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The New Normal

In which ATHE takes a snapshot of the academic job market in theatre, and compares it to a similar study from an earlier year.

As ATHE moves to expand its data-gathering and analysis efforts, we are frequently asked about the state of the job market for faculty positions in theatre in higher education. The last time that ATHE collected such data in a systematic way was in the 1995-1996 hiring cycle, when Nina Lenoir conducted a survey of faculty vacancies using the job advertisements posted in a year’s worth of ArtSEARCH. This study was published in the September 1997 issue of ATHENews.

This year, we have conducted a similar survey, again using the job postings published via ArtSEARCH as our data set. ATHE member and doctoral student Lynn Deboeck (University of Kansas) read and analyzed each job posting that appeared in the education section of that publication, and compiled data following a methodology based on the earlier survey. Some of the findings of this year’s study are laid out below, with the 1995-1996 survey data presented for comparison.

While we hope this data will provoke conversation in the field, particularly in graduate programs that consider placement of their graduates in faculty positions a part of their mission, we caution readers against drawing any firm conclusions from these comparisons. As Lenoir wrote in 1997, "Reading employment ads is a subjective experience. Ambiguous wording describing both the requirements for the position and the position itself requires personal judgment in determining categorization.” Moreover, with only two data points (1996 and 2013), it is impossible to tell whether differences between one survey and the next represent trends or just random fluctuation. Our hope is that this type of survey will become an ongoing part of ATHE’s regular operations. We have already begun data entry on the 2013-2014 job ads, and as we build up more data, the analytic value of such surveys will increase.

What the data seem to show is that the market for faculty positions in theatre in higher education has remained reasonably consistent between 1996 and the present. Unfortunately, given the distribution of full-time tenure-eligible positions versus temporary or non-tenurable positions, this consistency is by no means an indication that everything is just fine. Rather, it suggests that the current state of affairs has been in place for at least 15 years, and that we need to move away from thinking of a temporary "job crisis” and toward a recognition that this is "the new normal.”

During the 2012-2013 hiring cycle, ArtSEARCH ran ads for 360 unique positions with Fall 2013 start dates, plus six (6) positions with start dates in Spring 2013, and twelve (12) with start dates in Summer 2013. Of these 378 postings, 330 were for full-time faculty positions; 11 were for part-time faculty; 16 were for administrators (e.g. deans); and 21 were for staff positions (e.g. technical directors). By comparison, during the 1995-1996 cycle, there were 348 full-time faculty positions posted.

Looking just at the full-time positions in the two studies, we see a generally consistent pattern wherein the majority of hiring is at the Assistant Professor level. A certain amount of the variation is due to the fact that the more recent survey tracked two position types (chair and postdoc) that had been included with "other” in the previous survey. (See graph, left.)

Looked at another way, in both years, about 60% of the positions posted are tenured or tenure-track; the variation between the two surveys is within the margin of error (that is, the difference between the two surveys for any one category is less than the number of positions in which the job posting did not specify tenure eligibility). (See graph, below right.)

If we break out the positions in terms of the primary specialty specified in the ad, the picture is also remarkably similar from 1996 to 2013. As with the other comparisons, variations from one survey to the other are generally small and may be due to random fluctuation. (See graphs, below left.)

We also tracked what type of advanced degrees were specified as requirements for each position. There seems to be a slight increase in the acceptance of the MFA as a credential since the last survey, but again, we won’t know how significant this is until we amass additional years of data. In addition to the degree requirements, nearly 65% of this year’s postings indicated that prior teaching experience was required (compared to just under 70% in the earlier survey), while just 46% required professional theatre experience (down from nearly 65% in 1995-1996). Additionally, though the earlier survey did not track it, just under 9% of the 2012-2013 ads indicated that job candidates would be expected to provide evidence of research and/or publication. (See graphs, below.)

It is tempting (and potentially useful) to speculate about the reasons that some job specialties or credentials appear to be in more demand than others, but it is far too early to draw definitive conclusions. There remains much more work to be done to give us a complete picture of the state of theatre in higher education. Job ads are only one piece of the puzzle, as are the degrees-granted statistics I outlined in my last ATHENews article ("Baby Steps” - see below). Since that article was published, several members have contacted us offering to volunteer their assistance in ATHE's data-gathering efforts, and we are working on the best way to harness that energy as we move forward. As always, if you'd like to be a part of the effort, I encourage you to contact me at president@athe.org.

-- Henry Bial, ATHE Past President

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