At a number of big-name universities -- Northwestern, Brown and the University of North Carolina's flagship campus at Chapel Hill -- at least one-fourth of their 2010 history Ph.D.s are either unemployed or their fate is unknown.
At Brown University, for example, 38 percent of their 2010 Ph.D.s are in that category, compared to only 25 percent who have tenure-track appointments.
For people not familiar with academia, a tenure-track appointment does not mean that the appointee has tenure, but only that the job is one where a tenure decision will have to be made at some point under the "up or out system." At leading universities, far more are put out than move up.
There are also faculty appointments that are strictly for the time being -- lecturers, adjunct professors or visiting professors. Half the 2010 Ph.D.s from Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania have these kinds of appointments, which essentially lead nowhere. They are sometimes called "gypsy faculty."
Finally, there are Ph.D.s who are on postdoctoral fellowships, often at the expense of the taxpayers. They are paid to continue on campus, essentially as students, after getting their doctorates. More than one-fourth of the 2010 Ph.D.s from Rutgers, Johns Hopkins and Harvard are in this category.
At least these universities release such statistics. A history professor at Rutgers University who has studied such things says: "If you look at some of the numbers published on department Web sites, they range from dishonest to incompetent."
But apparently many academics are too busy pursuing moral crusades in society at large to look into such things on their own ivy-covered campuses.