On 8 June 2018, Paul T. Corrigan’s “Jobs Will Save the Humanities” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. The article opens with discussion of one contribution to a survey Corrigan offered, one that rehearses from experience many of the woes traditionally associated with the English major, before offering context from a Gallup and Strada survey and noting that the implications for humanistic studies are dire. Corrigan goes on to note that humanities departments typically do poorly at addressing issues of employability and calls for giving students better understandings of the working world in which they will likely be enmeshed. He then notes data from several sources that argue in favor of humanities students’ employability before asserting that matters still need to be improved for them. Several methods for improvement are outlined before Corrigan addresses a likely counterargument and concluding on an evidently hopeful note.
I admit there are days when I feel much the same as the pseudonymous respondent Corrigan describes. His “Casey” bemoans the yoking of her debt-load, seemingly dead-end job, and inability to get re-trained; I cannot help but look at the tens of thousands of dollars I owe after years of paying, as well as the fact that, despite a terminal degree, I am working as an administrative assistant, and feel some chagrin, as I have noted. At the same time, though, I know that a bad job is better than no job (and my job is not a bad one, let me reiterate)–and I know that, in the world I inhabit as an academic expatriate, there is actually the chance of promotion from a bad job to a less bad one, or even to a decent one. Part-time work in a coffee shop can become full-time, perhaps, or advancement from the floor into management. Secretarial work for a small non-profit can become administration of that non-profit, leveraging the skills developed in a humanistic curriculum into “practical” applications. And even if the job is stressful, it is hardly the case that the jobs for which humanistic study is typically regarded as offering training–teaching and academic research–are not.
I value the work I did to earn my degrees. But I also value the work I do now–certainly because it helps people, but in no small part because it allows me to meet my bills (usually), and I do sometimes chafe at the idea that I am not able to do so from my training, but as the result of luck. (Unlike many, I do not set aside the role of random chance in my circumstances. I know I got a break and had the good sense to take it–and not all people get the break.) Whoever “Casey” is, I hope she (and the article uses the pronoun, so I have to take it) is able to find something similar–as are the many who share her situation. For my part, when I am in position to do some hiring, I will be sure to keep those like her–like I was–in mind.