I’ll admit up front that this may seem a little hypocritical, as I remain convinced there is a very real chance that, had this mindset been in place when I applied for my PhD, I probably would not have been admitted. So it is easy for me to say “there are too many of us!” when I have already gotten across the finish line.
Having said that, I do think perhaps we turn out too many PhDs for the academic world.
However…perhaps we need to do a better job convincing folks outside of the ivory tower – and potential PhD students – that a PhD is more than just a path to an academic career. Further, we need to be serious about that. We cannot shake our heads and withdraw support when a PhD student decides to pursue a career that is not exactly like his/her adviser. We cannot shirk our duties to the world at large. (This also ties into my belief that we need more public intellectuals, not fewer ones.) We need to offer a PhD program that both trains the future faculty and leadership of the academy as well as the future business, political and economic leadership of our state, our nation, our world.
Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the increasing appearance of the PhD in fine art practice.
In the music world, the PhD is usually reserved for what are considered the academic subdisciplines within the field (music theory, musicology, music education), while the DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) or DM (Doctor of Music) is the professional subdisciplinary terminal degree (DMA in composition, performance, conducting). Some institutions also offer a DME (Doctor of Music Education); like the DMA/DM, this is a professional practice doctorate. There are PhD programs in composition (Princeton, NYU and Penn come to mind), but most composition doctorates are DMAs. The visual arts, until recently, held the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree as the terminal degree. PhDs, as in music, were reserved for the subdiscipline of Art History.
The article spends most of its ink on the PhD in studio art; I would propose that – if the visual arts world wants a professional practice doctorate, and that world is by no means unified on that topic – the music model is the operational model. Keep the PhD for art history and those studio art programs which are the most research-oriented, and create the DFA as the professional practice program (Yale already does this in theatre). This will take a bit of educating, as the DFA already exists as primarily an honorary degree.
Of course, this may be answering a question no one really asked. Our terminal degree programs are already overstuffed (owing to R1/doctoral-granting institutions loving that supply of cheap teaching labor for undergraduate classes), and I’m not sure I see the need for Yet Another Doctorate.