A reader writes in with a rather depressing scenario and a question [editor’s note: what follows has been edited to protect the innocent/add a sex scene for SEK]:

There are a number of folks here, young scholars and aging grad students like myself who are trying to figure out the ramifications of a difficult situation so I thought I’d ask.

Here’s the deal: our American Studies [editor’s note: at a venerable and outstanding public institution located in the center of the country, “the heartland”] department has been recommended for closure by an “independent task force”. We’re appealing of course, but in a climate where they’ve already added student fees and slashed TA positions right and left, I’m dubious about our prospects. Part of the reason I’m dubious is that some of the problems cited in the evaluation are indeed real problems [editor’s note: including declining applications, lack of diversity, limited funding, high attrition, lengthy time to degree, and an iffy placement record].

Our situation, especially as it relates to similar situations in other disciplines, departments, and programs, raises questions about the rationalization of eduction in the humanities and, not to be too dramatic, the future of American Studies as a significant presence in US colleges and universities.

But for many of us here, the more pressing question is practical: how much is this going to devalue my degree in an already depressed and depressing academic job market? How will it play out in the committees evaluating my applications?

I am curious about what the people who manage and comment at EOTAW — which I value as a forum for the intertwined realistic and idealistic imperatives in academic life — have to say about any of this. Thanks in advance for your time.

My two cents? There’s a lot going on here, issues that have implications for graduate programs throughout the humanities and parts of the social sciences. But I’m going to limit myself to the reader’s core question: what will this mean for recent graduates of the program and for those students still in the pipeline there?

My guess, and it’s only a guess, because I don’t know enough about the job market in American Studies, is that closure of the program, on its own, won’t necessarily mean much for these people — at least for those who can get clear of the wreckage. Hiring committees, assuming the program currently has a good reputation, will still look at applicants from this program as serious contenders for jobs. Some hiring committee members might even feel extra sympathy for these applicants. But as ever, the work will be the thing*. Graduates of this program who have written good or hot (or both) dissertations will probably do just fine — relatively speaking.

Still, there’s another issue that troubles me. What’s going to become of the faculty currently affiliated with this program? Will they be around after the program is defunct? Will they still be willing to write letters of recommendation for their students? These seem like important questions to me, as a disinterested or disappeared mentor or recommender can certainly scuttle a job-seeker’s candidacy.

So? What do you think? What does the future hold for the students trapped in this lousy situation? Will they be okay? And do these pants make me look fat?

* Plus luck. And all the other variables that determine success on the market.