Shrinkage in Political Science

No, the discipline isn't having a George Constanza situation. Rather, a job market that has been dismal for decades has gotten worse.

No, the discipline isn’t having a George Constanza situation.  Rather, a job market that has been dismal for as long as I can recall has gotten worse. American Political Science Association executive director Michael Brintnall has tracked openings for entry level professorships:

Assistant Professor Openings in Political Science

2009-10 445
2008-9 617
2007-8 716
2006-7 730
2005-6 685
2004-5 661

The data are consistent with declines being reported by many other fields (either for the last year or projected for the year ahead) in the humanities and social sciences, including sociology, literature and languages, history, economics, art history and other fields.

Within political science subfields, Brintnall said that positions focused on comparative politics, international relations and public policy appear to be experiencing smaller declines while political theory is being hit harder.

It’s not shocking, of course, that the number of positions being filled is on the decline, given the horrendous state of the economy and the fact that taxpayer subsidized state institutions do the bulk of the hiring.

Still, the numbers are depressingly low.  Considering that some significant number of the 445 openings went to people who already held jobs in the profession and are either moving up to a more prestigious institution or making a lateral move after being denied tenure or for personal reasons, the picture is even dimmer than the numbers suggest.

For as long as I can recall — going on 25 years now — political scientists have been hearing of a legendary boom coming in hiring as old the Baby Boomers move off into the sunset.  It hasn’t happened and there’s a very real chance that it never will.  Even if the money starts to flow again, the trend is to fill as money spots with underpaid adjuncts and as few with tenure-track faculty as possible.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I wonder if this has had any commensurate impact on the number of Poli Sci majors.

    When I was an undergrad, I was a Poli Sci major because I knew I’d be going to law school (although, to be honest, have a BA in Political Science wasn’t necessarily that much of a help in getting through law school). Then there was the group that already knew they’d be going on to grad school and an academic/teaching track. Then, there were the ones majoring in Poli Sci because, well, I don’t know that they could tell you either.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The oldest Baby Boomers are only 64 now. What with being a Poli Sci professor being a sedentary occupation, tenure, and all, I suspect we’ll see a good decade before the post-war generation begins retiring in numbers (especially since their stock portfolios and home values aren’t what they thought they would be).

    The Good News is that some positions for tenured professors will open up. The Bad News is that the smaller cohorts that have succeeded the post-war generation mean that some of the schools will close.

  3. sam says:

    “For as long as I can recall — going on 25 years now — political scientists have been hearing of a legendary boom coming in hiring as old the Baby Boomers move off into the sunset.”

    Hell, I was hearing that about my discipline over 40 years ago.

  4. The Good News is that some positions for tenured professors will open up. The Bad News is that the smaller cohorts that have succeeded the post-war generation mean that some of the schools will close.

    Of course, if Glenn Reynolds is right about his theory that we’re soon going to see a collapse of the “Higher Education Bubble,” those tenured positions could be a long time coming.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I don’t know about bubbles but I’m convinced that prices for education have become completely unmoored from income expectations that grads might reasonably have.

    When I started school at an elite university the annual tuition was $1,800 and a newly minted grad could expect a starting wage of $8,000-$12,000. (The guys who started five years before I did—my TAs—paid $600 per year to go the same institution.)

    Now the tuition at the same institution is $45,000 per year. Add room and board and you’re starting to talk real money. I don’t believe that the grads are starting at $250,000. They’re hard-pressed to find jobs that pay a sixth of that.

    That’s a pretty dramatic difference in the relationship between the cost of education and its market value over time.

  6. john personna says:

    I think you want poly sci openings as a percentage of total openings, because it looks like a story that self-acknowledges that it is not a story:

    The data are consistent with declines being reported by many other fields