Silos Hamper Change to Doc Education: Silos Alive in MLA Doctoral Study Report and Scholarship of Doctoral Studies

What happens when a disciplinary body undertakes research to release a report on doctoral education?  Does the report get input from the scholarship of doctoral studies?  Do eminent figures in doctoral studies publicly engage with the report? The MLA and doctoral studies scholars fail to make the case to each other and both continue on parallel paths.

The Modern Language Association released a report for changes to doctoral study that did not include anyone from outside the MLA community on the task force, did not include literature from doctoral studies, and did not have a proper methodology, did not offer ideas to implement change.  The report received no input from any scholar of doctoral studies, not did any scholar of doctoral studies participate in the chorus on social media to critique the report.  Escape velocity refers to the force with which an ‘academic’ area escapes the pull of academia and makes it into the outer world.  In the MLA report, the literature in doctoral studies failed to escape academia as the MLA task force failed to avail themselves of it.

A task force of persons within the world of the MLA recommended changes to doctoral education in the report.  The task force decided the best way to fulfill their goal would be through conversations with ‘directors of graduate studies, department chairs, and other administrators, graduate students; employers outside the academy; and the membership at large. Through presentations on individual campuses, at the annual conventions of the MLA and the American Historical Association, and at summer seminars for department chairs, members of the task force refined their thinking and finalized their recommendations.‘ ( p.1) Like others have said, this fails the test for a sound methodology.


These persons were tasked to execute the plan.

Carlos J. Alonso, Columbia University

Russell A. Berman (chair), Stanford University (two Stanford examples in appendix)

Sylvie Debevec Henning, East Carolina University

Lanisa Kitchiner, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Bethany Nowviskie, University of Virginia (cited in appendix)

Elizabeth Schwartz Crane, San Joaquin Delta College, CA

Sidonie Ann Smith, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (cited in appendix)

Kathleen Woodward, University of Washington, Seattle

Staff Liaisons

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director, MLA Office of Scholarly Communication

David Laurence, director, MLA Office of Research and ADE

Why not include a scholar of doctoral studies on the task force like Chris M Golde or someone from the Council of Graduate Schools like Dr. Stewart?  Where is a political representative from an association of MLA doctoral students?  I don’t believe a national graduate students’ association exists for the humanities.  A graduate students’ association representative is superior to picking a student as a representative on the task force.  An elected student representative would undertake a study of the issues and report back to the constituency so as to be more effective. The MLA ought to encourage organization of a national MLA or humanities student doctoral group. The MLA could suggest that the NAGPS could organize a political group to respond to issues of teaching. learning and programming for humanities doctoral students.

Why didn’t the task force undertake a thorough  literature review?  This links back to the thin red line that runs through research and connects the methodology to the literature review to the questions and the answers.  Here are the works cited in the report.

“Academic Workforce Advocacy Kit.” Modern Language Association. MLA, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. <http:”” advocacy_kit=””>. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral studies.

Bok, Derek. “We Must Prepare Ph.D. Students for the Complicated Art of Teaching.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Educ., 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Newspaper article.

Bridging the Higher Education Divide: Strengthening Community Colleges and Restoring the American Dream. The Century Foundation. Century Foundation, 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

Cohen, Walter. “The Economics of Doctoral Education in Literature.” PMLA 155.5 (2000): 1164–87. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Not a work of scholarship, so much as analysis of the status quo in doctoral education; a data source.

Curtis, John W. The Employment Status of Instructional Staff Members in Higher Education, Fall 2011. American Association of University Professors. AAUP, Apr. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.”” sites=”” default=”” files=”” files=”” a=”” aup-instrstaff2011-april2014.pdf=””>. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral study; rather a data source.

Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2011. National Science Foundation. Natl. Science Foundation, Dec. 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education; rather a data source.

Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2012. National Science Foundation. Natl. Science Foundation, Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education; rather a data source.

Issues and Directions: Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members in English and Other Modern Languages. ADE Bulletin 53–ADFL Bulletin 42.3 (2013): 1–97. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. Not an academic source.

Report on the MLA Job Information List, 2012–13. Modern Language Association. MLA, Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

Smith, Sidonie. Report to the MLA Executive Council from the Working Group on the Dissertation and Doctoral Education. 22 May 2010. TS. Unpublished.

Troop, Don. “Research Universities Are Praised for Returning Focus to Undergrad Education.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Educ., 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Newspaper source.

Why did the task force fail to avail themselves of the small literature in doctoral studies? Why isn’t ‘The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral education for the 21st Century from the five-year Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) cited? The MLA task force knows of the CID, because a CID program is used as an example in the appendix. The CID book is a how-to manual to reform doctoral programs. The work by Damrosch, Golde, Lovitts, McAlpine, Thomson & Kamler, Ziolkowski, Nettles and Millet, Jones, Watts, etc. could greatly enriched the recommendations.  Considering The Future of the PhD in the Humanities white paper which came out six months before the MLA publication would show graduate school keenness.

The White Paper says:

We recommend that the leading academic/humanities organizations… publish an agreement that all doctoral programs must keep up-to-date records, at a minimum, about recruitment of PhD students, years to completion, attrition rates, and a full accounting of placement inside and outside the academy—three, five, and ten years after graduation or after withdrawal from programs. ( p. 21).

The recommendations in both these reports play catch-up with decades of neglect. Neglect that resulted in a sparsity of stats at the program level, overly long times to completion, and high attrition.  With the humanities doctoral program came an appalling ignorance about issues in doctoral education which passed down between generations in the mini-me replication style of doctoral education.  The kind of statistic gathering recommended in the white paper fights against the indifference programs showed toward learning the outcomes of their efforts.

How can the task force writers claim excellence in past doctoral education programs when they now recommend slashing times to completion almost in half?  Is it a case of, sorry our doctoral programs of the past doubled our recommended time to completion, but now shorter times to completion are in vogue?  Did the MLA just highlight certain trends that are going around doctoral programs and wrap them together as a diffusion of innovations?

Where is the scholarship of doctoral studies?  Does the MLA task force believe that considering the scholarship of doctoral studies lacks relevance to them?  In the blogpost, Achieving escape velocity: Breaking free of the impact failure of applied philosophy. the University of Texas, philosophy academics show that in the field of applied philosophy, application fails to escape academia; that is exchanges in applied philosophy occur between academics.  Likewise MLA doctoral educators ignore the literature in doctoral studies and doctoral studies academics have failed to reach doctoral program providers. Never the twain shall meet in academia.

The MLA report is done like a fait accompli.  It does not recommend adding to a literature on doctoral studies in humanities programs.  Why not?  Isn’t scholarship the perfect vehicle to establish and share knowledge beyond just copying practices, trends or program designs?  Does the MLA task force value the teaching and learning functions of doctoral programs to subject them to study?  Why not recommend a resident expert in doctoral programs in the humanities to gather up the statistics, conduct studies, co-write articles, encourage new approaches, provide training to doctoral educators/learners and pay attention to improving the quality of doctoral programs?

Why didn’t the MLA task force take a more inter-disciplinary approach to their work?  A more inter-disciplinary approach would be in keeping with the silo-busting and using resources of the entire university that are recommended.  Golde, who is a scholar in doctoral studies, is an administrator at Stanford which is the university of the chair of the MLA task force. Wouldn’t it be great to have an expert in doctoral education servicing humanities programs and bridging the silos? The traditions in the university of failure to escape an academic silo, apply to both the MLA and doctoral studies.

Achieving ‘escape velocity’ from the silo occurs through economic forces like push and pull, supply and demand as in the the hiring of medical ethicists.  Medical ethicists were pulled out of philosophy due to an urgent demand to make ethical decisions in the context of new medical technologies.  Researchers are now urged to plan for impact, engagement and knowledge exchange within the research proposal.

The MLA report and the work of scholars of doctoral studies speaks to the old paradigm of research cloistered off as ‘academic’ specialties.  The new paradigm calls for changes to research training.  It’s time to install a more granular approach to doctoral education which asks doctoral educators and their students to join together in examining their programs as an ongoing process.  This approach speaks to ongoing growth, testing, change, sharing, experimentation and iterations in doctoral programs. The doctoral education of the future will need to be far keener, continuously learning, more professional and always iterating.  The doctoral educators of the future should not be able to ignore their programs and fail to avail themselves of the lit in doctoral studies.

The recommendation most needed would have called for development of professional knowledge of doctoral education.  As is the report fails to avail its readers of what they need most, a process for figuring where they are now, what needs to be changed, what results to expect from change  and for sharing with other doctoral educators.