myself ought to open ourselves up to nonacademic tracks. My dissertation on the history of photography, for example, could direct me toward any number of nonteaching jobs, if I so desired.

Both Sperber's and Cortada's analyses are eye-opening, but neither of them discussed the most frustrating problem with the job market. The truth is that private and public universities are "saving resources" by employing the smallest number of history professors possible. So, for example, University X will hire a specialist in, say, the Atlantic world, and expect him or her to teach surveys on world history, Western Civ., courses on the Caribbean, the United States, and Africa. The university administration thinks it has a great deal! All that expertise on one salary! But the professor, the undergraduate students, and the "glut" of unemployed graduate students floating around all lose. Meanwhile, the new billion-dollar football stadium goes up . . . .

As for myself, I haven't even finished my dissertation, so I don't write from the bitterness of experience (yet). But when colleges and universities are spreading the real human resources so thin, one has to question the entire economy of the university itself.

—Nicole Herz, University of Virginia