“Public Musicologists” Ignore Public Musicology

Institutionally-unaffiliated PhDs in my field are routinely swept under the carpet. Amanda Sewell’s report in the August 2015 newsletter of the American Musicological Society about an early 2015 conference on the Past, Present, and Future of Public Musicology confirms this by not bothering to mention my paper.

My contribution was called: “The Untapped Doctoral Majority of Potential Public Musicologists.” The paper begins by covering such things as:

  • the over-supply of musicology PhDs for the number of academic positions
  • what some musicology PhDs actually end up doing outside of academia

It continues by covering my:

I also then explain that I created music history instructional videos and that I adapted my dissertation on the Canadian rock band Rush for a public book called Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). I end the paper with an example from Chapter 1 of my forthcoming book in the same series: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion.

I have done almost all of that work outside of conventional institutional contexts, so does that mean it doesn’t qualify as “public musicology”?! The Musicology Now (blog) version of the report is only slightly better, with one, highly-misleading sentence about my work: “Durrell Bowman (independent scholar) spoke of the challenges he has faced in the decade-long search for an academic position in musicology.” Both my assigned title of “independent scholar”–which I loathe, in favour of “public music historian”–and the falsely-reported subject matter of my paper–which is actually a whole bunch of things I have done in Public Musicology–may explain why the editor of the AMS newsletter decided to exclude it. Not surprisingly, the newsletter version of the report also excludes the following sentence: “Felicia Miyakawa (academic consultant) explained why she left a tenured position and chose to pursue public musicology.”

I can’t speak for Miyakawa, but “we” are not amused.

Musicology & Ethnomusicology Job Outcomes

I recently undertook research using the websites of 146 graduate programs in musicology and ethnomusicology: 104 in the U.S., 13 in Canada, 16 in the UK, and 13 elsewhere.  Of the relevant university departments, 37 provide lists of their current graduate students, from several to as many as 58.  My investigation resulted in a list of 822 M.A. and Ph.D. students enrolled in those 37 programs in early 2013, thus averaging just over 22 per program.  About two-thirds of those students are in Ph.D. programs and many (though not all) of the M.A. students will continue into Ph.D. work, but how many academic music graduate students (i.e., a lot more than those 822) are likely to get jobs in academia?

The average time in graduate school (for people who complete it) is probably six or seven years, taking into account not only terminal master’s degrees but also those Ph.D. candidates who take longer.  The Musicology & Ethnomusicology Job Wiki goes back a little over six years (for jobs starting between 2007 and 2013), which is pretty much an identical amount of time.  So, a reasonable estimate of how many graduate students are likely to end up with jobs in the field (tenure-track, visiting/one-year, 2-3 year, or postdoctoral fellowship) can be ascertained by calculating the ratio of each institution’s recent academic-job placement outcome to its current graduate-student population.  Most academic hires have not yet been announced for the upcoming school year, so I factored in 2013 as a third of a year (thus, 6.33 years in total), based on the information available to date.

The following are the eleven most successful departments of the 37, based on the ratio of academic-job placements from 2007-13 relative to each institution’s number of enrolled graduate students in early 2013:

  1. 217% – New York U.
  2. 120% – The U. of Texas at Austin
  3. 100% – Columbia U.
  4. 65% – UCLA (Musicology) – for all Ph.D. graduates from 1991 to 2013, the rate is 38% (or 42% lower)
  5. 62% – Harvard U.
  6. 55% – Cornell U.
  7. 50% – UC Santa Barbara
  8. 44% – U. of Illinois
  9. 40% – UC Davis
  10. 38% – Stanford U.
  11. 38% – U. of Michigan

The placement rates for academic jobs starting in the past 6-7 years of the next seventeen programs (relative to their early-2013 graduate student populations) range from 31% down to 2%.  Those are:

  1. 31% – U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  2. 29% – Eastman School of Music, U. of Rochester
  3. 25% – U. of Chicago
  4. 24% – U. of Virginia
  5. 22% – U. of Nottingham
  6. 21% – Princeton U.
  7. 20% – Brandeis U.
  8. 20% – U. of Pittsburgh
  9. 17% – U. of Colorado
  10. 15% – U. of North Texas
  11. 14% – Boston U.
  12. 13% – Brown U.
  13. 12% – UCLA (Ethnomusicology)
  14. 10% – Indiana U.
  15. 10% – U. of Oxford
  16. 2% – King’s College, London
  17. 2% – U. of Cambridge

In addition, the final nine programs do not appear to have been at all successful in placing people in academic positions.  Overall, relative to the 822 current graduate students in those 37 musicology and ethnomusicology programs (in early 2013), the average subsequent placement out of those programs into academic positions from 2007 to early 2013 (6.33 years) is:

  • 22.6% – in tenure-track positions
  • 6.7% in temporary (occasionally renewable) positions or postdoctoral fellowships

for a total of 29.3%.  Using UCLA Musicology’s statistic of 42% lower in academic outcomes in early 2013 for 23 years’ worth of Ph.D.s (compared to the outcomes for the six or seven years from 2007-13 and thus excluding earlier temporary positions) suggests a more “career length” success rate into academic careers for these 37 departments of only 17%.

Of the people newly hired between 2007 and 2013, only a tiny fraction were outliers:  hired at senior levels (thus having been graduate students well before 2007) or appearing two or three times (because of multiple temporary positions and/or postdoctoral fellowships).  In addition, some people were hired before completing their Ph.D.s (“ABD” – “All But Dissertation”), and a few searches did not succeed (i.e., they failed, were cancelled, or were extended).  However, those last two factors are virtually irrelevant for purposes of this study, because an ABD generally has to complete his or her dissertation with a year or two of landing a job, and no-one ends up being hired for a job that no longer exists.

Most musicology and/or ethnomusicology university programs (including a number of major, large ones) do not include the type of graduate-student information used in this study.  It is likely, though (given 146 programs), that there are currently around four times as many graduate students in those fields than the 822 (in 37 programs) accounted for here:  so, more than 3,200.  About 500 people must enter and exit graduate programs in musicology and ethnomusicology every year.  However, there was only an average of 75 new academic jobs per year in those fields between 2007 to 2012—and that includes non-tenure-track positions, temporary teaching positions, and postdoctoral fellowships.

Musicology and ethnomusicology need to cut back substantially on their number of graduate students, possibly reduce their number of graduate programs (and certainly refrain from adding new ones), and, especially, make a concerted effort to address what other types of work could be done by their many colleagues who do not end up in academic positions.  As an example of how poorly this is done, the American Musicological Society’s official career-advice document (revised in 2011) is 195 pages long but includes only a few, scant pages about non-academic careers (borrowed from other disciplines, decades out of date, and almost completely useless).

Academic music societies do not include information in their directories pertaining to the student-status and/or variable- (including non-) career situations of their members—supposedly for “privacy” reasons, but actually because they need to believe that everything already works correctly and that almost everyone ends up in a tenure-track position.  They also don’t have websites that allow their membership communities to contribute directly.  These fields need to do much, much better.