Annual Report on the Academic Job Market 2005

Andrea Quarracino | October 2005

From the October 2005 issue of AWP Job List. © 2006 The Association of Writers & Writing Programs. May only be reprinted with the permission of AWP.


According to a tabulation of listings in the AWP Job List, the number of academic jobs in literature and creative writing increased slightly in the 2004–05 academic year. The amount of job openings published rose slightly from the previous year, from 393 positions listed in 2003–04 to 450 in 2004–05. Of those 450 jobs, 221 were tenure-track positions (up from 186 in 2003–04), of which 111 were creative writing faculty positions (up from 65 in 2003–04, but comparable to 2002–03, when we listed 103 tenure-track jobs). New creative writing graduates may be, at first, encouraged by last year’s modest gain after the 2003–04 slump, but each new job seeker should know that he or she faces many competitors. Thousands of new graduates compete each year for a few hundred tenure-track jobs, and they are competing for those jobs along with yesteryear’s graduates, many of whom are still working in part-time and temporary adjunct positions. A slight gain in the number of new jobs hardly matters when thousands of people with advanced degrees are still seeking their first tenure-track job.

The Hard Numbers

In a study of earned degrees conferred in 2002–03 (the most current information available at the time of this printing), the Chronicle of Higher Education reports 7,413 Master’s Degrees earned in the field of English language and literature, and 1,246 Doctoral degrees.1 The AWP Job List report from the 2002–03 academic year lists a total of 640 new academic jobs in the literary field, 357 of which were tenure-track positions, and 102 of which were tenure-track creative writing jobs (Table 1). The Modern Language Association (MLA) Job Information List posted advertisements for 1,541 positions in the 2003–04 academic year, of which “from half to three fifths” of the total number of positions were tenure track positions at the level of assistant professor.2 This is a healthier number altogether, but one that still falls short of the demand.  (MLA’s job statistics for the 2004–05 were not available as we went to press.)

The number of jobs reported to the AWP Job List varies from year to year (Table 1), and AWP members should be aware that, for them, the academic job market is in flux with the following trends, a few of which help and a few of which hinder a happy career in academe:

1.  The diminished popularity of English as a major among undergraduates.

2.  The growing popularity of creative writing as an undergraduate elective. 

3. Academe’s growing preference for part-time, temporary workers who receive low pay and meager benefits.

4.  Steady growth in the number of new graduate programs in creative writing.

5. A related growth in the number of graduates with advanced degrees in creative writing.

6.  An unsteady handling of higher education finances by political leaders in many states, where low allocations limit faculty compensation or the creation of new positions, in spite of a growing population of college-bound students.

7.  New unionization efforts that seek to improve compensation and working conditions for adjunct faculty.

8.  The dominance of women among those earning degrees in English and literature.

9.  The immanent retirement of professors who were among the earliest of the Boomer generation, who began their academic careers in the 1960s.

Even though another generation of professors is always retiring from their positions, including the first wave of creative writing professors who entered academe in rapidly growing numbers after 1970, creative writing as an academic discipline is in an odd situation. Creative writing is a popular specialty in a department of diminished appeal and clout. The study of English literature has not been an area of growth at the undergraduate level. In the early 1970s, as many as 63,000 graduates earned BAs in English, but by 2003, the number of graduates earning BAs in English had declined to approximately 54,000—a curious state of affairs as the US population has grown by tens of millions of people over that same time period.  As a percentage of all BA majors, English has declined from over 7% in the early 1970s to 4% today. Nonetheless, academe is now producing just as many PhDs in English as it did decades ago when English was a more popular major. After a downturn in the number of PhDs conferred in the 1980s, when the annual number of new PhDs conferred went down to 720 in 1989, more PhDs are again entering the field. In the 2002–03 academic year, 1,246 people earned PhDs in English. And academe is now producing thousands of new graduates with MFA degrees in creative writing.

Among the specialties that comprise English literature as an academic discipline, creative writing is an area of growth (Table 3), both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  While the popularity of the specialty among students has created many new teaching positions, the growing number of programs also means that there are more graduates with MAs, PhDs, and MFAs in creative writing, and they are competing for the same few jobs.

24% of AWP’s 400 member schools responded to AWP’s annual survey this past summer. (When institutions renew their memberships, they are asked to provide a few statistics regarding their enrollments.) Our responding member institutions reported a total of 2,482 students enrolled at the graduate level, 61% in MFA programs, 32% in MA programs, and 7% in PhD programs. We estimate that total graduate enrollments in creative writing stand at roughly 6,000 students, and approximately 2,500 of them earn their degrees each year. Only 111 tenure-track jobs in creative writing were advertised in last year’s AWP Job List.

At every level of higher education, women have been earning far many more degrees in English and literature than men. Last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education, women earned 36,945 BAs in English and literature, while men earned only 16,725. Women earned 4,987 MAs, while men earned only 2,426. Women earned 754 PhDs, and men, 492.3 As a result of this trend, more women are now serving as department chairs, program directors, and members of hiring committees. Although women may be more likely to receive fair consideration by an academic hiring committee than women did back in the 1950s, the academic job market has become so crowded with contenders that securing a tenure-track job remains a trial for most new graduates, women or men. As women comprise most of the new academic labor force in English, they also fill the majority of low-paying, part-time, and adjunct positions in English.


table 1

table 2

table 3

Persevering in a Crowded Job Market

The high numbers of PhD and MFA graduates in creative writing makes for an extremely challenging arena for job hunters. The search for a suitable placement is generally a time-consuming project that may take years of hard work and sacrifice. Sarah Cole, now an Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, spent four years on the academic job market.  Of her experience, Cole recalled that “the whole process was difficult and fraught, and I was amazingly lucky to end up here. I continue to feel tremendous sympathy for our grad students on the market.”4 Cole, who holds a PhD from Berkeley, worked for Ohio University for two years before going to work at Columbia.  Many of AWP’s own board members have had to work in academe for ten years or more before they secured their first tenure-track jobs.

Philip Gerard, Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, has conducted a number of academic job searches. He advises candidates that hiring departments seek “reliable writers and teachers who are also good department citizens—just plain confident and willing to pitch in.” It is important for job seekers to be organized, talented, excited in their work, and it is important to convey these qualities clearly and concisely on a c.v. “The days when being flaky was cool are way over,” said Gerard. “The standard of teaching has gone up in writing programs.” With rising expectations, candidates on the academic job market need to showcase their publications, and they need to have proven teaching experience. While it may be preferable for candidates to have gained experience by way of a graduate teaching assistantship, there are other ways for candidates to boost their aptitude in the classroom. Gerard recommends seeking out internship opportunities, volunteer positions, or openings through organizations such as AmeriCorps. “Teaching is hard, and you have to learn how to do it,” said Gerard. “Not every teacher is a writer, and not every writer is a teacher. It is good to have professional guidance.”5

Lesley Parker, who holds an MFA in Poetry, is currently an Instructor in English at Coastal Carolina Community College in North Carolina. She did not have a teaching assistantship in graduate school, but found other ways to add teaching experience to her resume. Prior to graduate school, a job in the Continuing Education department helped get a foot in the door at the community college. “I taught every GED and ABE class imaginable, even taking on an Adult High School course one summer. This experience helped me get a job teaching English curriculum courses part-time.” Parker believes that her community college teaching background helped her gain the position she holds today.6 Shana Deets, who also holds an MFA in Poetry, is an Associate Lecturer in English at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc. Like Parker, she did not have a graduate level teaching assistantship, but looked to the community to find teaching work. “During graduate school, I was willing to drive an hour and fifteen minutes each way to teach two classes, and looking back now that seems crazy,” Deets recalled. “However, when I was interviewed for this full-time position, I could speak from two years of experience in the classroom.”7

The trouble for recent graduates is that, often, the acquisition of teaching experience and a living wage often erodes their time to write and publish, and publishing good work is another prerequisite towards securing a tenure-track professorship in creative writing. Unless one has the fortune of having a very well-received, popular, or prize-winning title for one’s first book publication, many MFA graduates must publish two or three books before they can secure their first tenure-track job.  Search committees can afford to be highly selective. While seeking their first tenure-track job, many recent graduates work in two or more part-time positions, often earning only  $2,500 per class, or as little as $1,300 at some institutions. Many adjuncts teach four or five classes a semester at two or three different institutions. They find themselves forever commuting to work or grading papers. Such work leaves one with very little free time and no disposable income. With such a hard working life, it’s hard to write that new novel or to conduct research and develop expertise in another century of literature, both of which would be assets towards improving one’s prospects for a better academic job.

Routine & Growing Exploitation

Although the MLA, AWP, and just about every academic association has disseminated official policy statements to promote the fair treatment of adjunct faculty, that exploitation continues to become more ubiquitous. The percentage of underpaid, part-time instructors continues to increase in academe, in spite of double digit percentage increases in tuitions and fees. In 1983, 35% of faculty were part-time instructors. By 2003, 46% of the faculty were part-timers.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) calls this the “academic personnel crisis”—the shift away from dependence on full-time, tenure-track faculty to a “contingent instructional workforce.”8 Another aspect of that shift is the growing employment of full-time faculty who are not eligible for tenure. These are faculty members who work full time, but are on one-year or multiyear contracts without the protection of job security or the professional control that characterizes tenured positions. They often earn less than teachers in public high schools. The growth of both part-time/adjunct faculty and full-time nontenure-track faculty over the last two decades represents what AFT calls “a major and purposeful effort by higher education institutions to reduce the number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty.”9 According to AFT, this has been done partly in response to the failure of most states to provide adequate funding for their colleges and universities. This coincides with a report from the Association of Departments of English, which states, “Although adjunct appointments can add significant dimensions to curricula…few adjunct appointments are made for educationally sound reasons. Indeed, the primary motivation for most of these appointments is to reduce the cost of instruction.”10 But money isn’t the whole story. The growth of contingent faculty also mirrors the movement to run higher education institutions “more like a business.”11 According to AFT, the traditions of tenure and shared governance, which guarantee due process and academic freedom, and which give faculty a major role in academic decision-making, run counter to a command-and-control business model. “The fact that large numbers of academic workers are hired without effective job security, without decent salaries and benefits, and without a guaranteed role in academic decision-making is of great concern…”12

According to AFT, “The number of tenure-track positions available to academic job seekers has also decreased.”13 The MLA “2004 Survey of Hiring Departments” reports that, of the 612 positions that four-year English departments in the MLA Job Information List group sought to fill, 74.2% (448) were advertised at the level of tenure-track assistant professor; 15.2% (93) were advertised as full-time nontenure-track positions. The assistant professor searches resulted in a hire 87.5% of the time, and 97.7% of these appointments were made as the positions were advertised, at the rank of tenure-track assistant professor. The same study reports fewer than 50 applications for 36.8% of the searches conducted by the four-year English departments in the JIL group; 33.3% had between 50 and 99 applicants; 10.3% had 100 applicants or more.14

Average Salaries

At first glance, faculty salaries appear to have improved in the 2004–05 academic year. A recent article by Scott Smallwood in the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the evident salary upswing, and explores reasons why rising numbers may not be as good as they seem. “Average faculty salaries are 2.8% higher this academic year, a slight uptick from the 2.1% increase of a year ago.”15 However, according to Smallwood, these figures do not account for the 3.3% inflation rate for 2004, meaning that real salary levels actually fell by “a few tenths of a percent.” The range of average salaries for professors in all disciplines is $47,473 for assistant professors at community colleges and $127,214 for a full-time professor at a private doctoral university.16 Unfortunately, salaries of professors in the arts and humanities are often lower than that of professors in business, engineering, information technology, and the sciences, so professors of English often earn less than the national average. The average salary of a professor of English at a 4-year college was $55,765 in 2004–05.

In an article by Keith Hoeller that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Hoeller claims, “it has been well documented that adjunct faculty members do not receive equal pay for equal work.”17 According to Hoeller, most earn about half the salary of what tenure-track professors make to teach the same number of courses, and adjuncts rarely, if ever, receive a raise. Said Hoeller, “This means most experienced adjuncts are paid at the same rate as beginners, and are denied annual raises that are routinely awarded to full-timers.” According to Hoeller, the disparity between part-time and full-time salaries in the community colleges totaled $115 million in 2004. “That figure, which is the amount of money it would take to close the gap and pay all adjuncts at the same rate as the full-timers, has not gone down since 1999.”18

Adjuncts Unionize

Shana Deets, an Adjunct lecturer, spoke of her experience with learning the salary process. “At the (Wisconsin) state-wide departmental meeting for the English department, I noticed that most of the adjunct lecturers don’t really know what the process is for getting promoted. Most of us don’t know how or when our salaries could improve. Adjuncts need to take responsibility for finding this information and for acting on it.”19

Unionization of adjunct professors is a growing resource for those working in academia. Keith Hoeller refers to ATF and the National Education Association as “exclusive bargaining agents” for the part-timers in the Washington community colleges, who are quickly moving to force part-timers to either join the union or pay them a representation fee. “…you would think the unions would lead the charge in proposing state legislation to grant all part-time faculty members annual increments,”20 says Hoeller. Union leaders have argued that such legislation would interfere with collective bargaining.

While unions at all 34 community and technical colleges have negotiated annual raises for full-time faculty members, 21 of the local unions have failed to bargain for any increments at all for their part-timers. The other 13 unions have won only a few small steps… As a result, since 1999, full-time faculty members have received nine times as much in incremental raises as the part-timers.21

AFT represents over 130,000 higher education faculty, professional staff, and graduate employees. According to the AFT website (<>), the organization has more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide, 43 state affiliates, and more than 1.3 million members. Graduate teaching assistants are also among those joining unions. The MLA “Summary Tables for Departments of English” reports that, out of a survey of 116 academic departments, 24.1% (28 departments) have unionized teaching assistants. The unionized teaching assistants earn an average salary of $11,806 compared to nonunionized teaching assistants (75.9%) earn an average of $11,020.22 




  1. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Almanac Issue 2005-2006. (August 26, 2005): 20.
  2. Laurence, David. “Report on the 2003-2005 Job Information List.”
  3. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Almanac Issue 2005-2006. (August 26, 2005): 20.
  4. Cole, Sarah. Interview by author via e-mail from Fairfax, VA (September 25, 2005).
  5. Gerard, Philip. Interview by author, telephone interview from Fairfax, VA (September 26, 2005).
  6. Parker, Lesley. Interview by author via e-mail from Fairfax, VA (September 25, 2005).
  7. Deets, Shana. Interview by author via e-mail from Fairfax, VA (September 25, 2005).
  8. “The Growth of Full-time Nontenure-Track Faculty: Challenges for the Union.” American Federation of Teachers.
  9. Ibid.
  10. “ADE Statement on the Use of Part-Time and Full-Time Adjunct Faculty.” Association of Departments of English.
  11. “The Growth of Full-time Nontenure-Track Faculty: Challenges for the Union.” American Federation of Teachers.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. “Report on the MLA’s 2004 Survey of Hiring Departments.”
  15. Smallwood, Scott. “Faculty Salaries Rose 2.8%, but Failed to Keep Pace With Inflation for the First Time in 8 Years.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 22, 2005).
  16. Ibid.
  17. Hoeller, Keith. “Equal Pay Means Equal Raises, Too.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (August 16, 2005).
  18. Ibid.
  19. Deets, Shana. Interview by author via e-mail from Fairfax, VA (September 25, 2005).
  20. Hoeller, Keith. “Equal Pay Means Equal Raises, Too.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (August 16, 2005).
  21. Ibid.
  22. “Summary Tables for Departments of English.” Modern Language Association.

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