A Placement Office for Unemployed PhDs
by Daniel Luzer
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University, has an idea about what to do with those people. According to an editorial he wrote for Inside Higher Ed:
What can we do with, and for, the Ph.D.’s and those who dropped out short of the final degree that will be useful for them and, not accidentally, provide a benefit to the nation?
My proposal is for a national program that combines some of the elements of Works Progress Administration programs from the Great Depression, the Peace Corps, and the Fulbright Awards.
Volunteers for this new program, after training most plausibly sponsored by the State Department, would be sent abroad, chiefly to developing countries where they could teach at high levels, in some cases study (especially languages), and work in civil programs according to their abilities and training, for example, in court administration and in the organization of self-help associations and business start-ups.
This proposal does have the potential to address a very real problem. It would provide a way for jobless skilled people to obtain employment appropriate for their education and talents. But one wonders if developing countries really want to be overrun by over-educated, professionally unsuccessful Americans.
Trachtenberg’s piece proposes a solution that treats the symptom of the problem, however, not the cause. Trachtenberg doesn’t address the fact that he is himself responsible for a lot of this glut of people with useless terminal degrees. In his 19 years as president of George Washington University Trachtenberg created five new professional schools. Presumably his goal wasn’t to prepare people for vague humanitarian work in Haiti, Nigeria, or Uzbekistan.