Wanna be a prof when you grow up?
You'll need a PhD—and you might want to get it south of the border
Carson Jerema | Nov 22, 2007 |
Among graduate students, Chris Mead could be considered one of the best. After receiving the Warhaft Masters Thesis Award for top M.A. thesis in English at the University of Manitoba, Mead began his Ph.D. studies this fall—not in Canada, but at the University of California-Berkeley.
“Some people think you can only do good work south of the border,” says Mead. The specialist in the representation of medicine in 19th-century literature disagrees with that assumption, but he has nevertheless added his name to the list of thousands of Canadians seeking a doctoral degree from an American university. These students are saying with their feet what many in the academic world suspect, but won’t say on the record: if you want to become a professor, an American Ph.D. may give you an edge.
Is there any truth to that belief? We decided to try to answer the question by looking at a random selection of university departments, to discover whom they hired—and where those professors came from. So would you be better off with a U.S. graduate degree? The answer: maybe.
The apparent preference for foreign faculty began in the 1960s. Between 1954 and 1968, undergraduate enrolment at Canadian universities increased 400 per cent. Canadian doctoral programs were underdeveloped, but someone had to teach all these new students. “We just weren’t producing the number of Ph.D.s even to fill our own needs,” says Keith Archer, former associate dean of arts, and professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
It was partly just a matter of sheer numbers then, and it may still be today. There are over 200 doctorate-granting universities in the United States, turning out over 40,000 Ph.D.s every year. Canada confers less than one-tenth this number of doctorates. In 2001, only 45 Canadian schools awarded Ph.D.s, and more than half the Ph.D.s awarded came from just six schools.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, deans and department heads flocked overseas to recruit, offering generous salaries and a two-year federal tax holiday for American and British academics willing to come to Canada. In his 1996 book, Yankee Go Home!, historian Jack Granatstein estimated that Canadian citizens(many educated outside of the country)went from comprising 75 per cent of faculty in the 1950s to less than half by the end of the 1960s.
The nationalist backlash was not long in coming. As early as 1968, there was an active campaign for preferential hiring of Canadian citizens. A watershed 1976 report on Canadian Studies entitled “To Know Ourselves” brought the nationalist debate out of the ivory tower and into the public consciousness. The report, written by the founding president of Trent University, T.H.B. Symons, concluded that questions of Canadian history, politics and society were grossly ignored, and that many departments were reluctant to hire Canadians. By 1977, the federal government had eliminated the tax holiday and mandated preferential hiring practices, some of which persist today.
Moreover, Canadian doctoral programs began to mature and the explosion of Canadian undergraduates became an explosion of Canadian doctoral candidates. Only 306 Ph.D.s were awarded in 1960, but by 1970 that number had ballooned to 1,680. Since 1992, Canadian universities have conferred at least 3,000 doctorates every year. And while a good number of Canadians are doing graduate work stateside, they are in the minority: Canadian citizens earn five times as many doctoral degrees in Canada as in the U.S.
Archer, a Canadian who earned his Ph.D. at Duke University in 1985, says, “more recently, people coming out of Canadian doctoral programs are as competitive as graduates from any programs. If there was a historical relationship [favouring American Ph.D.s], I don’t know if it persists today.”
But a survey of faculty biographies suggests that it just might. At many schools, American-trained academics account for a significant proportion of the faculty.
For example, in Archer’s department at the University of Calgary, of the 21 regular, full-time faculty members, 11 have Canadian doctorates while eight have American ones. The departmental ratio in political science at Queen’s is 14 to five in favour of Canadian Ph.D.s, while Carleton’s physics department has 10 Canadian and two American Ph.D.s.