Sarah Kendzior’s Al Jazareera article The closing of American academia has begin a discussion across the blogosphere (see The Conversation Continues) over the bleak prospects of finding a good job after one completes doctoral studies. She is an anthropologist, but as Peter Enns has noted in The Closing of American Academia: More Reality Therapy from Prof. Eeyore…uh…I mean Enns and Your Go-To Source to Get Really Depressed about Jobs in Academia those of us who dreamed of jobs teaching biblical literature, theology, religious studies, or history related to these subjects are facing the same miserable employment prospects. In fact, one article posted on The Daily Kos titled Ph.D. to Food Stamps is written by someone who wanted to teach theology.
Right now I am an idiot. I know that there are no jobs in biblical studies. I know that there are people who are far more intelligent than me who will be fighting for those jobs. I know that being a realist means that I may have to settle for adjunct work if I am going to teach somewhere. As Enns said, once you factor all the data regarding adjunct work and the low pay it offers, “….it begins to sound like you are in a pretty stupid line of work.”
I have filled out one application for doctoral studies and I have begun another. My prospects for the first school are quite positive and it seems like it won’t cost me an arm and a leg to do the program. I have done a BA, a MA, and a ThM and my academic debt is lower than many people who spend one year at major universities. There are three reasons that I have decided to pursue doctoral work although I know there is no guarantee of a full time job in academia when I graduate and even less of a chance at something like a tenured professorship: (1) I have religious reasons for doing it. You can call this a “call” if you’d like to name it something. (2) I sense I have the ability to do it, so may as well enjoy the learning and let the chips fall as they may. (3) My finances are in good shape for a thirty year old with this much education and I think things will get easier when I move to Texas next month. So I don’t feel like I am being a unwise steward with my limited resources.
Also, I am committed to the service of the church so if my main vocation has to do with a local assembly somewhere–pastoring, teaching, administrating, directing education of some sort–I am at peace with that. There are plenty of people who earn a living working for a church who spend $30,000 on a new pick-up truck. I won’t regret spending that money on education and working to my full potential instead.
But I know some people who are academia or bust. As an enrollment counselor at a mid-sized evangelical seminary I have met many people who tell me they want to do a MA or MDIV so that they can get into a doctoral program so that they can become a professor. In their minds it is as simple as the twelve step program they have invented to move them from graduating from college to being teachers in a university. They have no idea about the politics of academia either Sometimes I want to remind them that it is unlikely that the University of Oregon will hire them to teach religion with an MA from Western Seminary, but I don’t. I want to sit them down, look into their eyes, and tell them, “Listen, that may happen, but it is far more likely that you’re going to be an adjunct and it is going to be terrible.” You don’t want to crush dreams, but I know that if every potential student that told me about their plans to teach became full time teachers they would fill about a third of all the employment opportunities in this country! Western Seminary is a great school, but there won’t be that many full time professors coming from here. There won’t be that many coming from Duke or Yale for goodness sake.
Maybe this is good for the local church. I have heard some people say that they’d rather see the education manifest itself from the pulpit rather than the lectern. Maybe! But I fear that my experience has shown that most congregants don’t want more intelligent pastors. They want more caring pastors, more relevant pastors, younger pastors, pastors with better rhetoric, pastors who are dogmatic and make them feel like their Christianity is the pure and true Christianity, but not pastors who have doctorates. It is what it is. Also, I should add, that many of my peers who are fighting the uphill battle toward academia do not want to work for a church. If they end up working for a church they will see themselves as failures and they may be doing it for a paycheck only with their eyes scanning job openings at the local Christian university. I’m not sure that congregations want or need that kind of pastoral care.