04 October 2010

Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 4

The following is the conclusion of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

What steps can be taken to combat the problems that I’ve outlined here?

First and foremost, every musicologist (and ethnomusicologist and theorist) who is involved with graduate education can (and should, on ethical grounds) make every effort to reverse the overproduction of Ph.Ds. This will not be easy for those of you (a large proportion, I expect) who are under strong pressure to have at least a few graduate students to protect your department and faculty lines from the depredations of administration. The AMS, for its part, can make a very clear public statement about the problem, which is the structural basis for all the other issues that I’ve introduced here.

Second, it is essential to provide opportunities for those who believe they have been wronged or who have witnessed abuse to have a forum where they can speak out without fear of reprisal or destroying their own careers, and procedures must be developed to allow those who have been wronged to take appropriate action, again without fear of reprisal, both through institutional and legal channels. I have recently pondered whether it might be possible to set up a website similar to Wikileaks[1](which, as many of you will know, provides an outlet for the online publication of documents that vested interests wish to suppress). Perhaps this is something AMS can consider, or perhaps it is best set up as an independent entity. Various obvious problems would need to be worked out: most importantly, it is essential that such a site not become an outlet for anonymous unsubstantiated accusations. But it is nevertheless essential that those who are afraid to speak out be provided a voice.

Third, ways must be found to allow more accountability and transparency in hiring and review. This will be difficult, because the current system is very deeply entrenched and its secrecy jealously guarded, at least in part out of fear of legal action. Most of you reading this will probably feel that you do your best to maintain integrity and objectivity when involved with searches. But if you look deeply into your hearts, I think you will realize that perhaps you, too, sometimes put applications in the reject pile because of the applicant’s age, the school the applicant graduated from, or unsubstantiated rumors you may have heard over cocktails at national AMS.

Fourth, it is high time that someone or some organization began to keep objective and comprehensive statistics about graduate education and employment in the field. How many students are entering graduate programs, how many become candidates, and how many complete their Ph.Ds.?  What is the employment state of graduates after six months? After two years? After five? As with the legal profession (see note 2 in Part 1 of this essay), it should be a requirement for departments to provide accurate and timely information on the employment of their graduates to a central authority on a regular basis. Perhaps this central authority could be AMS, or perhaps a new independent organization.

A rumor has gotten back to me that I have “left the field,” which came as a surprise to me; I’ve never said it (and frankly, no one has asked). It’s true that I feel that the field has left me, and it became clear that it was foolish (as well as economically impossible) for me to continue to make scholarly and intellectual contributions to the field for free.

But I have a very large basket of relevant skills and experience, and I’m still more than happy to entertain any and all reasonable offers.

This is the concluding part of the essay "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"


[1] This essay was written long before Wikileaks unleashed a media firestorm by publishing a large cache of documents on the Iraq war. As of the date of publication of this essay, Wikileaks is offline, "under[g]oing scheduled maintenance."
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1 comment:

  1. Es ist eine alte Geschichte, doch bleibt sie immer neu, und wem sie just passieret, dem bricht das Herz entzwei...

    You probably won't welcome Heine's irony (and with all sincerity I find it very depressing that someone whose work I greatly respect finds himself in this situation), but in at least one way it rings true: when there is such an oversupply of PhDs (and frankly even when there isn't), there will be anomalies and injustices. Those that result from malice or egotism are clearly wrong, but some are the result of search committees looking out for legitimate interests that don't necessarily jive with the absolute meritocracy you raise as the standard for hiring. In an environment of tenure, decreasing numbers of faculty lines, and increased workloads, "Will this person fit in here" or "will this person be good for this institution" are relevant questions, and the answers often cannot be determined from the number of publications on the CV. Not every university job requires a world-class scholar--in fact there are many university jobs that seem designed to make miserable anyone who is or would like to become a world-class scholar. But let's face it -- there are now so many qualified candidates that chance plays a large role in all searches.

    Restricting the number of PhDs? Centralized hiring by dispassionate experts who assign jobs with impeccable judgment and fairness? "Eitel schaum," to quote Heine again.

    I will say that in my experience a faculty union and robust shared governance offer the promise of a fairer process of evaluation, tenure, and promotion. Sadly the likelihood that faculty unions will blossom around the US also seems like a dream "aus alten Märchen."