Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Open Letter to AMS Members on the State of the Academic Job Market

To the members of the AMS,

Many of us in the discipline are alarmed by the ways recent hiring practices have affected the membership of our professional societies. We believe that we have a responsibility to respond to the realities of the job market, and to address the frustration and helplessness that many of our friends and colleagues have experienced. If we acknowledge that a traditional academic position is not right for every musicologist or ethnomusicologist, we can serve our students better. Most importantly, by embracing alternative academic (“alt-ac”) career paths, we contribute to the study and enjoyment of all kinds of music beyond the walls of the ivory tower.

There have been many conversations on social media, at annual meetings of professional societies, and in person that have attempted to address the issues creating resources and networking opportunities for contingent faculty and those who choose to pursue alternative academic (“alt-ac”) or non-academic careers. It is our hope that by compiling some of these suggestions here, we can begin better to serve our colleagues, our students, and our discipline. Some of these suggestions may turn out not to be possible. Others may take years to implement. Still others can be put into effect immediately. Some suggestions may require raising membership or conference fees on tenured and tenure-track members. But we hope that this will at least contribute to these ongoing discussions.

What the leadership of professional societies can do:

  • Form committees to serve the needs of contingent faculty and alt-acs, or subcommittees drawn from the committee for career-related issues (we understand that such a committee is already in the works in the AMS). 
    • These committees might host job fairs with both traditional and alternative academic opportunities, as well as other networking events at conferences. They might also schedule digital networking events for contingent faculty and potential employers, both traditional and alt-ac.
    • Such a committee might also keep anonymous statistics on retention and job placement from various programs, including alt-ac placement, as a resource for students thinking of going into musicology. It might also support longitudinal studies examining the paths of musicology Ph.Ds.
  • Stream conferences online, for a small fee if necessary. Allow those without funding to read papers over video conferencing technology, and to ask questions over twitter or other social media platforms provided they identify themselves. The Society for Music Theory might provide a model for this kind of engagement.
  • Include contingent faculty and alt-acs on program, membership, and other committees.
  • Identify scholars by area of interest rather than institution at professional meetings.
  • Include alt-ac employment opportunities on society announcement lists (see “what members can do”).
  • Stand behind the principles stated in the statement on AMS and Contingent Faculty ( Many of these standards are not being met at institutions that currently employ adjuncts. In those cases, consider collectively advocating for such members. (This may be something a committee devoted to contingent faculty and alt-acs could do)
  • Encourage institutions to offer positions at least two years if feasible, particularly for faculty who have served at the same institution for multiple years. Encourage other professional societies that serve similar interests to do the same. Possibly work with NASM to add some guidelines about this in accreditation procedures.
  • Create awards, prizes, and fellowships for alt-acs and contingent faculty.

What the membership of professional societies can do:

  • Form study groups to serve the needs of contingent and alt-ac members. These groups could sponsor panels where alt-acs can present their work. It would benefit the society to know about events at museums, new collections at major libraries, screenings of recent documentaries, or successful initiatives at teaching and learning centers. 
  • Be alert for alt-ac opportunities and forward them to society announcement listservs.
  • Contribute to funds and awards for alt-ac or contingent faculty.
  • Contribute to funds and awards for scholars from under-represented communities.

What departments can do:
  • Seriously consider the objectives and purposes of PhD and MA programs. If students in the program are not successful in the job market of their choice (traditional or alt-ac), consider shrinking, eliminating, or substantially reforming the program. 
  • Advertise PhD programs that include preparation for alt-ac careers in programs and on listservs.
  • Encourage students who show interest in alt-ac careers to pursue those opportunities.
  • Think creatively about what funded graduate students do. Mix teaching with administrative work, arts advocacy initiatives, and other similar opportunities.
  • Encourage interested students to seek funding from university resources outside of the department, including teaching and learning centers, university museums and special collections, or radio stations.
  • Form relationships with university career centers to figure out how we can better prepare students for both traditional and alt-ac careers.
  • Invite contingent faculty or alt-acs to speak as part of a colloquium series, even if they must participate over video chat. Bring in alt-acs or career center professionals to do workshops with students.
  • Consider non-dissertation capstone projects for students interested in alt-ac careers.
  • Consider recent economic research on how unconscious gender and racial bias affects hiring and admittance practices. The AMS has already compiled information on this here:
  • Engage with university diversity offices to improve representation from a variety of backgrounds, races, and interests at all levels in our discipline.
  • Actively recruit graduate students from diverse backgrounds into programs.
  • Provide resources to increase retention for students with financial, medical, or familial hardship.
  • Keep accurate data on placement and retention, and make that data available to professional societies.
What individuals can do:
  • Be realistic with students and potential students about the realities of the job market. Manage expectations of incoming or potential students regarding the availability of traditional academic jobs.
  • Help contingent faculty access resources at university libraries, or provide lodging when contingent faculty are researching in the area.
  • Mentor contingent faculty who are still on the market. Provide feedback on job application materials, potential publications, and teaching. Help them network with both traditional and alt-ac professionals, or non-academic professionals if they desire.

We offer these ideas in the spirit of conversation and dialogue, and with the fervent hope that we can make musicology and ethnomusicology better.


Jacky Avila
Katie Baber
Samantha Bassler
Micaela Baranello
Daniel Barolsky
Paula Bishop
Dan Blim
Carolyn Brunelle
Charles Carson
William Cheng
Amy Cimini
Elizabeth T. Craft
James Deaville
Andrew Dell’Antonio
Dean Disher
Samuel Dorf
Mark Durrand
Kristen Dye
Louis Epstein
Robert Fink
Denise Gallo
Michael Gallope
Devora Geller
Joyce Waterhouse Gibson
Naomi Graber
Andrew Granade
Dan Guberman
Elissa Harbert
Michael W. Harris
Deborah Heckert
Kelly Hiser
Holly Holmes
Blake Howe
Eric Hung
Matt Jones
Susan Key
Kendra Leonard
Teresita Lozano
Brooke McCorkle
Sharon Mirchandani
Sarah Elaine Neill
Anna Ochs
James Parsons
Thomas Patteson
Laura Moore Pruett
Marysol Quevedo
Graham Raulerson
Alexander Rehding
Linda Shaver-Gleason
Jacob Sagrans
John Spilker
Victor Szabo
Susan Thomas
Kristen Meyers Turner
Robin Wallace
Naomi Walton-Smith
Leah Weinberg
Reba Wissner

1 comment:

  1. This is a great letter with lots of good ideas: well done. Still, I think it's sad that it seems on the surface at least, to simply accept the inevitability of the neo-liberal university. Individual faculty members who have full time jobs can do many other things on their campuses and as citizens that might actually help improve this situation, including consistently and publicly questioning the shift to a predominantly contingent faculty, challenging university spending priorities and the decreasing funds dedicated to faculty, forming faculty unions that are committed to fighting for the rights of contingent faculty, advocating for more government funding for higher ed. etc etc. There are also ways in which the society could become more politically active in advocating for a push back on this significant culture shift. We all know that this is no longer a reaction to recession...
    Emily Abrams Ansari