whither anthropology?

hjmartin (hatch@RICHMOND.INFI.NET)
Fri, 1 Dec 1995 09:58:29 -0500

One session at the AAA meeting was concerned with the fate of anthropology
departments on campus. I attended about 1/2 and wish that I had had the
time to listen to the whole. It was interesting.

Several of the people presenting papers made a simple point: many
anthropology departments are in trouble. Some are in turmoil internally
(the postmodern - science battle, simple personality clashes, tenure
battles) and many are under siege from administrations that, while perhaps
not actively hostile, simply must make budget decisions that hurt. These
decisions, of course, affect everything (maintaining facilities, getting and
keeping majors, keeping/getting positions, perks like travel money to go to
AAA, increased teaching loads...).

What I would like discuss is what the situation is on a national basis. Is
your department in decline? Why? Is your department thriving? Why? Are
administrative demands to reduce expenses gutting programs or forcing people
to re-focus on what they collectively think is important (or is this just
B-school hokum)? What has your experience been? Has belt-tightening been all
bad? Has the intellectual turf war between, loosely, the post-modernists
and the science faction been bad for the on-campus 'reputation' of the field?

There is also a very real human cost that is on the minds of many but is
seldom discussed out loud. When your students, both graduates and
undergraduates, apply for jobs, what are the results?

Do your graduate students get 'good' jobs or do they face years and years of
bouncing from adjunct to visiting to replacement to...as the reward for
having earned a union card (the PhD)? Do they get discouraged and bitter
and simply fade away? How do they fare in terms of satisfaction with their
jobs, intellectual stimulation, contributions to the profession and,
certainly, salary when separated from academic anthropology?

Are anthropology majors equipped to function in the working world? This
last question might best be answered from the employer's perspective, but
the problem is that employers are often looking for bundles of discrete
skills. Does anthropology have to manufacture skills (become trade-school
subspecialty) in order to 'sell' in the marketplace?

Do administrations provide enrollment projections? If so, does your
department take them into consideration when planning what to offer and who
to hire (or let go)? How does your department mount an effective campaign
to keep positions that other departments (probably in the sciences and
business) make a strong case for getting? Is your position justified on the
basis of the numbers or is this a poor way to judge?

As I said, the session interested me.

Jim Martin

901 Pump Rd, 193
Richmond, VA 23233
(804) 740-0170 home
(804) 786-5188 work