Last week Slate Magazine published this article by Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset entitled “The Academy’s Dirty Secret.” For those of us in the profession, the revelation wasn’t much of a secret: a small cluster of universities produce most of the PhDs held by those with tenure-track positions in North American universities. The article was based on a study of nearly 19,000 faculty members at 461 universities in the disciplines of computer science, business, and history (the complete data are available here). It distressed me, but didn’t surprise me, to see that a mere eight institutions produce half of all the history professors in this country.
I wondered if this pattern held true for the subfield of Polish history, but since many Polonists are officially listed as professors of “European history” or at best “East-Central European history,” it is hard to arrive at precise figures here. We can, however, see where Polish historians get their PhDs (thanks to the American Historical Association’s database of dissertations), even if it would be difficult to figure out how many of these obtained tenure-track jobs. The resulting picture confirms the aforementioned concentration: a mere 8 schools have produced 51% of all the Polish history doctorates over the past 25 years, and 42% of those written since 1910 (when the AHA’s database begins).
But perhaps we should not be distressed by these statistics after all. When looked at from the opposite direction, one could emphasize that nearly half of all those who studied Poland’s past at the doctoral level over the past 25 years did so at a diverse array of 40 different schools. That would certainly mitigate any tendency to homogenize the field. Moreover, a case could be made that a certain level of concentration is good because it allows students with similar interests to work together and learn from each other. Finally, I was pleased to see that half of the “big eight” from the past quarter century are public universities, and obviously I was happy to learn which school came in at #1. (I didn’t expect this when I began my review of these figures, so this post wasn’t supposed to be an advertisement—honestly! )