Historians Face New Pressures to Track Ph.D.'s

Historians in the News

Three weeks before the history department at Rutgers University began making decisions about whom to admit to its doctoral program this year, about one-quarter of its faculty gathered over lunch to talk about the employment crisis, the future direction of their field, and all the things they don't know about their recent Ph.D.'s.

Some participants voiced frustration because the department does not have comprehensive data on how many graduate students entered the program, how long they stayed, and where they eventually found jobs.

The department keeps a good list of contacts of graduates for an annual newsletter, and a department administrator has undertaken the arduous task of locating former students, but some faculty members say the results are still well short of a complete record of what Ph.D.'s have or have not done.

 Rudolph M. Bell, a Rutgers professor who specializes in Italian history, says that tracking Ph.D.'s is a matter of quality control. Being able to provide accurate data, he says, is important for making the case to potential donors and foundations that a department is worthy of their support.

But fear and faculty resistance, he says, have hampered the collection of data in some programs, including at Rutgers.

"History faculty, along with the humanities generally, always resist controls over whether what they are doing is worth anything," says Mr. Bell. "If you look at some of the numbers published on department Web sites, they range from dishonest to incompetent." For example, he says, some elite institutions selectively list placements, noting only Ph.D.'s who are working at prestigious places....

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