I am relying on IHE's reporting, of course, but I cannot help reacting to this:
Berman made the case for reform (as he has been for several years now) based on a variety of factors. He noted that the job market remains incredibly tight for literature Ph.D.s. Even those who land tenure-track jobs in academe, he said, are more likely to be working at teaching-oriented institutions than at research universities. Current doctoral programs are based on "replicating ourselves," he said, but this is unfair to graduate students since -- however brilliant their dissertations -- they aren't going to land jobs such as those held by their dissertation advisers.
“We shouldn’t be asking students to enter our programs unless we are fairly certain we are opening up career opportunities," he said.
So Berman and other members of the MLA panel outlined ideas for changing the doctorate. Replace coverage with more "generic" skills. Make clear to students that there is honor in using a Ph.D. to teach at a community college or a high school, or to work for a museum or another nonprofit. Embrace the digital humanities, which train graduate students for a range of careers while enhancing scholarship and teaching at the same time. Consider shorter dissertations (and forms other than mini-books). Add courses and training so that new Ph.D.s are skilled at teaching at institutions other than research universities, and so that graduate students have viable career paths outside of academe. (Notably, an idea not pushed by the committee was shrinking enrollments in graduate programs -- an approach advocated in private discussions here by many adjuncts, but that would result in less revenue for many graduate programs.)
I'm puzzled by the call for teaching "generic skills" instead of "coverage." I can think of some very specific skills that ought to be incorporated into Ph.D. programs, such as rhet/comp pedagogy. But there seems to be this weird undertone here that teaching at a comprehensive college is like falling down a rabbit hole, or that field specializations become irrelevant at such campuses. (I've picked up that undertone from faculty at R1s who are baffled by my publication record.) Yet that depends entirely on each comprehensive (or SLAC, for that matter). Had I landed the job I interviewed for at my father's university, for example, it appears that I would have spent my time teaching children's literature. At my campus, however, where I teach a 3-3, I generally have at least two-to-three field-specific courses, one or two surveys in my general neck of the woods, and some skills courses like intro to lit analysis or comp. I was hired to teach nineteenth-century British literature, and, by golly, most of the time that's what I teach. Axing "coverage" in favor of "skills" would not have improved my employment prospects here. (Our interviews spend a lot of time on teaching, but we require publication for tenure--in fact, our publication requirements are higher than at least one R1 I interviewed at a few years back--and someone who can't talk about their scholarship won't get very far. At other colleges, that might not be the case.) Now, what I generally can't do is teach "my research," except in a relatively abstract sense: e.g., I call my students' attention to religious issues in the texts we read, but I'm hardly going to offer an undergraduate course on the popular Victorian religious novel, because...no.
And again, I am not seeing why Ph.D. students who decide that they're interested in pursuing different careers immediately (as opposed to, say, going into administration after several years as a faculty member) are not counseled out into appropriate programs, instead of remaining in the English department and boosting graduate FTEs. (Oh. Wait.) Most white-collar, non-academic jobs have their own degrees and training, after all; obviously, people with English Ph.Ds can get and are getting these positions, but I don't see an answer to the question of "why stay in an English doctoral program, then?" I'm leery of cobbling together vocational training piecemeal.