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I returned a week ago from the annual academic sea-of-plaid-nerd-fest known as the AAR/SBL meeting—American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature—where I am a member of the latter.

Each year I return home refreshed with some new idea about this and that, but I also bring with me some cynicism (as hard as that is to believe) and even a sense of righteous indignation, as was the case this year.

I had several conversations with people who have had their PhDs for some time and who simply can’t find any teaching job or a financially viable one if they do. And so they are despondent and mourning their “first love,” a life of scholarship and teaching, and moving on to another career so they to support their families and reclaim some dignity.

Folks, there are TOO MANY people out there with earned doctorates in Bible and Theology. There will never be enough jobs to accommodate the numbers. Schools are cutting or downsizing programs, but the PhD conveyor belt keeps moving along at a steady clip as if everything is just peachy.

One problem in all this that needs to be addressed with some urgency is the moral irresponsibility of academic institutions who blissfully offer degrees in fields for which there are no jobs. I lay much of the blame on schools who boast of their top flight PhD programs (whether true or not) and continue to recruit students, but are apparently oblivious to the fact that their graduates won’t find work in what they think they are training for: tenure track positions in colleges, universities, or seminaries.

To be sure, let the buyer beware. People bent on getting a PhD should put their grey matter to work and figure out what they are getting themselves into. But the brunt of the blame goes to the schools.

Here is what I think should be done to restore a bit of sanity, in no particularly order.

1. Schools should publish statistics of how many of their graduates over the last 10 years currently have full time teaching positions (tenure track or not) and where.

2. Schools should be transparent at the outset with any prospective student about the realities of the job market. Tell them the truth.

3. Evangelical schools should not be in the PhD-granting business at all in a market like this. Their graduates will not be considered viable candidates for openings other than in conservative schools.

4. Some students are fine with #3, but they need to know they will be competing for those same jobs withPhD in Theology other ideologically conservative students who are getting PhDs from top research universities. Having a PhD from Cambridge or Harvard (or even Yale) looks better in school catalogues than a PhD from a conservative seminary/university that offers a PhD.

5. Tell the students that they should have a solid Plan B and then tell them to make it their Plan A. Teaching overseas is a possibility. Pastoring, unfortunately, seems to be the default option, but they should get out of their heads the naive, idealistic fantasy of the scholar-pastor, delivering publishable sermons to an eager congregation. Don’t kid yourself: apart from rare cases, by pastoring you’re leaving scholarship behind, and woe to the frustrated PhD who tries to turn his/her church into an ersatz classroom.

Bottom line, I think PhD granting institutions that are graduating under or unemployed men and women need to take a look at what they are doing, communicate that honestly and effectively, and if need be consider closing down the program. This is a moral and justice issue.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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  • cegr76 says:

    Are there any pastor/scholars out there? I’d love to know who they are.

    I bristle at the notion that “by pastoring you’re leaving scholarship behind”. Do you think any dummy can be a pastor?

    • Pete E. says:

      No, I certainly don’t think that. What I mean is that if you are a full time pastor (and try to do that well) you will not have the time needed to be an academic– researching, presenting papers, writing, etc.

      • cegr76 says:

        Thank you for the clarification. I try to be a well-informed pastor and it takes considerable intellectual effort.

        Also, thank you for Telling God’s Story. We are introducing this in our church in January.

      • Michael Raburn says:

        I am a pastor with a PhD in theological ethics from Duke. I agree with Pete that presenting papers and doing what passes for academic work is outside what I can do, that would detract from my work as a pastor. But I think that defines scholarship too narrowly. I try to research and think through my sermons carefully, using all the tools of scholarship I was trained in. And I try to think all the way through to pastoral/real world relevancy as I glean from that research a message to be preached. I think this can and will result in writing for a public audience as a legitimate and obtainable part of my pastoral work, and I regard that as scholarship. The works of the church fathers and mothers we study so intently were produced in the context of pastoral ministry and were intended for wide audiences, much wider than contemporary scholarship. It won’t service my CV but it might service the church.

        • Pete E. says:

          I think this is great, Michael! You are thriving where you are, and I would hope schools could use experiences like this to what students might consdier choosing as their career path.

        • David Ramos says:

          How did you like your time at Duke?
          I am looking at the ThD – 100% for personal/spiritual development (not professional).

          • Andy Rowell says:

            The ThD at Duke is superb but yes, the job market is still hugely challenging. Maybe 50-75% (?) of Duke Th.D. grads getting academic tenure-track professor positions and those numbers are getting lower as time goes by with more and more tenure-track positions are drying up as schools go with cheaper adjuncts.

          • Andy Rowell says:

            The ThD at Duke is superb but yes, the job market is still hugely challenging. Maybe 50-75% (?) of Duke Th.D. grads getting academic tenure-track professor positions and those numbers are getting lower as time goes by with more and more tenure-track positions are drying up as schools go with cheaper adjuncts.

    • Andy Rowell says:

      First of all, I agree with Pete saying schools and professors need to warn people about getting PhDs.

      With regard to @cegr76’s question: “Are there any pastor/scholars out there? I’d love to know who they are.”
      Yes, there are many people with a Ph.D. in the theological disciplines who are pastors. Does that mean these are all “pastor scholars?” No. But here are some that might be. Two of our professors at Bethel Seminary Peter Vogt and Joel Lawrence voluntarily left tenured professor positions to become pastors. Duke Th.D. friends Andrew C. Thompson and D. Steven Porter also left professor positions for church and CBF Global Missions Coordinator positions respectively. Park Street Church in Boston is looking for a pastor with a Ph.D. https://search.parkstreet.org/ The interim pastor Phil Thorne has a Ph.D–as did the former pastor Gordon Hugenberger. There is The Center for Pastor Theologians http://www.pastortheologians.com/ who just met at AAR / SBL.There are certainly other “scholars” from churches at the SBL / AAR annual meeting. Certainly, preaching involves significant intellectual engagement and writing. Greg Boyd writes books and is a pastor here in the Twin Cities at Woodland Hills. Historically, of course, many of the theological scholars were pastors. Four of my other friends with PhDs recently moved from being pastors to professors (Scott Hagley, Roger Owens, Hank Voss, and Jason Byassee) in practical theology.

      • Pete E. says:

        These are great examples.

      • Kevin Higgs says:

        I have a doctorate from the School of Theology at Sewanee. I am also a United Methodist pastor. I teach as a Adjunct Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the Peace Studies program. This sort of bi-vocational career might be the way of the future.

    • Garet Robinson says:

      I am the Adult Ministries Pastor at University Baptist Church in Houston and have a PhD in Theology. I’ve been in full time ministry (post seminary) for about 12 years now and completed my PhD 3 years ago. University Baptist has a history of pastors, like myself and our current Senior Pastor, who have PhDs. I don’t think you leave scholarship behind with a PhD, but you do serve a different segment with your work. I have some published work and continue to write and read. Each year I try to present a paper at an academic conference. Having a PhD and being in ministry isn’t easy, but it is part of my calling. For a great perspective on this check out the Center for Pastor Theologians group out of Chicago. Wonderful work.

    • Garet Robinson says:

      I am the Adult Ministries Pastor at University Baptist Church in Houston and have a PhD in Theology. I’ve been in full time ministry (post seminary) for about 12 years now and completed my PhD 3 years ago. University Baptist has a history of pastors, like myself and our current Senior Pastor, who have PhDs. I don’t think you leave scholarship behind with a PhD, but you do serve a different segment with your work. I have some published work and continue to write and read. Each year I try to present a paper at an academic conference. Having a PhD and being in ministry isn’t easy, but it is part of my calling. For a great perspective on this check out the Center for Pastor Theologians group out of Chicago. Wonderful work.

  • Jack says:

    You can Google search PhD Biblical studies and it’ll be clear the odds of securing a teaching position are stacked. Getting a PhD is an unprofitable venture in a lot of fields, let alone Bible or theology.

    I think prospective students need to take responsibility for themselves, not academic institutions. Just as we have warning labels on coffee cups, we need warning labels on university programs?

    A PhD is a big life decision and should be treated as such. These people should be doing research before entering the program, and should be prepared to divert from such aspirations.

    I don’t know Pete, I’m not feeling sympathetic.

  • I have a friend in a doctoral program for biblical theology. The school (not evangelical) advertised a 100% placement rate in the field. Well, it turns out that if you extend your program by a year, the school “hires” you to teach/do research for that subject during that year, and then you’re on your own. But hey, 100% of our candidates get a job in their field! She’s not happy.

  • Eric McCloy says:

    Are you a fan of Freakonomics? They considered the general form of this question (all academia Ph.D.s) in a recent podcast. http://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-most-social-good-100-dollars-other-faq/ (Relevant section starts at 8:08) Big conclusion: “In other words, if you’re smart enough to pursue a Ph.D., you’re smart enough to know better.” Signed, A Theological Wannabe Student Who Long Ago Discovered That Only Tech Brings Home The Bacon

  • David Lipovitch says:

    When I arrived at Harvard, the first thing I did on arriving in the NELC department was go to Carol Cross and ask for a copy of the list of degree requirements. I had applied for and been accepted into a program advertised as “Syro-Palestinian Archaeology” and was shocked to discover that what I was given by Carol was a handout entitled “Hebrew Bible and….” I was disgusted at the fact that I was being expected to take overwhelmingly more courses in Hebrew Bible than in archaeology. I thought that I had made a very serious mistake but I was still in shock. After a few weeks I spoke with the people in the Anthropology department and got myself a guarantee that I could transfer into their program where I could still work with Stager and simply take enough Hebrew Bible courses “across the Great Divide (Divinity Ave)” courses to make myself proficient. Then I spoke with Stager who insisted I was an idiot for thinking that way. He told me I would never get a job with an anthro degree but that a job in Hebrew Bible was a certainty and that then I could teach archaeology or continue my research in a Hebrew Bible program. Ten years later I finished my PhD in Hebrew Bible and Archaeology and 18 years later I am still waiting on that job. It took me far longer to finish simply because of the department’s requirements (thank Yahweh, that when I got there I already had Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, French, and German or I would have been expected to pick those up in my “spare time” too. I also got a number of archaeology course requirements waved since I had had taken their equivalent as an undergraduate) and I was in the end effectively bullied into “completing” my dissertation before I felt ready by a department that was quite hostile to the archaeologists in its midst. What I have discovered over the years is that Hebrew Bible programs will not hire me because they see me as an archaeologist or anthropologist, anthropology and archaeology departments will not hire me because they see me as a “Bible thumper,” and theology/divinity schools/seminaries are not interested in me because a) I have no training in theology and b) I am the wrong religious flavour. Sadly this is not a new issue. Many of us were sold a “bill of goods” that was never going to be delivered. I am afraid that lying is a significant part of academic recruiting and always has been. It is why so many academics dress like Herb Tarlek — at heart they are just used-car salesmen.

  • Marcus Johnson says:

    Outside of ministry or scholarship, are there other applicable fields for folks pursuing a PhD in Theology?

  • Marcus Maher says:

    I am very grateful that you and others have been giving this advice over the years. It saved me from pursuing a PhD and from incredible stress and probably destroying my family in the process. No, I don’t get to research and teach the way I wanted but I can still do something on my own time and at least I don’t worry about how to feed and shelter my family.

  • frankemanuel says:

    I left a very lucrative career in IT because I found it impossible to balance the demands of pastoral work with the demands of my career. I completed a PhD in systematics and have been teaching as a sessional professor at the same university (Saint Paul, Ottawa). I used to teach software development so I knew that teaching would not pay as well, but it is what I love to do and I figured that teaching could be a better fit if I were to continue pastoral work. Bi-vocational pastoral work is common here in Canada. The biggest problem I’m running into is that I have to teach a lot to make almost enough money to get by. We are a dual income house so I have no idea how others do this. Our temp professors have unionized, but we still do not have pay parity with our larger university (Ottawa U). What we do have is seniority on courses, so long as they are not given to non-sessional teachers. I have a roster of courses I teach every year and they let me create fun summer courses on topics I love. But, I work so much that I am unable to do research or work on publications, I do present a few times a year at conferences, but that is about all I can afford. I have teens and if my kids were younger I’d have even less time. I didn’t go into this with the illusion that things would be easy, but I also didn’t expect that spending so long in university would mean my IT skills went stale and the PhD is a big deterrent to getting hired or even just getting a contract.

  • Yes. I have been kicking around the idea for a little while that only schools who place (pick a number) 70% or more of grads over the previous 10 years into permanent post-secondary teaching positions or research work that requires a Ph.D. should retain accreditation for their PhD programs.

  • Jack Difino says:

    3rd and final year at my undergraduate institution. I absolutely love biblical scholarship and trying to figure out the Bible and its message. Is there a different avenue to go to pursue this as a living other than a PhD?

  • Roland De Vries says:

    Appreciate the column, but this phrase, struck me: “Pastoring, unfortunately,”

    Just curious about what is intended by this…

    • Pete E. says:

      I appreciate the question. I mean that it is a shame when PhD treat pastoring as a default option. That isn’t the best attitude to start such an important position.

      • Roland De Vries says:

        Ok. Within my own denomination (Presbyterian Church in Canada) it is almost assumed that those with PhDs are in congregational ministry – though they sometimes pine for, and sometimes have opportunity to teach in, the academic contexts.

  • Acorn Godtree says:

    Why is it the responsibility of schools to do the research on employment opportunities that potential candidates should be doing, before they start forking over their wealth and time? Honestly, academic degrees are a product, and naturally schools are going to market them for as long as people want them. Not everyone who gets a Ph.D. is either hoping to parlay that into an academic career. In some instances, they want to augment their education for an already existing career, say, in parish ministry; or because they just like the subject and have the resources and time to undertake such study. Taking personal responsibility means being an informed consumer. To be honest, it is one reason why I dropped out of my Ph.D. program. I never blamed GTU or UC Berkeley for my decision. I sought out a degree program there.

    • Matthew Hamilton says:

      A typical prospective student has had perhaps 3 to 5 years to think about the possibility of a higher degree, all while they are very busy undertaking their initial degree to a standard that will qualify them for the higher degree.
      In contrast to this, the institution may have 100 years of data about their previous students, as well as data gathered over many years about students from other institutions, this data analysed over several years and updated every year, by professionals in the analysis of this data, to give the institution an understanding of the market.
      Who wins in this market, the supposed “informed consumer” of the very well informed institution?

      • Acorn Godtree says:

        Yet, as I asked in response above, do you expect your vendors to do the market research on your behalf to tell you whether purchasing their product is a good investment or not? Why would you spend tens of thousands of dollars and two or three years out of your life investing in a degree you have no idea is going to get you a job or not? One of the reasons I decided not to pursue a Ph.D. program was because I did the research and found that the best I could likely expect was some occasional sessional work, perhaps leading to an (insecure) position in some marginal college in the sticks. Believe me, I didn’t have to research long or deeply.

    • Joe Deutsch says:

      For the reason it’s wrong to market and sell street drugs–even though people still want them. There is absolutely a responsible of institutions to educate applicants about the job prospects. Pete’s (obviously) not talking about people WITH a job GETTING a phd to augment the job they already have, or who pursue the degree because they like it. He is talking about the people who do not have jobs and are looking for one.

      • Acorn Godtree says:

        I cannot imagine laying down tens of thousands of dollars and two or three years of my life to get a degree in something – without actually researching my capacity to make a career out of doing so. I cant imagine any other sector where one would expect the vendor to do the market research for the consumer in order to tell them whether purchasing their product is a good investment or not.

        • Pete E. says:

          Most don’t shell out any money for PhD programs in Bible and those that do are making a huge mistake. The rule of thumb is that if you get accepted to a program with no funding, that means they dont want you badly enough.

          • David A Booth says:

            Pete,

            Thanks for the great post. I am constantly surprised to find men studying for PhDs at schools like Puritan and Reformed Seminary (I met three such men this Summer) who tell me they are planning on Academic careers. I try to explain to them that I have friends with earned doctorates from Oxford and Cambridge who haven’t found full time tenure track jobs. Then I ask: Do they really think that PRTS (or other such schools) is the ticket that is going to open the door for you? Amazingly, most of them say yes. Dear enthusiastic students: Please don’t drink the kool-aid.

            I would add two additional reasons not to get a PhD at an Evangelical school. First, no evangelical school adequately funds PhD research. Even Wheaton has the laughable line that they fully fund their students by giving them $9K per year (Elite schools are currently around $27k per year plus health insurance). Second, students really do get better training to be scholars at Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago etc … than they would receive at virtually any any evangelical school. I write this as a very conservative OPC minister. I wish that this wasn’t the case. I wish that there were four or five world class evangelical schools in the U.S. with world-class faculties that fully-funded PhD research. But there aren’t. There isn’t even one. If these schools would eliminate their PhD programs and reallocate their resources to provide funding for ThM students – we would have better educated pastors and fewer disappointed PhDs.

            Thanks again.

            David

          • Acorn Godtree says:

            In my case, I was coming from Canada to a foreign institution (because that’s where my partner was getting his Ph.D. in an unrelated discipline) – and needed to do a year in a graduate program to get the necessary prereqs. They offered me a TA position when I went into the Ph.D. program proper – it’s complicated. In any event, the point is, money or no, this is a huge commitment. My point remains: Would you take on that journey without having made a damn good effort to figure out what your job prospects were from independent sources?

  • Blair Wilgus says:

    I think an important part of this conversation is faculty members taking some responsibility as well (instead of primarily placing blame on universities). I think it is very common for faculty members to interpret a student deciding to pursue academia as personally validating, so we too often encourage without telling them the “horror stories” of job hunting and unemployment.Thanks for your post.

  • Ross says:

    I can’t comment on the American system, nor Higher Education in the UK, but having spent a fair few years in the British Education System I can see this as a subset of many of the systemic flaws in education as a whole. I’m not sure if the expected higher moral standards of a “Christian” educator would actually be in place as many, if not most “Christian” organisations have too much of both feet in the “World” and not on the mind of God.

    From my experience, as education races along as a commercial and competitive enterprise it really isn’t going to think of the welfare of its students, regardless of what strap-lines, policies or anything else says. Organisations are usually in it for their own benefit and reasons. Achieving targets, attracting business and portraying great “outcomes” are the bottom line. Having left the state education sector, where I witnessed the most corrupt and dishonest practice I have ever seen in a lifetime of numerous industries I am now fairly happy working as a carpentry contractor in the construction industry, it is so much more honest and and much less “dirty” than education.

  • Donald W. Dayton says:

    I am now a dozen years into retirement, but all my career, I advised students not to expect a good academic teaching job after a Ph.D. program. We have in this country a too utilitarian a view of education. How often is the value of education reduced to a simple calculus of return on investment, whether at the undergrad or grad level. I told my students that they undertake a Ph.D. program only as an end in itself–with the conviction that they would not find fulfillment in life without this level of education.

    I have regularly made the observation that you make about “evangelical” doctoral education. But I have argued it for an additional reason (in addition to your point about how the market works–with which I agree). I have suggested to students that they never take two degrees from rhe same institution, that they should even consider transferring in the middle of seminary education, for example. There is nothing better than immersion in another educational or theological culture and learning to negotiate its currents to understand one’s self and the issues involved. Evangelical programs that I have known or advised are inherently inferior and theologically shallow. Again, the analysis should transcend return on investment.

    But the situation is even worse in Korea. There education itself is idolized. Each school is ranked by the government with Seoul National at #1 and that rank shapes one’s life and career forever. Woe be unto you if you go to a school that ranks #137. There a high suicide rate among high school students whose lives are absorbed by tutorials to raise one’s rank. In addition each megachurch is expected to found its own university and have doctoral programs. There are so many universities that the government is trying to close down as many as possible. To get an edge you need to study abroad, usually in the USA, Britain or Germany for theology. I have had Korean doctoral students who have had a full cycle in Korea (undergrad, seminary and likely a Th.M., STM, or M.A.) come to the USA and start the cycle again (seminary, followed by an STM to get a leg up on the best American university possible) before beginning doctoral education itself. As a result they are middle-aged before they finish and return to an impossible market in Korea overly stocked with too many candidates for too few positions. And families and parents have sacrificed for years for impossible dreams.

  • David Ramos says:

    I was NOT happy when my advisor sent me towards a different direction rather than pursuing a PhD. But I can say 5 years later I’m so glad he did. I’m working in higher ed, and making more than most professors. I still write and research on my own time. My passion doesn’t quite pay the bills, but I am very thankful for the path I am on.

  • David Ramos says:

    I was NOT happy when my advisor sent me towards a different direction rather than pursuing a PhD. But I can say 5 years later I’m so glad he did. I’m working in higher ed, and making more than most professors. I still write and research on my own time. My passion doesn’t quite pay the bills, but I am very thankful for the path I am on.

  • Bryan says:

    I had a friend who attended an evangelical college and while earning her bachelors in theology was told that she would never earn a teaching position there because she was a woman. She couldn’t believe that they would allow her to earn college credits in a major that would pave the way to a PhD but they wouldn’t allow her a position because the department chair believed that the scriptures did not allow for this. This isn’t quite an apples to apples comparison but perhaps another instance where they should be honest to female students upfront if they know this is a possibility.

    • Al Cruise says:

      They do this because her tuition money is equal in value to a man’s tuition money.

    • JenellYB says:

      I’ve read some similar stories of women attending conservative evangelical colleges. I always wonder when I read them, how could a young woman with these interests and presumably herself from a similar back ground, not know this before choosing to enter such a college.

      • Bryan says:

        That really is a good question. Perhaps naivete? But when these programs allow women to sign up for these majors and their guidance counselors are part of the theology department who do not inform them, then there is still a problem with why they are not disclosing their theological perspectives on this. In short, perhaps the chair could have advised everyone in the department to prevent such declaration of majors to women.

  • Veritas says:

    This approach should apply to all degree granting institutions in all fields. An education has a value aside from employment prospects, but it also has a cost that must be weighed.
    If your debt is such that it limits your career and life choices, that is a reasonable thing to weigh.
    The advice I have given young people is to follow your passion, but have a plan to pay your bills. It’s possible to do both

  • Dave Cobb says:

    I am one of the unlearned, but thinking Christian old geezers. If you religious types want to please God feed his sheep, clothe his naked, comfort his sick and dieing, visit his kids in prison, and otherwise make yourselves useful. No you are the scholars, and your studies are useful, and even necessary. You show the true way. But you need to be able to tell God’s story in plain “stupid people” talk. Trust me we are stupid. During my twenty years in banking I saw a boat load of Stupid Phds. Ministers and preachers need spiritual food. a fine young growing minister’s feeling were hurt by your harsh words ” Pastoring, unfortunately, seems to be the default option, but they should get out of their heads the naive, idealistic fantasy of the scholar-pastor, delivering publishable sermons to an eager congregation”. True in many cases but pastors grow tired of feeding baby Christians milk, Can you Phd types give them some meat they can share with us unwashed sheep?

  • Alan says:

    I am from the UK and did my PhD whilst teaching Religious Studies at School. I fully knew that my PhD would not really benefit me in the “work” field but I did it because that was my aim from day one of my undergrad degree in Theology & Religious Studies. I did it basically because I could.

  • Brian Williams says:

    I don’t usually comment on threads (who has time?!), but because I have a doctorate in Theological Ethics
    and a full-time job in the academy (and am a colleague of Pete’s—hey, Pete!), I will. Pete’s right that tenure-track academic job prospects are bleak. Fair enough. Everyone (should) know that. One (but only one) of the reasons I went to the university I did (University of Oxford) was his point about top research universities vs. evangelical ones. On the other hand, I went in knowing I could very well return to teaching high school or full-time ministry after I was finished, and that would have been fine, because either would have allowed me to pursue my vocation. Given the job prospects, I was also determined to make sure that the years doing the doctorate were good and rewarding years in themselves for me and my family, not simply a miserable phase we endured that could only be redeemed by a full-time tenure track position.

    My supervisor at Oxford often reminded us that we needed to be “faithful to our callings, but flexible in our careers” (see video below). The calling is to be a Christian intellectual (loosely defined), but the remunerated career may be in any number of fields, related or not. I think it’s reasonable to pursue an advanced degree in Theology (all other relevant factors duly considered), as long as one holds his or her academic career prospects very loosely and recognizes that knowledge and scholarly training can benefit many people and communities outside the academy. I might be wrong, but I think this is more generally appreciated in the UK than the US. Some of my former Oxford colleagues are now in careers in the military, the publishing world, secondary schools, churches, research institutes, financial institutions, and so forth. They continue to read and think deeply, find intellectual colleagues where they can (even at AAR/SBL!), and contribute to their religious and professional communities in multi-dimensional ways.

    Pete’s certainly right about the paucity of tenure-track academic positions. But I’m wondering if alongside discouraging people from pursuing Theology PhDs—or institutions from granting them—we might also hold out the possibility that the PhD could serve a person’s intellectual calling, even if not his or her academic career. (Pete, we should grab a coffee soon.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=1TJDcVj5IJE

    • Pete E. says:

      This is great stuff, Brian. My point is that someone going into doctoral work should have that flexibility and the school should be a part of communicating that and encouraging it. Too often, though, in my experience, these realities are not enforced or even mentioned. But you went IN already knowing the landscape and that knowledge was supported. That sounds like part of the solution.

  • The other thing this post needs, and the comment thread makes this abundantly clear, is the that more than not producing more Ph.D.s, programs need to stop producing white male Ph.D.s. The moral imperative should include a recognition that those jobs which do exist should mostly NOT be going to white males.

    • Lois Fleming says:

      Why on earth not, if they’re the best qualified for the job? That’s discrimination at its worst. “How did you get your job? . . . oh yes . . . you were the token minority.” That’s disrespectful.

    • Dr. Donny says:

      The moral imperative is best implemented by those whose lives and actions have demonstrate it. May I respectfully suggest you accordingly resign your academic position in favor of a less advantaged/minority individual and return your Ph.D. so it also becomes available for such a person. To do less would place you in the uncomfortable position of moral hypocrisy. Peace.

      • When I gave up tenure to take a non-tenured administrative position one of the things that most delighted me was that a junior female scholar who had been let go due to budget cuts could be rehired in the line I vacated. When I bounced out of academe 2 years later due to dysfunction at my new institution, I genuinely felt that at least she had a position in what was again a not entirely white male department. So Dr. Donny, I’ve done that. Peace

    • Icarian Folly says:

      I desperately hope this is mere satire. Bigotry of this sort belongs in the trashbin of history… textbook racism and sexism are despicable.

    • Robert Singler says:

      I agree. Also… I’ve got a friend who’s a white male applying for those jobs and they just tell him that they’re looking for a female and POC; like you, Trevor, should know, that the market is shifting in your/our hope’s direction. Unfortunately, despite all the competition, very few people could actually keep up with the guy, so I imagine the students are losing a little bit on this front by getting a slightly less qualified applicant. But the competition is so thick, I can’t really judge. I just have a deep respect for him and less respect for the faculties that I’ve studied under. I do agree with you. But simultaneously, because he’s a white male, and they’re not looking for that, I would venture the hypothesis that a female POC is getting the job but is somewhat less qualified than him. I’m probably wrong. But, he should have a red carpet because he was so much better than so many of the idiot professors that I studied under; but he can’t even get his foot in the door because he’s not the right color and gender (or sexuality). So… it’s good but it’s also disappointing.

  • Tim says:

    There is no way I could afford the top schools. Therefore, I go to the other schools that offer the discounts.

  • Michelle Ferguson Morrow says:

    I’m glad I went for plan B before getting a PhD. I completed an MA in Theology at Fuller and taught as an adjunct at Fresno Pacific University (where I did my BA). Especially now that I’ve come out and married my wife, I’m glad I switched paths. Not many Christian schools would consider a married lesbian Bible prof! But, I do miss teaching.

  • gman1946 says:

    Plenty of moral issues in higher education, but this would not be on the top of my list. Seems kind of naive to think that PHD candidates are being tricked about a glorious future. Give them all a copy of “What Color is Your Parachute” and put the responsibility where it belongs – on the individual. You’ve got a bunch of Walmart and Home Deport employees with useless degrees – start there.

    • George G says:

      Correct. To blame the schools is ridiculous. You would expect a person who wants to get a PhD to be smart enough to evaluate his chances of getting a FT job after graduation!? Also – there is a great need for PhD elsewhere in the world, and having a wise pastor with a PhD is usually a plus!

      • Pete E. says:

        No one is tricking any one and I explicitly say in the post that prospective students have an obligation to do their homework (and I say more or less in my post what you say here). But schools that offer degrees in the Bible/Theology also have an obligation to talk straight about the realities of the job market, which are the very reason students go there. I’ve been working in this world for a long time—as a student and then as a professor at a school that offered PhDs—and I have never met anyone who is doing it purely for the love of learning. The unstated working assumption on the part of *both parties* is that you enter the job market after you graduate and find a teaching position. The reason many schools don’t talk straight, and even perpetuate the facade, is because money is involved. To continue in that mindset is immoral.

  • Dr. Donny says:

    Alas, the unspoken elephant in the room is the fact that, once upon a time, only the very smartest folks went for a PhD. However, the last several decades have seen things change so everyone, regardless of intellectual ability, is now expected to go to college and get a B.A./B.S. Colleges have correspondingly reduced course requirements and watered down grades so that the M.A/M.S has become the default minimum degree. The reality is that, in virtually every college and all majors, a Ph.D. today simply does not have the value it once had. I have a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from a top school (UCLA) and had to have a reading, writing, and speaking ability in one foreign language because the dean thought having a Ph.D. indicated you were a true intellectual. That requirement is long gone. A Ph.D. today in many areas, especially the liberal arts and humanities, has unfortunately simply become proof of longevity and determination. Is anyone really surprised that this has led to a surplus?

  • Peter M. says:

    Don’t disagree with most of these points. But two other perspectives. If the (funded) PhD is viewed as your first job – a job because you get a salary and benefits – the perspective changes a bit. The salary/benefits are admittedly not great, but it is ostensibly your dream job – to research, teach and talk about things you are passion about. If you don’t land that elusive second academic job, disappointment usually follows, but you knew what you were getting into – you had to know, because everyone has been warning about the elusiveness of that second academic job. Second, and related: our society desperately needs people trained in the humanities, perhaps esp. people with doctorates who don’t work behind university walls. Increasingly, humanities doctorates are training students for “alt-ac” careers, because there is a societal benefit to having humanities folks running around.

  • Joe Deutsch says:

    This is a timely post. Just Saturday I was at a family function and saw a cousin who is a Phd candidate in Islamic studies. He is finishing in May and has started the job hunt. He knows it’s a real long shot. He will probably end up teaching overseas, most likely the Phillipines, but since he grew up on the mission field in the Philipines, he would probably enjoy that. But it is a burden to haul his wife and 3 babies across the world just to pay the bills, after living on $2000 a month for the last 4 years. But he did echo what one commenter said about the “job” a lot of these candidates are being offered are 1-2 teaching jobs at the school they got their degree. and that’s it.

    But as a dad of a college sophmore with another on the way next year and a personal focus on getting a paying job when you are done, I would say that the burden of being honest should fall to undergrad programs as well. Here’s a very small anecdote of a personal experience, but I don’t think is atypical. two weeks ago took my daughter to a very large university in Philly for an Open House. As we walked around and attended several info sessions, I observed that the building that housed the humanities was PACKED! Literally couldn’t walk down the hall way yet alone find a representative to talk to about whatever program we might have been interested. Meanwhile, across the street, the building that housed the sciences was virtually empty. We were able to talk to 3 different reps about 3 different programs for about 20 minutes each. All of the university students we talked to who were seniors already had jobs lined up for next year. I commented that so few were in this buidling but the neighboring building was so packed. They agreed it was remarkable, because most of their friends in the humanities were worried about the lack of well paying jobs in their fields.

    Pardon my length but another personal story. After my Bible college burnout, I went back to get a teaching degree. I was mostly interested in HS math, but the school I attended basically wouldn’t let me. No jobs. They encouraged me to go into Elementary Ed. which I didn’t think I would like, but I got a job a year out and am still in the 6th grade position.

    There is a moral responsibility to not take people’s money (and time and blood and energy) when the person taking the money KNOWS there aren’t going to be jobs. The argument that “if they want it we should provide it” is dumb. IMHO.

  • Scott Lencke says:

    Pete, I’d be interested in your thoughts on professional doctorates. I have teaching friends with EdD (though that’s usually an administrative degree in normal academics). I am working toward my Doctor of Intercultural Studies. Perhaps academia, on some level, is moving toward being more practitioner based? So now you have musicians not getting PhD’s but DMA’s or Business folk going past the MBA to the DBA. Things of that nature.

    What are your thoughts on these kinds of degrees?

  • Jeff Cannell says:

    Master of Divinity- God’s Boss
    Doctor of Divinty-“Take two Jesus and call me in the morning”
    D-Min-Self explanitory.

  • Jen Zamzow says:

    Hi Pete, thanks for the post. I have a PhD in philosophy and I resonate with much of what you say. I agree that more needs to be done about the overproduction of PhDs in this job market. Another consideration, though, is that if only the top universities, which are generally quite liberal, have Ph.D. programs it would reduce the diversity of viewpoints being taught. I got my PhD from a top public program and while we did have a few libertarians, there were zero social conservatives. I don’t know enough about conservative programs to really evaluate them, though. What are your thoughts on this? Are there any good ways to address this issue while still avoiding the problems you raise?

  • Roy Atwood says:

    Where exactly is the moral ground for the principle claim that it is immoral to offer degrees for which there are no jobs? If educational institutions merely exist to provide jobs, then there might be some grounds for the immorality charge. But universities are not, except in the pragmatists world view, job training centers. If education their principle function then job placement stats may be an interesting sidebar, but hardly confirmation of achievement of their mission. Yes, jobs are important, but confusing education with job training is the path to both a diminished education and uneducated laborers in the marketplace. The decline of higher education globally is built on this confusion and the distortion and degrading of the purpose of education.

    • Pete E. says:

      People enter doctoral programs because they love the subject AND they want to do that for a living. They are encouraged to do the latter by influential people in their lives and schools bank on them coming to them for that reason. You can’t dissociate school with employment like this

  • $268776203 says:

    “moral irresponsibility of academic institutions who blissfully offer degrees in fields for which there are no jobs.”

    I was surprised to hear from the admissions team and a professor at a seminary I attended state the dismal numbers as a disclaimer and highly discouraged getting into debt due to the reality of these statistics.

  • SkeedlerJohn says:

    Don’t EVER disagree or Challenge Pete. He’ll cut you off. Sad really…

  • drcharlie says:

    A Ph.D. makes sense if you are passionate about your field and desire a place at the global academic table…AND understand that there are few jobs.

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