So I’m active on LinkedIn.  I try to keep social media down to the essentials, but you never know when opportunity might rap its knuckles next to your shingle.  When LinkedIn began they ran the warning that you should only connect with people you actually knew, since people can say bad things about you and hurt your job prospects.  Since that kept me down to about a dozen connections (many academics, being secure with tenure, don’t bother with LinkedIn), I eventually followed the advice of a wise friend and accepted invitations from people I didn’t know because, as he pointed out, they might be the ones with jobs to offer.  That made sense.  There is a flip-side to it, however, and that is people think I have work to offer.  I don’t.  At my job I have no hiring capacity whatsoever.  (I can feel the links being broken even as I write this.)

The vast majority of people who contact me on LinkedIn want something from me.  They obviously don’t read this blog.  (See paragraph above.)  Many people send me messages wanting me to publish their books.  Editors, my dear and gentle readers, work in specific disciplines.  No one contacting me on LinkedIn has written a book about the Bible, although my profile indicates that’s my gig.  And besides, many companies, including mine, have policies against doing business over social media.  I often think of this because the book business is easily researched.  There’s a ton of information both online and on shelf about how to get published.  Messaging someone on LinkedIn is not recommended.

Writing a book takes a lot of effort.  I know, because I’ve done it a number of times.  If you’re going to put years into doing something, it pays to spend at least a few minutes learning about how the publishing industry works.  I made rookie mistakes in my younger days, of course.  But that led me to learn about publishing even before I had a job in the industry.  Quite apart from my job, I freely admit to being a book nerd.  And publishing, despite its many problems, is an inherently fascinating industry.  Although I’ve had academic books accepted for publication, I still struggle getting my fiction to press (I have had short stories published, but my novels remain unread).  I won’t contact other publishers I know through LinkedIn, though.  I’d rather have it be a personal experience whether it’s acceptance or rejection.  And that’s something social media just can’t replicate.

The PhD Supply and Demand Crisis

As a special treat, I am presenting a guest blog post by Sofia Rasmussen. This is an issue very relevant to readers of this blog. Enjoy!

The PhD Supply and Demand Crisis
By Sofia Rasmussen

It is traditionally believed that getting a higher education is the key to gaining successful employment. So it is not surprising that the number of students earning a doctorate degree, either through a traditional or online PhD program, is at an all-time high. However, with the economy struggling and job growth crawling, many job seekers with PhDs are having difficulty finding full time employment. The overabundance of doctorate holders has created a supply and demand crisis in the academic job market leaving highly trained PhD graduates looking for employment in other fields and often accepting lower wages. This crisis is effecting the university education system, PhDs and the economy as a whole as the nation’s brightest are unable to reach their fullest potential.

With the economic crash of 2008, the United States government was forced to make severe budget cuts to the university and education system. As a result, universities are unable to offer the same tenure track positions that were previously available to PhD holders. And although many doctorate students are being recruited for their research abilities, those abilities do not translate into full time positions once they earn their degree. Instead, tenure positions are being replaced by underpaid adjunct positions and recent PhD graduates are left struggling to find employment in the academic sector.

The supply and demand crisis for academic positions has had a profound effect on recent PhD graduates entering into the job market – there is a huge deficit in available jobs for PhDs. From 2008-2009, 100,000 new doctorate degrees were awarded while only 16,000 new professorships became available.

PhD graduates are left looking for employment in non-academic sectors. This is creating additional employment challenges for recent doctoral graduates since many non-academic positions do not require a PhD and many hiring managers are reluctant to hire overqualified candidates who would require higher salaries. This leaves many new PhD graduates in jobs unrelated to their academic expertise and making significantly less money than they would in an academic position. So what is being done to combat this employment tragedy?

Sadly, not enough is being done on the part of the American government and universities to quell the PhD job crisis. Free research in the form of graduate students motivates many universities to admit an increasing number of doctorate students every year. However, in response to the growing budget cuts to the university systems, many universities are cutting academic positions, leaving nowhere for PhD graduates to go for relevant employment. Between 2008 and 2011 there were 35% fewer assistant professorships offered in Sociology and 39% fewer assistant professorships offered in Political Science. In addition, for the 2011 fiscal year, funds for higher education where cut by $1.2 billion; and cuts are expected to reach $5 billion this year. With more budget cuts to universities and fewer endowments for students, the government is making little effort to expand academic positions and create more jobs for PhDs.

The PhD supply and demand crisis not only effects those who have earned a PhD, but it effects the university system and economy as a whole. As tenure track positions are being replaced by adjunct assignments, PhD graduates are forced to look elsewhere for employment. This drives the most talented PhDs away from the university system and leaves university instruction lacking.

This is a disservice to college students who are not getting the best education and entering in to the job market without having received the best training in their field. The economy is further affected as highly qualified people are unable to be adequately compensated for the skills, more graduates are unable to pay back student loans and less students are motivated to pursue a graduate education.

As the gap between the number of PhD holders and academic positions for PhD holders widens, more and more talented researches and scientists will continue to leave the academic sector in search of more lucrative careers. This leaves universities in need of talented professors and doctorates in need of relevant work. As the economy slowly recovers, more academic positions will become available but the mass discrepancy between academic positions and qualified candidates will only decrease significantly by increasing university funding and academic endowments for students.

Conversation with Solomon

“The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for, not by labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in his infinite wisdom has given control of the property interests of the country,” wrote George Baer of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company. In 1902. Along with Melville I’ve been thinking about old Ecclesiastes and his gloomy prognostications. The writer of this neglected book of the Bible claimed that nothing was new under the sun; what is has been before. I read the quote above in David DeKok’s Fire Underground (on which more later). I thought of Occupy Wall Street and the supposed great wisdom of the “Christian men” that God “himself” has appointed to towers of wealth for our benefit. As long as we keep our mouths shut and our hind-quarters out of Zuccotti Park. The data, Old Solomon, I must admit, are depressing. The staggering wealth of the top one percent is beyond unconscionable. Solomon? Are you still listening? After all, as one of the Lord’s chosen, Solomon was also a king. In his day, according to the book of Kings, silver was as common as the dust in the streets. Is that rain, or just drool from the towers of power?

Old Ecclesiastes said the more that things change, the more they stay the same. He also inspired the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn.” As a society we have become reluctant to turn. Where did all that wealth go, Solomon? Did it not go to the temple and the palace? Seems there was a Religious Right even back then. As soon as Solomon died the common folk revolted. The chosen people split into two kingdoms that were never again reunited. Turn, turn, turn. The Christian men to whom God has given control have abandoned their posts. They’ve taken the cash and shared with their friends. Yes, America has kings. When the disparity is so great no other name applies.

“Cast your bread upon the waters,” Old Ecclesiastes says, “and it will come back to you in time of want.” I doubt that Solomon was ever unemployed. After working for “the Christian men” for over a decade, I was cast out on the waters, never to return. My stint of unemployment wavered in and out for six years. And I am one of the lucky ones. In that time I don’t recall feeling any wealth trickling down. I sure spent a lot getting the requisite degrees for a job that never materialized. So I sit down to read Ecclesiastes. Those who are addicted to wealth and power simply never took the words of the old sage to heart. We can excuse them, I suppose, since most clergy ignore him as well. When in need of some honesty, it is nice to know there’s a book in the Bible that is unafraid to utter the truth.

Step in Time

Magical blingdom

Mary Poppins is one of my wife’s favorite childhood movies. I first saw it in college and, being a parent, have seen it many times since then. Now when I walk through Times Square I see it is playing at the New Amsterdam Theater, and if I time it right I can hear bits of the musical on my way to the Port Authority after work. As is normal in the universe according to Disney, nothing is really ever seriously wrong in the London of 1910. Troublesome children are doing nothing more than chasing a kite and attempting to connect with an emotionally distant father. Even when he loses his job, Banks merely suffers an inverted umbrella and a punched hat. Joblessness lasts for only a day. Everybody sings. When we watched the movie again recently I considered how such an escape is healthy for those of us accustomed to a somewhat harsher adult existence. Joblessness is often long-term and desperation reeks as we find ourselves distanced from that which defines our existence.

Mary Poppins represents a divine figure in the Disney universe. She comes down from the heavens during a troubled period of history, judiciously utilizes a bit of magic, and heals the broken-hearted. When things go bad, Mary Poppins is there to make them right again, even on her day off. She shows the cold-hearted world of business that there is a better way. Who would you rather be—George Banks or the Bird Lady? Who is happier?

“All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles,” saintly Mary sings, “look down as she sells her wares. And although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling each time someone shows that he cares.” Where are the saints and apostles of Wall Street? Instead the optimistic view of humanity plays itself out on Broadway where the intensity of humankind spans from homeless beggar to movie star. Fantasy is underrated. Our minds have evolved the capacity to allow us to escape the realities of suffering, disappointment, and angst. When a week of trouble and turmoil has held us in its grip, we may still escape to the magical kingdom of our choice to find bread and circuses. Mary Poppins does not condemn the greed of Mr. Dawes and the rich die laughing. It is difficult not to like Mary Poppins, the angelic symbol of care that doesn’t disrupt the system. And Disney will see no end to its place among the wealthiest families on earth. It is a small world, after all.

Fear Itself

Who you gonna call?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” These bold words from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address could just as readily be applied to religion. Frequent readers of this blog will have no doubt noticed the recurring references to horror films and the occasional scary novel. Aside from everyday fears, (such as yesterday’s when I learned that my summer course, my only source of income for next month, had been cancelled) there are more deeply seated phobias that lurk in our subconscious minds. A reasonable conclusion might suggest that this undercurrent of fear is what buoys up the horror movie industry—people really are afraid. Fear is, in the final analysis, the original basis for religion.

Along with the evolution of consciousness, humanity has also acquired the knowledge of uncertainties and troubles ahead. We project to the next day and realize tomorrow is never secure. In desperate hope we beg the higher power for protection. If we were in control of our own destinies, we would not need the gods. Over the course of civilization, there have been luminaries who’ve tried to wrestle religion from the realm of fear into a more pleasing sphere. Jesus, for example, tried to stand religion on the basis of love. Within a couple of decades, however, Paul came along and managed to twist it back into the domain of fear once again. Fear of Roman persecution, fear of Hell, fear of life itself.

Religion is an embodiment of our fears. Many today choose to place their trust in reason and technological development. No doubt these arenas of human endeavor have improved life for many people. Yet, even with our growing global awareness, fear creeps in and we use our technology for weapons to keep us safe. We don’t call it religion any more, but national security, or the defense industry. Or, God help us, the TSA. The end result is the same: we fear more than fear itself. We place our trust in something we can’t fully comprehend. No matter how rational (or unemployed) we become, religion will never go away.

Happy Labors

Labor Day Parade

Just as Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer, Labor Day has become its unofficial end. Unlike holidays that commemorate an event, Labor Day was a planned holiday dating from the 1880s. To get a sense for this, think about the past. Just try to imagine yourself as a worker in the 1880s. There were long hours, a workday did not go from 9 to 5, there were no regular vacations, no protection from injury on the job, often hard labor. This was daily life for many people since the Industrial Revolution began. Labor Unions were the result of exploited (overworked and underpaid) workers banding together. If one guy quits, work goes on. If everyone quits, somebody’s got to listen! So groups of workers formed unions to get organized and to begin to bargain for more appropriate working conditions.

Credit for Labor Day goes to either Peter McGuire or Matthew Maquire. Both men were laborers associated with unions: McGuire with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Maquire with the Central Labor Union (CLU). Whoever actually first suggested it, Maguire’s CLU was behind the first Labor Day in 1882.

It may seem hard to imagine now, what with all the free time people have to sit in front of the computer or television, that there was a time when a day off work could become a national holiday. But on September 5, 1882, the Central Labor Union held its holiday in New York City – the home of many unions. Less than 10 years later, in 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed in the first Monday in September as a legal holiday. Public support ran high for Labor Day, but some favored a May 1 celebration.

As an observance, Labor Day was simply for the enjoyment of a day off. The holiday has a special poignancy given the persistence of unemployment over the past several years. Although Labor Day has no religious basis, the fact is that many of us have been taught that our self-worth lies in our work, our contribution to the good of the whole. For those of us who have been forced into stints of unemployment, Labor Day seems less a holiday than a reminder of what we lack. Have we evolved a society that has outlived the need for a Labor Day?

Catskill Waiting

Catskills epiphany

We’re back from the Catskills and all they imply. One of the more obvious implications was a lack of internet access – one of the many reasons I like to frequent remote locations. I had planned this little get-away with some vague hopes of enlightenment of some kind. The quote from Melville in my last post is more than just nice prose; it is the essence of spiritual striving. I know those aren’t scientific words, but they embody the spirit of several nineteenth century American novelists I’ve read and reread. I did see a Catskill eagle while there, but I returned home still seeking an epiphany.

While briefly away from the constant demands of teaching, the bigger picture starts to come into focus. We visited Ellenville on the day of their Wild Blueberry and Huckleberry Festival – we’d just picked huckleberries ourselves in the mountains outside town – and religious groups were represented aplenty. I had noticed the many churches in this rural region, and one of the feters handed me a tract that informed me “If you have said ‘Yes’ to these three questions [have you ever sinned, lied, or stolen] (by your own admission), you are a lying, thieving, adulterer at heart; and we’ve only looked at three of the Ten Commandments.” And also, John Lennon is dead. Nothing like a little self-righteous judgment with your blueberry pie. Sirens began to blare and a fair-goer collapsed and had to be airlifted to a regional hospital. It was very dramatic.

This is where the big picture came in. When there is an accident, we take astounding measures to save the injured, suffering, or wounded. A fair-goer flown by life-flight to the hospital. At the same time, our society condones, encourages even, an unemployment scenario where even highly trained individuals are cut off from health care and self-esteem as well as income. Left to die a quiet death of desperation. As long as we don’t have to see it, death by redundancy is sanitary and sanctioned. Has this great society ever sinned, lied, or stolen? I have seen that Catskill eagle and I am still awaiting an epiphany.

Prosperity Fail

Every so often I receive unsolicited mailings from impersonal churches intimately addressed to “Resident.” Invariably these churches tell me that God wants me to prosper (although he has a funny way of showing it sometimes), offer to send me some totem to make it possible, and assure me of their general goodwill. Yesterday’s mail brought me a packet from Saint Matthew’s Churches offering to help me become wealthy by receiving a free golden cross just for responding — post paid! — to their offer. Clearly such mailings are intended to target readers down on their luck. Since I’ve been without a full-time job since July, I meet their demographic rather well. My response, however, may not be what they hoped for: I plan to send no money.

I wonder how deeply these prosperity clergy consider the impact of an unemployed individual receiving their vain promises. Sometimes when the under-employed receive such hollow promises it feels like a god-slap. Oh! If only I had been wearing this free cross I wouldn’t have had to suffer such bouts of depression and self-doubt! It was just that simple! And the Holy Bible says so too!

Those of us who’ve tried to make a living of studying the Bible don’t just read the cheery bits. The Bible is full of suffering, despair, and difficulty endured by those who tried to do the right thing. So, in fairness to the spirit of empirical inquiry, I’ve decided to respond to this offer. The control will be the last seventeen years of my professional life, during which prosperity has eluded me. It may take another seventeen years, but if I carry my free cross around, things are sure to turn my way. The accompanying literature says so. I’ll set myself a task in Outlook for 2026 to see if, A. the world hasn’t ended in 2012, and B. the magic golden cross really works.