R is for Responsibility

Yesterday’s Gazette featured an article entitled “Professor Shortage Looming, Feds Told: Schools Urged to Boost Post-Grad Ranks by 35%”

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada made its annual pitch for more federal money by saying that we try to lure in more than 150,000 postgraduate students because nearly have the country’s 40,000 professors are about to retire and we need “more PhD trained students for the Canadian economy.” Now, I’m all for skillful use of rhetoric in trying to get more funding for education (Hey Quebec, how about full rides for your doctoral students and fair wages for TAs?) and I’m not sure about the math here, but it does raise a question. What proportion of graduate students normally go on to be professors? Is the fraction less than 20,000/150000ths? Because if it isn’t, then we’re seeing a certain level of irresponsibility. Doctoral students, especially, ought not be treated as a revenue source by universities. Otherwise, you wind up with a reserve army of underemployed PhDs. Not that that’s ever happened before in the United States or Canada, where I hear horror stories of what it was like in the 1980s and 1990s in some fields.

In the coming years, scholars in Communication Studies departments across Canada will also have to start considering placement issues in admitting PhDs as more and more doctoral programs come online, especially in Ontario. That, however, is a can of worms for another post or another forum.