The Historian and the Murderer
June 13, 2021 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Historian Dominique Kirchner Reill: "[M]y job in the almost 80 questions that followed was not to disabuse the court of ideas of adulterous encounters but instead to explain what this strange profession of 'historian' was, and what role it played in bringing Klinger into that Astoria park on the day he died."
posted by bryon (15 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow!

I wish I had something more interesting to say, but thanks for posting this.
posted by inexorably_forward at 12:44 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


That was a surprise! A good one.
I spent 11 hours Friday writing an application, and was rather shocked at how much more complicated it has become since last time I applied for a similar position at the same university.
The author notes:
Administrative skills are ever more sought after as educational institutions’ budgets get tighter. I imagine soon deans will require proof of the ability to fundraise for new hires.
Yup, that is a clearly stated requirement now.
Also:
Even those who can do all these jobs simultaneously often can’t secure employment. According to 2019 surveys, only 19 percent of recent Ph.Ds. in history programs within the United States received the kind of job Klinger believed he would get in New York City.
This is so important to know. No wonder people fall for scammers and conspiracy theories. Murder is extreme, but I'm not surprised that this could happen to someone from an Eastern European country.
posted by mumimor at 1:08 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


And this:
Sociological and psychological know-how are now musts in environments where students are exhibiting ever more the traumatic effects of our political and economic realities.

There is a lot to unpack from that one sentence. Not much of it positive.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:00 AM on June 14 [14 favorites]


This was really interesting and also depressing. Hard to comment on, but great post!
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:34 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting. That was a fascinating read. I left a history Ph.D. program about 30 years ago because it was clear how tough it was going to be to make a career for myself. Things have only gotten worse since then.
posted by maurice at 6:04 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I started as on the PhD track for biochem, saw what it would actually be like (constant networking, backscratching, grant writing, long hours, little pay) and mastered out. Haven’t looked back.

It’s a terrible system at the moment and probably plays no small part in that quip about the greatest minds of this generation serving ads to people.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:20 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


One close family member of mine was unable to get a university job in his academic field after many years of study and a Ph.D. Another has been remarkably successful at following this path. It seems so arbitrary.

One of the root causes, perhaps, is that we massively overproduce Ph.Ds. There simply aren't positions available for all the qualified scholars.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:41 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


There simply aren't positions available for all the qualified scholars.

Close, but not quite - there simply aren't full-time/benefited positions available for all the qualified scholars. It's pretty easy to get an adjunct job if you have a PhD - but don't count on it providing health insurance or ever allowing you to save.

Anyway, this was a very enjoyable read, thanks for posting!
posted by coffeecat at 9:33 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


As depressing as the reality is, this essay also makes the point that it’s not at all what the general public thinks academia is like. Which compounds the dismal state of higher Ed in general and the humanities in particular.

Moral panics about critical race theory make it all so much more impossible to fix.
posted by zenzenobia at 9:55 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


it’s not at all what the general public thinks academia is like

Indeed not. I saw a twitter thread over the weekend that compared/contrasted images of academic offices in tv/movies to the reality. It was entertainingly grim.
posted by suelac at 9:58 AM on June 14


Sure, but you can put cartoons on the door
posted by thelonius at 10:19 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I came in with the assumption that academic jobs like Historian or Teacher of History, were damn hard to get and paid less than you would expect or want. What struck me was how the rest of the world, or at least several people in the rest of the world still viewed the "American dream" of being able to get a decent job and work hard and advance. Also, reasonably priced housing. Lol that. That dream is what killed Klinger and what the murderer used to set Klinger up.

I also found it intriguing how even and overruled objection to being non-responsive to a question worked to get the witness to be responsive in a way that the lawyer wanted.

It was a good read.
posted by AugustWest at 11:40 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I also found it intriguing how even and overruled objection to being non-responsive to a question worked to get the witness to be responsive in a way that the lawyer wanted.

While it was the prosecutor asking questions, it was the defense attorney who objected; it's not clear why or what they were expecting to happen but I'm not sure it went the way they wanted.

I admit to being very confused that they were being asked questions without any clue as to why. I was under the impression that in between earlier depositions and the desire for control by attorneys, people on witness stands always no the thrust of the questions they'll get. (Edit: This was during a deposition, duh.)
posted by mark k at 11:59 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I started as on the PhD track for biochem, saw what it would actually be like (constant networking, backscratching, grant writing, long hours, little pay) and mastered out

What a wonderful way to express it! Rather than trying to explain what "ABD" means or saying one "dropped out" of a PhD - instead, we MASTERED out.

I have increasingly thought of academia as being much more like acting than a profession like law or medicine: whether you make it or not is not just a matter of skill or effort, but also being the "right fit" for the role - and all the other things in the article (networking, connections, etc.). No one ever says that someone must have been a bad actor if they didn't get a major role - we all recognize that there are far more talented and skilled people than there are jobs, and sometimes, you just don't have the right "look" (or, in the case of a historian, the right topic) for that role -- or even to be in fashion.
posted by jb at 12:58 PM on June 14


There simply aren't positions available for all the qualified scholars.

Close, but not quite - there simply aren't full-time/benefited positions available for all the qualified scholars. It's pretty easy to get an adjunct job if you have a PhD - but don't count on it providing health insurance or ever allowing you to save.


The system also overproduces PhDs.

Universities had rapid post-war growth in many developed countries, but this has slowed a great deal since 1980 -- partly due to demographics, partly due to politics (lack of public spending). With little or no growth, then really you only need a 1-to-1 replacement for faculty. So, if only 1/5 faculty are at PhD producing universities (as opposed to undergraduate colleges), they'll want to have 5 PhD students over their entire career to maintain the same number, maybe 6 or 7 to support slow growth. Instead, we see research faculty who have multiple PhD students per year.

For some fields of study, there is an industry/non-profit/government demand for people with PhD training -- and, in those fields, the job market isn't as dire. It's not great - I know that people have to make a serious choice about whether to go for the risky academic path or the safer industry path. But there is at least a relief valve, as it were - and non-academic options to apply their skills.

for the Humanities and a lot of Social Sciences, there isn't that non-academic demand -- and yet, universities produce more PhDs than job openings every single year. Yes, lack of funding has lead to the conversion of what were tenured, full-time positions with benefits into contract lecturing. But the overall number of positions really hasn't kept up with the number of PhDs graduated. If contract positions are easy to get, it's because a great many people have found other options - or will not or cannot work in the system like that.
posted by jb at 1:13 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


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