MAA News – From the Executive Director: “Compatible Careers” and the Future of Academia

shieldAt the recent Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy at the University of Notre Dame, The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages (TEAMS sponsored a roundtable session titled “The Futures of Medieval Studies and the Academy,” moderated by Thomas Goodmann (Univ. of Miami). Participants Mary Carruthers (New York Univ. and President of the Fellows), Irina A. Dumitrescu (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn), and Barbara H. Rosenwein (Loyola Univ. Chicago) addressed issues concerning both Medieval Studies and Academia in general, followed by questions and discussion. A recording of the session is available here. I was particularly glad to have attended, since the discussion often turned to the Medieval Academy and concerns about how the MAA can help members, student members in particular, through advocacy, mentoring, and financial support. You’ll hear my responses to various questions and comments in the recording along with a very lively discussion.

Students in the audience expressed particular concerns about the job market, a topic of concern to all. We all know of prominent medievalists whose positions, after retirement, were re-tasked to be filled by early modernists or other non-medievalists. More and more students and junior scholars are vying for fewer and fewer positions, positions that are defined with increasingly broad strokes. Students are understandably anxious about how to balance their commitment to the Middle Ages with a wish to be “marketable” in an ever-more-generalizing job market. As panelist Irina Dumitrescu asked, “Does the future include Medieval Studies?” To judge by anecdotes of over-enrollments of Medieval Studies courses filled with students who grew up reading and watching Game of Thrones and Harry Potter and, of course, Lord of the Rings, there is often a disconnect between undergraduate demand and administrative supply. To help fill the seats and demonstrate to the administration the popularity of Medieval Studies, Barbara Rosenwein recommends – among other things – promoting courses through social media and enticing titles. We all know that once we get them in the door, they will want to be medievalists.

But then what? Are we sending our students out into a world where there aren’t enough full-time jobs? Where adjuncts are paid sub-standard wages? Where they have to “settle” for alt-ac?

As someone whose career has never followed the path of a traditional academic, I speak from experience when I say that there does not have be any “settling” involved in making that choice. Not everyone who goes to graduate school wants to be a full-time professor, and not everyone who wants to be a full-time professor is able to land the job they want. It behooves us all to make sure that our students know that there are other options out there and that they are all valued and acceptable.

For the last three years, Fordham University’s Center for Medieval Studies has modeled this support for its students by offering an annual program titled “Compatible Careers for Medievalists.” This year, panelists included graduates of Fordham’s Medieval Studies program who were pursuing careers outside traditional Academia. Participants spoke about how the skills they acquired as medievalists were applicable in other workplace environments. Some examples are described in this handout created by Fordham alumnus Paul Slonina, currently a consultant with Booz Allen. As the definition of Medieval Studies continues to expand – in the classroom, at the podium, in the pages of Speculum, and in print – our understanding of how we define success for ourselves and our students needs to expand as well. Our skillset is eminently marketable, and there are a lot of ways to be a medievalist.

At the TEAMS roundtable, Mary Carruthers spoke about the changing climate on campuses where a degree is sometimes seen as a commodity, where the increasing corporatization of universities that seem to prioritize cost-efficiency over all creates a less-than-supportive environment for all faculty, regardless of department. In this climate, it is more important than ever for medievalists to preach, as the Academy declared in the 1940s, “the Truth of the Humanities.” We need to engage in international initiatives, delve into public and educational policy development, reach out to other disciplines, and continue the valuable work many have already begun in comparative histories. And we need to support each other. The leadership and governance of the Medieval Academy of America stands willing and able to advocate on behalf of endangered programs and positions. Please contact me if you need our help.

Finally, don’t forget that the Academy already offers a platform for networking and collaboration through the Committee on Area and Regional Associations (CARA), a group that facilitates brainstorming, problem-solving, and strategizing among Committee and Program chairs and administrators. If you haven’t already registered, the CARA Committee and I invite you to join us as we inaugurate a new model for CARA networking at the annual (and free) CARA Luncheon at the upcoming Kalamazoo Congress, on Friday, May 15, at noon. Attendees will engage in programmatic discussions over lunch with others who share similar concerns. If you would like to join us as a representative of your program, please register by Monday, May 11, here. I look forward to seeing you there.

And if you can’t come to the CARA lunch at Kalamazoo, stop by the Medieval Academy table in the exhibit hall to say hello and pick up some chocolate. We’d love to meet you.

Lisa Fagin Davis, Executive Director

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