According to the American Philosophical Association, a PhD in philosophy takes on average 6.8 years; across the humanities, 6.9. This extra time is not due to idleness, however. Each of us has a stake in finishing as quickly as we can and securing stable employment. We do not need the University to reduce funding opportunities to convince us of the value of this.
In order to succeed in a job market that becomes more cutthroat by the year, it is no longer sufficient just to have a completed dissertation. An established publishing record, numerous conference presentations, and teaching experience are all critical in order to have a chance at receiving an offer that provides even basic job security and benefits. Requiring students to rush to the job market with premature records will place Northwestern graduates at a distinct disadvantage relative to our peer institutions.
Because years 1 to 4 carry Teaching Assistant and coursework duties and 5th year is dedicated to dissertation research, this makes 6th year the only feasible time for independent teaching. Further, leading a university-level class by yourself from your own syllabus is a crucial pedagogical and professional milestone that also provides the asset of actual teaching experience on the market.
Further, pushing unprepared candidates onto the job market will affect the department's long term ability to recruit the best graduate students. It is standard practice for philosophy departments to post their graduate placement record. Prospective graduate students look at these placements when deciding between schools, and seeing a number of graduates still on the market due to lack of offers will not make the department (and by extension the university) look appealing.
Moreover, the University is in a position to guarantee sixth year funding now. Despite claims that a financial crisis requires the University to implement austerity measures, this does not correspond with Northwestern's own reported numbers. In a recent financial analysis, the university boasts of an endowment growing "to new heights" and net assets growing to $15.47 billion. Surely a world-renowned research institution with such a sizable endowment doesn't need to cut corners by tightening the budget on student funding!
We acknowledge that the University has an interest in ensuring students do not take longer than they need to complete their degrees. The best way to do this is to ensure that we have the financial support to finish our degree on an appropriate schedule by guaranteeing sixth year funding. Six years is still well below the median time to completion for PhDs in philosophy (and the humanities overall) yet provides graduate students crucial time to be prepared for the job market while also furthering the university's interest in incentivizing graduate students to graduate in a timely fashion.
Thus we, the members of the Philosophy Graduate Student Association, join with Northwestern University Graduate Workers in calling on Northwestern University to guarantee 6th year funding opportunities for all current and future PhD students.