Category Archives: The job search

Preliminary Report on the MLA Job Information List, 2016–17

In 2016–17, the downturn in jobs advertised in the MLA Job Information List (JIL) continued for a fifth consecutive year. The JIL’s English edition announced 851 jobs, 102 (10.7%) fewer than in 2015–16; the foreign language edition announced 808 jobs, 110 (12.0%) fewer than in 2015–16. Figure 1 shows the trend lines for the number of jobs announced in each edition across the forty-two years from 1975–76 to 2016–17. The declines of the past five years bring the number of advertised jobs to yet another new low, below the level reached after the severe drop between 2007–08 and 2009–10. The 851 jobs in the English edition for 2016–17 are 249 (22.6%) below the 1,100 advertised in 2009–10. The 808 jobs in the foreign language edition are 214 (20.9%) below the 1,022 advertised in 2009–10.

Fig. 1
Graph showing trends in the number of jobs advertised in the MLA Job Information List, 1975–76 to 2016–17.

This past year marks the eighth that the number of jobs advertised in the JIL has remained at a trough level, below or just above the historical threshold of 1,000 jobs in each edition. The 2016–17 totals are 975 (53.4%) below and 872 (51.9%) below the 2007–08 prerecession peaks of 1,826 jobs for the English edition and 1,680 jobs for the foreign language edition, respectively.

In addition to reading JIL listings to count the number of jobs announced, staff members in the MLA’s office of research perform a machine analysis of the JIL database to develop information on the number and characteristics of the ads departments place. The number of ads is always somewhat smaller than the number of jobs the ads announce, since some ads announce more than one position. In 2016–17 the English edition carried 725 ads from 478 departments in 396 institutions. The 2016–17 foreign language edition carried 750 ads from 521 departments in 354 institutions. (Ads for positions outside postsecondary education are included in these counts.) In the English edition, 66 fewer departments placed ads in 2016–17 than in 2015–16, and the number of ads declined by 98 (11.9%). In the foreign language edition, 32 fewer departments placed ads in 2016–17 than in 2015–16, and the number of ads declined by 87 (10.4%). The 725 ads in the English JIL in 2016–17 are 923 (56.0%) below the 1,648 ads recorded in 2007–08, the recent peak. The 750 ads in the foreign language JIL in 2016–17 are 772 (50.7%) below the 2007–08 peak of 1,522. Since 2007–08, the number of departments placing ads has dropped from well over 900 to under 500 in the English edition and to just over 500 in the foreign language edition.

Table 1 shows the number and percentage of ads in the JIL’s English edition, broken out by the index terms for tenure status and rank that advertisers have selected for listings placed since 2007–08. Table 2 shows the equivalent information for listings in the foreign language edition. The tables quantify the scale of the contraction in academic job opportunities in English and the other modern languages, especially tenure-track assistant professor positions, that began in 2008–09 and has persisted since. In the English edition, the share of ads for positions classified as tenure-track has fallen to under 65% from about 75%, while the share of ads for positions classified as non-tenure-track has grown to almost 35% from just over 20%. In the foreign language edition, the share of ads for positions classified as tenure-track has fallen from about 60% to just over 45%, while the share of ads for positions classified as non-tenure-track has grown from about 35% to over 50%.

A full report on the 2016–17 JIL and trends in the ads will be published later this year.

David Laurence

Table 1. Number and Percentage of Ads Indexed for Tenure Status and Rank in the English JIL, 2007–08 to 2016–17

Tenure Status and Rank 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17
Tenure-track assistant professor
Number of ads 879 645  469 541 541 513  470 448 402 320
Percentage of ads  53.3 52.5  48.7 51.9 49.8 50.6 50.6 50.7 48.8 44.1
Tenure-track assistant professor and another rank
Number of ads 192 151 78 92 109 98 73 75 63 72
Percentage of ads  11.7 12.3 8.1 8.8 10.0 9.7 7.9 8.5 7.7 9.9
Other tenure-track positions
Number of ads  175 129 81 96 107 102 74 70 87 68
Percentage of ads   10.6  10.5 8.4 9.2 9.8 10.1 8.0 7.9 10.6 9.4
Non-tenure-track positions
Number of ads 353 255 304 278 293 277 272 278 261 247
Percentage of ads 21.4 20.8 31.5 26.7 27.0 27.3 29.3 31.4 31.7 34.1
 Tenure status not relevant or not specified
Number of ads 49 48 32 35 37 24 39 13 10 18
Percentage of ads 3.0 3.9 3.3 3.4 3.4 2.4 4.2 1.5 1.2 2.5
Total number of ads
(basis for percentages)
1,648 1,228 964 1,042 1,087 1,014 928 884 823 725


Table 2. Number and Percentage of Ads Indexed for Tenure Status and Rank in the Foreign Language JIL, 2007–08 to 2016–17

Tenure Status and Rank 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17
Tenure-track assistant professor
Number of ads 635 518 322 384 405 393 371 327 320 251
Percentage of ads 41.7 45.7 35.3 39.0 39.4 38.3 39.3 37.1 38.2 33.5
Tenure-track assistant professor and another rank
Number of ads  140 97 56 70 74 69 65 50 59 45
Percentage of ads  9.2 8.6 6.1 7.1 7.2 6.7 6.9 5.7 7.0 6.0
Other tenure-track positions
Number of ads  131 80 69 80 89 79 60 65 66 51
Percentage of ads  8.6 7.1 7.6 8.1 8.7 7.7 6.3 7.4 7.9 6.8
Non-tenure-track positions
Number of ads  576 394 437 420 430 453 420 424 384 388
Percentage of ads  37.8 34.7 47.9 42.6 41.9 44.2 44.4 48.1 45.9 51.7
Tenure status not specified or not relevant
Number of ads 40 45 29 31 29 31 29 15 8 15
Percentage of ads 2.6 4.0 3.2 3.1 2.8 3.0 3.1 1.7 1.0 2.0
Total number of ads
(basis for percentages)
1,522 1,134 913 985 1,027 1,025 945 881 837 750

 

 

 

 

 

The MLA Convention and the Changing Job Search

Academic job searches are changing, and long-standing practices connected with interviewing candidates at the MLA convention are clearly changing with them. Results from searching for the text strings “Skype” and “MLA convention” in ads that departments have placed in the MLA Job Information List over the past eight years suggest the broad direction of developments (fig. 1).

Fig. 1
Fig1.job_search

As the number of ads containing the string “Skype” rose from 0 to 102, the number containing the string “MLA convention” fell from 153 to 54. As recently as six years ago, in 2009–10, only a single ad contained the string “Skype” while 101 ads contained the string “MLA convention.” As of this writing in 2015–16, 101 ads contain the string “Skype,” and 56 contain “MLA convention.” Five ads contain both terms—4 of the 5 state that interviews will be conducted either at the convention or by Skype, while the fifth states that interviews will be by Skype and not at the convention.

Departments continue to use the convention to schedule interviews. Now that cell phones are becoming ubiquitous personal accessories, however, candidates and departments find it convenient and efficient to use text messaging and voice service to communicate on-site directly rather than through the services the MLA provides in the convention Job Information Center. (The MLA has operated a Job Information Center at the annual convention for decades. Hiring departments use the center by signing in to leave information with members of the MLA staff about the location of convention interviews the departments have scheduled with job candidates. Search-committee chairs can provide advance notice of the names of the hotels where they will be staying to candidates invited for interviews, but chairs and candidates must check in on-site to obtain hotel room numbers.) The result can be seen in the following figures. Over the nine conventions since 2007, the number of departments signing in with the Job Information Center has dropped by 75%, to just over 100 from the 400 to 500 departments that signed in for the seven conventions between 2001 and 2007 (fig. 2). And the number of tables departments use to conduct interviews in the Job Information Center has dropped more than 80%, from about 140 to just 23 at the 2016 convention in Austin, Texas (fig. 3).

Fig. 2
Fig2.job_search

Fig. 3
Fig3.job_search

The much reduced number of departments using the convention Job Information Center obviously reflects the sharp contraction in academic job opportunities and departmental hiring that has occurred since 2008. But it also reflects changes departments are making in the way they conduct searches. The MLA has no stake in maintaining the convention job interview in the face of new technologies that both job seekers and search committees find serve them better, and there is every reason to expect that the use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing for screening interviews will continue to expand. There is also every reason to think that a system where most interviewing takes place by videoconference can restore scholarly exchange and professional development, rather than job interviews, as the convention’s central, defining activities.

The MLA seeks to provide services that will improve the job search for hiring departments and above all job seekers. To that end, through its membership committees the association promulgates standards that reflect MLA members’ evolving consensus about good professional practice. In a changing job-search landscape, where new practices are emerging, continuing communications with and among members on all sides of the job search are indispensable to understanding what is happening and how the association can respond in ways that will benefit job seekers and the job search—and also bring about welcome improvements in the experience of attending the convention.

David Laurence