Louis Menand’s new article The Ph.D. Problem: On the professionalization of faculty life, doctoral training, and the academy’s self-renewal. Cliff Notes version: the academy (the tenured folks who run things) have every incentive to take in huge numbers of Ph.D. candidates, and turn them into ABD drones to teach undergraduates–even though about half of them will never finish the Ph.D. program, and half of those that do finish will never get a tenure-track job. The result is the over-production of Ph.D.’s who are highly specialized but who are not very good at doing the things that universities should foster (e.g., teaching to non-specialists, intellectually engaging with the world outside the academy). The hyper-specialization puts non-tenured people (including Ph.D. candidates, and young teachers) at the mercy of the rigid political correctness of the tenured folks. Ten years of time invested in getting a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature leaves you with almost no job choices in your field, if you get blackballed for non-p.c. attitudes.
“[T]he most important function of the system, both for purposes of its continued survival and for purposes of controlling the market for its products, is the production of the producers. The academic disciplines effectively monopolize (or attempt to monopolize) the production of knowledge in their fields, and they monopolize the production of knowledge producers as well.” Menard applies the above statement to law as well as to humanities Ph.D. programs, but as he explicates, the problem is a lot worse in the Ph.D. context, because the credential takes so much longer to obtain.