I've been working on a series of short writings about teaching and leadership in higher education that I've loosely titled "Axioms." This project is ongoing, with Axiom 28-The Challenge Coin completed today. You'll find the document below, and others on the Leadership page here on my site. If you have ideas for new Axioms, I'd love to hear them! Please post them in the comments below.
In the course of my professional activities, I enjoy the privilege of engaging with academic executives and administrators. In fact, I’ve interviewed 338 such individuals, including: 27 university presidents or vice presidents; 38 provosts, vice provosts, or associate provosts; 171 deans, associate deans, or assistant deans; and 102 directors, chairs, or department heads to date—an experience that has informed my understanding of the nature of academic administration. This led to the development of a theory of academic leadership: just as software receives periodic upgrades, we might consider educational leaders as achieving increasingly higher levels of skill and expertise.
Leadership 1.0: Management
At the most fundamental level, administrators cause people to do things. This often happens through the exertion of influence such as setting deadlines, offering performance incentives, or imposing consequences if a task is not completed. Accomplished managers do this with sensitivity and respect. The most skillful inspire their employees to high-level performance rather than resorting to force. Management requires the ability to maintain complex organizational structures. It is foundational to all academic leadership.
Leadership 2.0: Vision
Administrators at the next level move beyond management to employ the principles of constructive and positive leadership. They prefer to communicate a contagious vision, seeking to inspire employee performance through intrinsic motivation rather than the application of external incentives. This includes practicing genuine listening, exhibiting compassion, and demonstrating enthusiasm for the organization’s mission and goals. Inspirational leadership through communication of a shared vision produces a stronger workplace and fosters collaboration. Vision is essential to promoting or coping with change.
Leadership 3.0: Stewardship
Servant-leadership takes vision to the next level. Leaders support their employees by providing opportunities for success and recognition. They refrain from self-promotion, but place others in the forefront, facilitating their professional accomplishments and inspiring those employees to become more deeply engaged in working towards the organization’s success. Servant-leaders also consider the larger context of any situation, keeping an eye towards the impact of their decisions on their professional discipline; on their department, college or school; and on the institution as a whole.
Leadership 4.0: Improvisation
Educational leaders apply all of these skills on a daily basis, but the very best administrators move fluidly between them. Most institutions of higher education operate under a set of policies, procedures, rules and regulations. These place limits on what the administrator is able to do, but they also provide a structure within which appropriate action becomes clear. At the top level of administrative competency, leaders possess a firm grasp of these governing principles and systems. They are able to apply this knowledge with discernment and wisdom as they respond to challenges on all three levels, managing, inspiring, and supporting employees and students.
The taxonomy represents the differing approaches to leadership in ascending order, but not as a hierarchy. Management is fundamental to leadership and is essential to sustaining organizations. Vision, stewardship, and improvisation all depend on a strong managerial foundation. Indeed, many organizations seldom move beyond this foundation, particularly those that remain unchanged for long periods.
Differences in these levels of leadership become most apparent when problems arise. Level 1.0 administrators react authoritatively, often by issuing mandates and imposing consequences for non-compliance. Level 2.0 administrators respond by gathering their team together, employing discussion and reasoning and they lead employees in collaborative problem solving. Level 3.0 administrators seek out the employees best equipped to address the problem and empower them to achieve solutions. Each one of these strategies may be effective; however, taking a single approach rarely leads to the highest quality solution.
The best administrators do all of these things, engaging in improvisation to fluidly adapt each strategy as necessary. They do not lose sight of the “big picture” even as they focus on the immediate need. They keep an eye on institutional requirements, the health of their department, and the wellbeing of all students and employees. They seek to resolve the situation without sacrificing educational quality. They maintain personal integrity and provide unflinching support for everyone under their leadership. They also accept responsibility and hold themselves accountable to upper administration.
Level 4.0 leadership requires foresight, creativity, and intelligence. Even more, it demands the ability to see beyond what is to what is possible.
Although the majority of daily administrative tasks exist on the level of management, Level 4.0 leaders approach even the most mundane administrative tasks with an understanding of how their actions will affect the organization as a whole and the individuals involved in the immediate situation. Vision and stewardship permeate everything they do, whether consciously or intuitively.
Undoubtedly, both my background as a corporate executive and longstanding interest in the topic of leadership have shaped my views, along with my present research and professional service. A corporate CEO and a university president share many of the same concerns and characteristics: after all, whether an organization is primarily engaged in producing a tangible product, providing a necessary service, or educating students, every organization is comprised of human beings. Leadership is about the relationship between the leader, the persons led, and the organization they all serve. All of those charged with positions of responsibility can learn from the example of those who achieve Level 4.0 in this taxonomy and strive towards the same level of accomplishment.
Before you read any further, stop and take a look at this commercial from Sony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyokM38u0U0
Here’s the transcript of the ad:
And the artist--
They usually live in different worlds,
But when they work together, that’s when you can get something really new,
Because when great thinkers
Work with great doers
One plus one can equal three.
Since we began, our artists and engineers didn’t set out to make electronics, or films, or music.
We set out to make you feel something.
Now let’s take a look at the subtext of this commercial. If you watch closely, you can see that the engineer is dressed in a blue Sony jacket, while the artist wears regular clothing. In every scene of the commercial, a Sony engineer—indicated by the blue jacket—accompanies someone doing a creative activity—a DJ, a photographer, a camera operator on a movie set—or someone enjoying the arts such as listening to recorded music or playing video games.
In the world of this Sony commercial, the engineer is the thinker, and it is this supremacy of thought over action that drives the creative process forward. The engineer stands by those artists and arts consumers, making their lives better. The artist, on the other hand, seems to disappear from the commercial after the first few moments.
This bias towards thought over action is nothing new to the arts. We’ve been seen by others as mere doers for centuries. Making art was just another form of manual labor until the Renaissance, and in scholarly circles today—where thought is more prized than action—there’s an underlying, but unspoken, belief that artists only make art. Making art is not research, or so they believe. Making art is doing, not thinking.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Artists engage in intense ideation throughout the creative process. They are, in fact, high-level thinkers, expressing this thought through the works they bring into being. We might recognize that the work of the artist and the engineer (or chemist, or philosopher, or anthropologist) all depend on being thinkers first, and doers second. We ideate, then we create. The engineer creates new products. The chemist creates new formulas. The philosopher creates new ideas. The anthropologist creates new knowledge about humanity.
If we do not question our underlying assumption that thought precedes action in other scholarly disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, philosophy, or anthropology, why do we discount the arts as being merely doers, not thinkers? Part of the reason lies in the fact that the arts are opaque, whereas the other fields of scholarship are transparent. Scientific discoveries are typically accompanied by hundreds of pages of written documentation explaining the research process that brought the discovery to life. The same is true of humanities or social sciences—each advancement in thought stands upon an explicit investigatory method documented according to scholarly norms.
The arts, on the other hand, deliver no such evidence. Their works appear to have appeared, turning the audience’s whole attention to the product rather than its underlying process. Moreover, scientists receive specific training in practices of documenting their thought process according to rigorous research methodologies. Artists do not.
It is time to recognize that artists are thinkers, not just doers. Part of the path towards this understanding will come through arts-based research, in which artists engage in a meta-cognitive, explanatory process similar to scholars of other disciplines. When we lift the curtain of mystery surrounding our artworks, we allow our peers to see the advanced thinking that makes our doing possible. Because our great thinking—and our great doing—really do add up to something special.
Universities have existed for more than a thousand years, and this long history comes with no small measure of tradition, history, and honored legacies. At the same time, universities are the birthplace of new ideas and the launching pad from which graduates go forth full of bright hopes and fresh energies, ready to change the world. How can educational administrators negotiate between these two poles? The answer lies in transformative leadership.
1. Creativity: The central characteristic of innovation is creativity—beginning with something old and making it new.
2. Respiration: Innovation is to an organization as breathing is to an organism—we must bring new ideas in, while also pushing our ideas out into the world.
3. Selectivity: Not every idea is good, and not every good idea can be acted upon. We must be intelligently selective, but then fully support the ideas that we choose.
4. Judgment: Innovation requires an open mind—we must be able to hold our own ideas in reserve, being willing to look, listen, watch, and remain silent in order to learn what others have to offer.
5. Irritants: Ideas often come from sources we don’t expect. Seek to interact with people who make you uncomfortable, who challenge your core beliefs, who you think are wrong, or whose ideas seem strange. Just as a pearl begins with the irritant of a single grain of sand inside the oyster’s shell, the most transformative ideas may be equally unsettling.
6. Radical teams: The strongest teams are comprised of both veterans and newcomers, of people with opposing points of view and divergent disciplinary backgrounds. Homogenous grouping may not yield anything but more of the same—the antithesis of transformation.
7. Human-Centric: Innovation requires thoughtful consideration, reflective contemplation, and a conscious effort to include all stakeholders.
a. We must always place human considerations first, using empathy and understanding to guide our actions.
b. In higher education, this means bearing in mind that faculty members are as loyal to their disciplinary fields as they are to their institution. Therefore, we must support transformation of the institution while also ensuring that change will not erode their academic domains.
c. Transformation must occur steadily, gently, and respectfully. It must be transparent and consciously include all stakeholders without impeding progress.
8. Doing: We must have a bias towards action, placing doing above thinking, planning, or maintaining. We should reward those who take action—whether successful or not—above those who chose the status quo. It’s not enough to think about thinking, or to spend time planning to plan. We must act, then evaluate, then act again.
9. Why? How? What? Stakeholders need to be persuaded that change is necessary, good, and desirable. They must be convinced and in support of the Why (the reason for embracing change) before they can accept the How (planning for implementation). After that, deciding together on the What (concrete actions) becomes simple. People must come to see that change has personal benefit and that their participation will be rewarded.
10. Actionable: Innovation must be able to be implemented—no matter how good the idea, if it cannot be put into practice, it goes nowhere.
11. Reward Risk: A sense of safety is essential to the willingness to engage in risk. Celebrate intelligent failure, expressing a dissenting opinion, or arguing for an opposing point of view. Use failure as feedback mechanism and a learning tool. Assure others that engaging in risk is of greater benefit than choosing to do nothing.
12. Hire Strategically: People should be brought into your team because they offer something new and can contribute to your organizational transformation, not because they already fit comfortably in the same mold as the rest of your members. If you’re looking to fill a position with someone who’s an exact copy of the previous holder of that job, your goal is not truly to achieve innovation.
13. Navigation: As educational leaders, our task is to motivate and guide. When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. If we’re serious about achieving transformation, we need to set a destination and purposefully lead our organization towards that goal. This requires focus and determination.
14. Legacy: A university setting bears a tremendous weight of legacy in its history, traditions, and human resources. We must honor those characteristics without being bound by them. We must nurture innovation while also working within existing institutional contexts, systems, and missions.
15. Dedication: Change is hard. There are no two ways around this basic truth. But it’s sometimes also good, not to mention inevitable. Is it without risk? No. But without risk, there is no progress. Change is upon us. The question is: are you ready to be a transformative leader? Do you have the perseverance and dedication to see this through to the end, no matter how much it upsets the status quo? Are you in it for the long haul?
For many years, critique in the visual arts has followed a basic formula featuring three key components. A viewer is first asked to identify the work, then to describe it, and finally to interpret it, attempting to hold judgment in abeyance until the process is nearly complete. Of course, there are many variations on this theme, but the basic principles remain the same.
After participating in critiques as both a student and an instructor, and as I continue to evaluate artworks I encounter in my professional life, I found myself dissatisfied with traditional approaches. This led me to conduct research into the ways people form judgments and evaluations about what they see, leading to the formulation of a new model offering a more naturalistic approach to critique. It takes into account the fact that human beings tend to form nearly instantaneous judgments about what they see, but it also recognizes that the viewer can revise or even reverse his or her initial opinion by studying an artwork more closely. This process will be the subject of an upcoming book, but in this blog post I’d like to present a brief outline of the way it works.
The first step is Encounter, in which the audience sees a work of art. This stage of critique is very brief: almost instantaneously, the audience then chooses to pay attention to the work or to disregard it, merely glancing and then turning their eyes elsewhere or continuing to look.
Following closely on the heels of our initial encounter is Judgment. If we remain engaged with the artwork after the initial encounter, we tend to make an immediate decision about whether we’re interested and/or whether we like or dislike the work. Our reaction is spontaneous and qualitative, based on our prior knowledge, experience, and individual personality or taste. It is emotional and intuitive, not logical or rational.
The steps of Encounter and Judge in the new critique model make sense: we encounter visual objects and judge what we see thousands of times a day. Even in a place where we expect to pay close attention to what we’re looking at, such as in a museum, we tend to scan over things very quickly, we pass judgment on them (Do I like it? Does it interest me?), and we simply move on if the answer to those questions is, “No.”
If we decide to keep looking, we move on to the phase of Interpretation. We make intuitive connections between the artwork and our personal experience or prior knowledge. These connections allow us to identify the work and perceive its message or meaning. However, if we have no prior knowledge or experience, interpretation fails—we cannot understand the artwork or perceive the artist’s message if we cannot understand what we’re looking at.
Once we think we understand the artwork and have discerned its meaning, we refine our judgment and interpretation by looking more closely. This is where Analysis comes in. At this stage of the process intellect is engaged, emotion is scaled back, and we can consider external data and information linked to the artwork. If no additional input is available, we might choose to seek it through a third source, such as reading any accompanying materials like captions, titles, or an artist’s statement, or even by engaging in informal research to enhance comprehension. Analysis of an artwork can reveal new depths of meaning that were not immediately visible in the work itself, or it can provide additional knowledge that allows us to understand the work more fully.
The last step is Evaluation, which typically takes more time than prior levels of the critique process. Although judgment is an immediate and emotional reaction to the artwork, evaluation is the intellectual, deliberate formation of an informed, rational opinion. As the result of interpretation and analysis, evaluation may contradict judgment: what we first judged negatively may receive a positive evaluation or vice-versa.
By recognizing that it’s merely human nature to make quick judgments about what we see, and by working within this process rather than against it, this new model proceeds in a more intuitive, less artificial manner than traditional methods of critique, leading the viewer from an immediate emotional response to a reasoned evaluation.
I’ve been thinking about how to address the ways that arts integration furthers the practice of art. After all, the arts have struggled for centuries to break free of their manual labor roots and to achieve recognition as having intrinsic value apart from decoration or casual entertainment. In the university, their status as independent intellectual contributors was earned only after a hard-fought battle, struggling to receive recognition for their creative practice equivalent to their research-based colleagues. Why should they compromise their foundational belief in art for arts’ sake to become an instrumental actor in someone else’s project? Why should they collaborate with colleagues on co-taught courses, especially if their own discipline is merely enhancing someone else’s non-arts content?
I’ll give you five good reasons and then I’ll explain each of them in greater detail.
1. It can enhance your own work
2. It’s interesting
3. It enhances your professional standing and that of your department and your university
4. It exposes more students to your discipline
5. It enhances all students’ potential for career success
The first and most important reason to engage in collaborations with other scholars is to enhance your own arts practice. As artists, we’re always looking for inspiration and new material. Collaborative projects expose you to new stimuli, new ideas, and new learning, providing opportunities to grow as an artistic professional. Artists draw inspiration from the sum of their personal experiences and influences, but remaining in self-imposed exile limits the possibility of exposure to the very things that lend richness and diversity to creative activity. Furthermore, no matter our level of expertise, we can always become even better by trying a new approach, or by adding to our personal tool kit of theory, techniques, and materials.
As a hypothetical example, let’s say that a professor of piano performance is invited to collaborate on a project involving the development of a software package providing computer-generated accompaniment for students of instrumental music. Of course, pre-recorded piano accompaniment for instrumentalists has been available for decades, but this particular program attempts to collaborate with the instrumentalist in real time, responding to the performer and adjusting the accompaniment just as a live pianist might do. Working on this project would require the pianist to take an objective, analytical approach to his own piano performance and to consider the mechanics of how it affects the person whom he’s accompanying. It would also include the pianist in discussions about the possibilities and limitations of current technologies.
By the project’s end, the piano professor will have benefitted in a number of significant ways. First, he will have developed a greater understanding of his own practice of piano accompaniment and insight into how his actions affect the person whom he’s accompanying. Second, he will have forged professional relationships with colleagues outside of his department, which may pave the way for further collaborations. Third, he will have a greater knowledge of computing technologies and the ways in which they can be of benefit to musicians such as himself and his students. All of these benefits would then be incorporated into his disciplinary work, improving his piano performance and his skills as an educator as he communicates his increased skill and knowledge to his students.
Participating in a project or course that integrates the arts with another learning area benefits arts practice simply because it’s intellectually engaging. For those of us who teach in a skill-based field, danger lurks in repetition: semester after semester, we teach the same things, risking boredom and burnout. Of course, each class is populated by new students, and the pleasure of imparting our skills and knowledge to receptive minds is among the joys of working in higher education. However, intelligence goes hand-in-hand with curiosity. Collaboration provides mental stimulation and a fresh perspective on our creative work, leading us to think of our practice in new ways. This is especially true if the connections between what we do and what the person with whom we’re collaborating does aren’t immediately obvious, presenting a nearly irresistible creative challenge.
For instance, I met a professor of dance who worked with an engineering professor to model mathematical algorithms, and a professor of theatre who worked with a physics professor to create a play presenting academic content in physics. Dance and engineering, theatre and physics seem to be strange bedfellows, indeed; yet these collaborations yielded fascinating results—not just for the students, but for the educators working outside their respective comfort zones to bring their professional expertise to bear on a shared project. Each of the partners expressed surprise and delight at how their collaboration enhanced their personal understanding of their academic field, and the new knowledge they gained in their partner’s discipline. Collaborative work provides moments of dynamic intensity—those times when we exclaim in sheer wonderment, “Wow! This is SO cool!” As artists, we crave novelty and relish opportunities to navigate through uncharted territory. Collaborative work opens the door to vast fields ripe for our creative exploration.
Third, collaborative work is undeniably a growing trend in higher education. Centers, Institutes, or programs spanning multiple departments bringing disparate disciplines together to work on shared projects have emerged at numerous institutions, such as the Studio Lab at Penn State, the Media Lab at MIT, or the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology at Virginia Tech. Choosing to participate in this kind of innovative, high-profile work allows administrators and community members to see the excellence of your creative practice in a new light. People who might not venture into your department to attend a performance or gallery show can be exposed to your work in a way that they might understand more readily—you’re playing on their turf instead of insisting that they come to you. Even though institutional policies haven’t caught up to collaborative work just yet, universities are nevertheless hiring for faculty members who can work collaboratively, not just strict disciplinarians. Working collaboratively outside your home department has the potential to enhance your reputation among your non-arts colleagues and can showcase your creative work on a much larger stage.
Discourse, research, and investigation refine, improve, and further practice. It’s so in the STEM disciplines and just as true in the arts. Every investigation in the arts touches on other areas of learning and understanding, but this isn’t always obvious. Behind the studio doors, our creative process is every bit as rigorous as that of the scientific laboratory, but few non-artists realize this. Art appears to have appeared, almost miraculously. We know, however, that this is simply not so. Those investigations that some people refer to as “advanced navel gazing” are much more similar to STEM research methods than many scholars might believe. Production of an artistic product or performance requires thought, ideation, a hypothesis, an investigation, processes of trial and error, success and refinement, until—finally—there is a product or artifact testifying to the success of the rigorous creative process. It’s a deep dive into a particular artistic medium. The ballerina appears to float, but only because she spent tens of thousands of hours refining her technique. The musician plays an intricate score without missing a single note, employing dynamics, nuance, and subtlety…but only because he has rehearsed to the point where the music can appear to flow effortlessly from his instrument. As Hemingway notoriously said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed” before we can produce a virtuoso performance or a product of genius.
The problem lies in the fact that an artifact or performance cannot testify to its own process of becoming. It is opaque, whereas investigations in other learning areas are transparent. We know exactly how scientific discoveries are made because the scientist publishes hundreds of pages of documentation, data, analysis, and theories based on his experiments. The scientist looks at the artist and says, “You do research? Really?” Arts integration presents a tremendous opportunity for artists to be more forthcoming about the work they actually do. If we want to be equal participants in the community of scholars, learning how to work within the norms of formal research as conducted in other academic disciplines has the potential to enhance our standing in the university, and arts integration is one way to become part of this research culture. Choosing to participate in collaborative projects or courses, even if only to lend our skills to data visualization or sonification, does not invalidate our artworks even though we might be employing our talents for an instrumental purpose. Rather, we should seize the opportunity to become an integral part of collaborative projects--to be the conduit that allows others to grasp complex data while also allowing them to perceive the value of our contribution through the excellence of our work—to share our intellectual wealth, technical skill, and scholarly achievement.
Engaging in formal research moves our arts practice beyond making and performing, giving us opportunities to educate our fellow scholars about the historical, cultural, social, and scientific value of our work and to gain a greater appreciation for how these factors play into why we do what we do. When I work in the ceramics lab, I’m acutely aware of the science behind the ancient processes involved in transforming wet clay into an enduring work of art. I don’t just use fire without thought or understanding: I know the scientific principles behind it and use these strategically in order to achieve a desired result. Indeed, every artistic process was once an important technological breakthrough. Printmaking, for instance, might not be cutting-edge technology any longer, but this does not mean it is devoid of contemporary relevance. Printmaking requires knowledge of chemistry, mechanics, drawing, materials, and an advanced aesthetic sensibility in order for the printmaker to communicate the intended message to an audience. Just because digital technologies provide artists with alternative processes for visual communication does not mean that historical methods are without merit. I understand digital photography more deeply because I also know the darkroom. I can use an electronically-controlled kiln successfully because I can also build and use a wood-fired kiln with my own two hands. Direct experience with these tools and materials makes me a better artist and a better arts educator. When artists make such connections explicit through formal research, they can communicate these foundational truths to their fellow educators, improving their status in the university community even as it deepens their knowledge of arts practice.
Another compelling reason that arts integration is of significant benefit to university arts practitioners is emerging research into the benefits of direct participation in the arts on student learning. Admittedly, most of the studies on this topic focus on K-12 rather than higher education, but we only have to look at those individuals whose professional practice is enhanced by their participation in creative activity to see the correlations. Theatre and dance allow students to gain skills such as reading body language and being poised in speaking before an audience or giving a presentation. Playing a musical instrument has well-known benefits in raising a student’s IQ, and performing with a group teaches lessons in working together, taking direction, and the value of an individual’s contribution to the greater whole. Creating works of visual art allows students to develop their skills in visualization and to understand the physics of making and construction. Creative writing and poetry lead students to think of words as an artistic medium, improving their linguistic abilities and increasing their sensitivity to verbal communication. No matter which artistic medium or modality we can think of, benefits exist for any participant. We’re not trying to make every student a professional artist, musician, dancer, actor, or writer, but I do believe that each and every person has a deep well of creativity that can be unlocked through a broad exposure to direct engagement in the arts, even if only for lifelong personal enjoyment.
Arts integration broadens the reach of arts practice, increasing our influence beyond the confines of our particular departments. Students who might not venture into an art class can still receive the benefits of an arts integrated course without having to make painful choices about credits spent outside of their own departmental requirements. Whether we invite students from STEM, business, humanities, and social sciences to our studios and practice rooms, or we meet them in their own classrooms, our goal is not to make them accomplished arts practitioners. Rather, we’re serving hors d’oeuvres—a little taste that we hope will leave them hungry for more, awakening an appetite they might not have even known that they possessed. In fact, I’ve experienced this myself. When I was an art student, I thought I’d only ever be interested in photography—that’s what I went to art school to learn how to do. I was actually kind of annoyed to find that I had to take a class in 3D media in order to graduate. Why, I though, would I ever need that? But I dutifully signed up for ceramics…and found that I loved it. The elemental power of blending clay, water, air and fire to create works of art was—and still is—of tremendous fascination to me. I’m still a photographer, but my artistic horizons were powerfully expanded. The same was true of theatre. I’ll confess that I wasn’t a big fan of live theatre in my younger (less enlightened) days. But then a friend asked me to act in a film he was making. He asked me to dress in my best business attire, and I ate a steak dinner while the others at the table ate small bowls of rice. As we shot the film that day…and as I ate, and ate, and ate…I gained a much greater appreciation for what goes into a theatrical performance, and it made me understand aspects of how to appear before an audience that I use in my public speaking today, even though it wasn’t actually a speaking part.
I believe that every student should have a chance to get dirty, sweaty, and hoarse experiencing the arts, to be stretched beyond their comfort zones, pushed outside of their chosen academic fields. They should have fingers stained with printer’s ink, paint, and clay. They should feel the butterflies in their stomachs as they await their cues to go onstage. They should be in the center of the choir or symphony orchestra, knowing they’ve hit their note and it’s part of the glory of sound that surrounds them. That’s the real magic of the arts. Increasing opportunities for arts-integrated classes and projects, or through non-major arts participation requirements, allows a much wider body of students to enjoy these same kinds of transformative experiences.
From a purely utilitarian standpoint, increasing our involvement in arts-integrated courses and advocating for all students to engage directly with the arts would bolster the status of our departments within the university by increasing enrollment in our classes. More students, of course, means more tuition dollars, which leads to larger budgets and additional faculty positions. If participatory arts courses (not—heaven forbid—dull, disconnected “appreciation”-style classes) become a graduation requirement for all students rather than just liberal arts electives, we would find ourselves performing on a much larger stage, in a position of increasing influence. We only stand to gain by opening the doors of our department to a wider population of students, and the same can be said of co-taught or arts-integrated courses: any way that we can find ways to share our knowledge and foster artistic skill is only to our professional benefit.
Student Career Success
Participating in arts integration is of value to artists and non-artists alike. Truth be told, few students who major in the arts achieve greatness, even when they work for the 10,000 hours presumably needed to become a master. Experts disagree about the origin of genius, with some saying it’s merely a matter of sufficient amounts of practice (that proverbial 10,000 hours), while others cite factors such as physical or emotional aptitude, parental support early in life, or an as-yet undefined combination of traits, characteristics, and direct engagement. Whatever the reason, genuine virtuosity in any field is comparatively rare. That’s precisely why it’s celebrated. Therefore, in addition to the next rock stars in our respective artistic media, we need to produce graduates who can make a living in the arts even if they’re never invited to present a solo exhibition at MoMA or perform at the Kennedy Center. Encouraging students of the arts to participate in collaborative work with other academic disciplines expands their career horizons and provides them with opportunities that a traditional mono-disciplinary approach might not usually supply.
Participation in arts integration enhances students’ potential for career success, regardless of their major field of study. In a well-known 2012 study conducted by IBM, proficiency in communication, collaboration, flexibility, and creativity were traits most prized by CEOs, and interestingly were also those ranked most highly by students. We, in the arts, are hard-wired for these characteristics. We know the essential role they play in our arts practice. Doesn’t it then stand to reason that, as educators, we possess a unique opportunity to engender success in the graduates of our universities? Whether we open our doors to all comers, inviting them in to experience artistic practice for themselves, or venture out to engage in collaborative work with our non-artist colleagues, we can provide students with invaluable experiences with potential to contribute to their career success by engaging them in activities that foster the very skills necessary in the 21st century workplace.
From the Inside Out, and the Outside In
We, in the arts, possess skills and knowledge that are so much a part of our DNA as to be nearly unnoticed. We embody creativity, innovation, and collaboration as our very way of life. It might not be immediately obvious to the painter wielding the paintbrush, the poet holding the pencil, the composer working at the piano, or the dramaturge reading a script, how the discourse about arts integration furthers arts practice. However, we need to recognize that the more people who can be introduced to our work, the more students who can experience the power of the arts for themselves, then the more we, ourselves, will benefit from the conversation.
We, in the arts, sit atop a dragon’s hoard of intellectual wealth. We can keep it to ourselves and the select students who major in our disciplines, or we can share it with the world. Like Rumplestiltskin, we artists and arts educators know how to spin the straw into gold. Our work might appear as if by magic, but rather than guarding our secrets, sharing them only with select initiates, I believe it is incumbent upon us as arts educators to open our artistic work to our non-arts colleagues and their students as well. Allowing the audience to peek behind the curtain through our collaborations and our research will not forevermore rob our work of its mystique—it offers a priceless opportunity for others to appreciate the rigor of what we do and to experience the joys and frustrations of creative practice for themselves.
The work of arts integration is to bring our inside knowledge to those outside of our professions, but the benefits we receive flow from the outside in. We’ll enhance our own creative practice and find professional enrichment through collaborative engagement. We’ll receive the respect and acknowledgement of our colleagues in other learning areas and raise the profile of our departments. We’ll also promote student learning through the arts and bolster all students’ chances of career success.
Arts integration is the bridge across the chasm separating arts practice from other academic domains. To realize its benefits, we have but to step outside.
 Szalavitz, M. “10,000 Hours May Not Make a Master After All.” TIME, Health & Family. May 20, 2013. http://healthland.time.com/2013/05/20/10000-hours-may-not-make-a-master-after-all/
I'd like to announce that I'm currently in the process of writing a guide for art faculty, leading them through the process of creating curriculum in compliance with NASAD requirements for studio arts degree programs.
The guide will contain practical, How-To sections on
* Writing Outcomes and Objectives
* Creating Assessments--Rubrics, Checklists, Quizzes and Exams
* Planning for Effective Instruction
* Composing a Comprehensive Syllabus
Check back for a draft of this new work in about two weeks!
There’s an old adage that says, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” I’d like to add: or too educated. I deeply believe that the expansion of scholarship in any field, including the arts, is a good thing: we should never attempt to confine learning to a single domain, whether it occurs in the classroom, the research lab, in the field, or in the studio. Knowledge should be unlimited. It’s why I found a quote by Dr. Timothy Emlyn Jones to be quite thought provoking. In “The Studio Art Doctorate in America” (2009), Jones offered the observation that the idea of a “terminal degree” is unknown outside the U.S., going on to say, “I understand the idea of a terminal illness, but not a terminal degree. It is worth asking whether it contributes any vitality to the education world.”
Doctoral programs in the visual arts, however, have been slow to gain broad acceptance in academia. There are a number of reasons for this, none of which are the focus of this particular blog post, but reluctance to remove the glass ceiling on advanced study in the visual arts does exist. I’ve met a number of individuals in other fields who have more than one so-called terminal degree, including one memorable scholar who held three earned PhDs. Clearly, he shared my philosophy that one should never stop learning—that education exists without boundaries or quotas.
When I was working on my own PhD I wrote an extended review of James Elkins’ book “Artists with PhDs: On the New Doctoral Degree in Studio Art” (2009). At that time, only five institutions (including the program in which I was then enrolled) offered a choice for visual artists who wished to earn a doctoral degree apart from the usual options available in art history or visual studies:
Many more such programs were expected to emerge, with Elkins projecting that there would be 127 doctoral programs in the U.S. and Canada by 2012. However, the downturn in the economy, among other factors, caused many institutions to reconsider establishing new degree options. At present, only ten others have joined this list:
Every one of the fifteen doctoral programs available to visual artists requires a course of study common to other doctorates. After students complete required coursework, they must pass an examination to qualify for candidacy, present and receive approval for their dissertation research, produce a written dissertation meeting institutional requirements, and undergo an oral defense of their dissertation. The number of hours needed to graduate varies somewhat, but many require 60 hours beyond a master’s degree.
Most of these fifteen programs are interdisciplinary in one way or another. With the exception of the Transart Institute, each of the ten newer programs leans heavily towards the technological aspects of the arts, featuring media and communications, data visualization, computing, engineering, or design in addition to or in conjunction with other visual arts. Indeed, the only institutions offering doctoral study strictly in the visual arts are UC San Diego, IDSVA and Transart Institute. The latter two bear certain similarities to one another: each is designed to be a low-residency program for artists who are either teaching or working full-time in the arts. Each offers courses primarily through summer intensives in Europe, online or independent study, and short-term school-year residencies in the U.S. Each is somewhat different than the mainstream as compared to U.S.-based competitors. IDSVA is still seeking U.S. accreditation, currently holding candidate status with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Transart Institute does not yet hold U.S. accreditation, instead receiving its authority from the University of Plymouth, in the U.K.—a defensible instance of globalization. Despite these resemblances, these two doctoral options are fundamentally different, because IDSVA is definitively a non-studio, research-based degree, whereas Transart’s PhD is a studio-based course of study, incorporating varied interdisciplinary elements depending on the student’s individual research interests. UC San Diego is unique among it’s competitors in that it involves both art history and studio art. Students may complete a traditional text-only dissertation, or they may include a studio element and a ¾ length dissertation.
Ohio University‘s Interdisciplinary Arts doctoral program is the oldest of these PhD options, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. Texas Tech’s Fine Arts Doctoral Program is only a few years younger (established in 1972). Both primarily feature interdisciplinary study in the visual arts, music, and theatre, although Ohio also adds other focus areas such as Film and African Arts and Literatures. Both have deep roots and successful graduates. Both are housed in their university’s arts college (the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Texas Tech, and the College of Fine Arts at Ohio.) Degree requirements are similar, and both require a traditional, text-based dissertation conforming to university standards.
Arizona State, MIT, RPI, UC Santa Barbara, the University of Washington, and the University of Texas all offer doctoral programs combining the arts with technology in various ways. This amalgamation is consistent with my ongoing research into arts integration, in which I continually encounter pairings of the arts and technology in numerous incarnations. Both programs at USC focus on Cinematic Arts, although one is a strictly text-based, critical studies concentration, while the other is a practice-based study of Media Arts. Virginia Commonwealth’s MATX program is somewhat different from its competitors in that it is the only one of the fifteen doctoral programs to be housed in an English department, even though it also incorporates technology in the form of media and communications.
Ten doctoral programs involve a creative project in addition to the required text-based dissertation. ASU’s Media Arts and Sciences, MIT, Rensselaer, Transart, Texas Tech, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, USC Media Art Practice, University of Washington, and Virginia Commonwealth each correlate research and practice through this dual activity. ASU’s Design, Environment, and Arts, IDSVA, Ohio University, USC’s Cinematic Arts-Critical Studies, and the University of Texas, Dallas are the only schools at which the dissertation solely involves a traditional written document. The inclusion of practice accompanied by the expectation of high-level scholarly writing about formal research brings the two seemingly disparate domains together, broadening available paths to knowledge.
All fifteen programs have expanded the choices for visual artists who hope to earn a PhD. However, when compared to the hundreds of institutions offering doctoral degrees in other fields of study, there’s still room for continued growth. If we truly believe that learning should be unlimited, we should embrace this trend and seek to support the development of more options for artists to contribute to the body of knowledge in the world through advanced study. As artists, our unique skills and abilities in knowing and doing bring depth, richness, and divergence to the university. What better way to share our strengths than in nurturing students in the achievement of a doctoral degree?
For a link to the complete report about doctoral programs in the visual arts, click here.
 Jones, T. “The studio art doctorate in America”. In Elkins, J., (Ed.) (2009) Artists with PhDs: On the new doctoral degree in studio art. (pp. 81-85). Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing.
If it isn’t already obvious, I use this blog to contemplate and ideate upon topics that I anticipate turning into a more comprehensive document in the future. One of these involves tenure and promotion policies that I’ve encountered during my research, particularly the structures that exist and language that’s employed in these considerations.
The Carnegie Foundation has established three ways of classifying Doctoral-granting Universities. In the past, these designations were Research I, Research II, etc…, and these terms are still preferred by many people. However, the official classifications are:
RU/VH: Research Universities (very high research activity)
RU/H: Research Universities (high research activity)
DRU: Doctoral/Research Universities
This classification is based on a rather complex statistical analysis considering monies spent on research and development (R&D) in science and engineering, R&D in fields other than science and engineering, doctoral degrees conferred in the fields of humanities, social sciences, STEM, and others such as business, education, public policy, and social work. Factors such as the aggregate level of research activity, expenditures, and numbers of staff primarily engaged in research determine whether an institution is designated as Research University/Very High, Research University/High, or Doctoral/Research University (http://classifications.carnegiefoundation.org/methodology/basic.php)
This classification sets up—with or without intention—a competitive rating system establishing research as the most important criteria in university rankings, pervading nearly all corners of the university. Research sits atop the hierarchy of faculty activities. Moreover, the legacy of empiricism continues to have a firm hold on prevailing assumptions that research means an objective scientific investigation conducted according to established methodologies.
I’ve written about research previously, and in sitting with over 400 individuals from across all disciplinary fields, no matter whether the person I’m speaking to was a student, staff or faculty member, administrator or educational executive, with only three exceptions every person indicated that research is a purposeful, meaningful investigation in order to learn, discover, or create something new. They did not necessarily use these precise words, but the ideas and meaning were consistent, resulting in an extremely common meme shared across disciplinary cultures with very little variation to the pattern. Indeed, I’d venture to say that this is almost a definition of research as the broadest category of activity occurring within a university. Then, via Inverse Fractal Concept Analysis, research can be categorized and agendized for the domain-specific disciplines that dictate the methodologies and practices associated with a given category of research. When someone is working in one of these academic domains, they employ the methodologies and practices that are common to that discipline and appropriate to their study.
Based on the data I’ve gathered in these interviews, the word “research” is only an identifier, and is present in every academic domain; however, it is frequently employed as a superlative. This is discernible in the ways universities evaluate the activities of faculty members towards tenure and promotion (T&P). T&P language typically differentiates between research and creative activity, making provision for those faculty members whose work does not meet presumed standards for research per se. Especially in the arts, creative activity is considered equivalent to research for the purpose of consideration for advancement, but this does not mean that it is the same or that it is believed to have similar value.
I’ve begun to see the word “scholarship” employed as a possible third category in order to account for the increasingly diverse activities of faculty members. Even when professorial activities can be considered research in a more formal sense, the setting in which they take place and the primary academic domains of the faculty members under consideration can create a great deal of uncertainty among advancement committees, particularly if these are populated by members from fields other than the candidate’s own. This means that tenure committee chairs or others who advocate for a candidate’s application for T&P must provide a thorough explanation in their recommendations to the committees, arguing convincingly as to how the candidate’s activities meet advancement criteria since this may not be apparent to the committee members.
Rather than constituting a third category for evaluation, I’d like to propose that it would be more advantageous to employ the term “scholarship” as a broad descriptor of faculty members’ engagement with scholarly work in their fields, whether this means traditional research, creative activity, or another kind of learning or knowledge accomplished at a high level. This could provide a means by which all faculty members could receive due recognition for work that supports their teaching, advances knowledge in the world, and thereby qualifies them for advancement in addition to their work in teaching and service. Let’s consider three very different examples:
1. A pianist performs at Carnegie Hall, among other venues, building a distinguished record as a musical performer.
2. A historian writes and publishes peer-reviewed journal articles about an aspect of the Civil War, leading to publication of a book, building a record as a distinguished scholar of 19th Century American history.
3. A neuroscientist works on a project involving how the brain processes visual stimuli, using experiments and MRI imaging leading to publication of the study’s results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Of course, the T&P process is more complex than this brief description, but loosely speaking, the pianist’s T&P committee would consider his or her creative activity, the historian would be judged on professional publication, and only the neuroscientist would be judged on the basis of empirical research. However, all of these activities are scholarship—they exemplify learning and knowledge at a high level, taking place through domain-specific action occurring within a rigorous category of inquiry. T&P guidelines are intended to prove that a candidate is a distinguished practitioner in a specific field—that he or she is demonstrably excellent. By calling this pursuit of excellence “scholarship,” it places each kind of work on an even footing, as opposed to the usual construct, “research and creative activity.”
To be able to evaluate something successfully and fairly, it’s important to have a good understanding of the category in which the subject is considered, and the greater the knowledge base the evaluator possesses, the more valid the evaluation might be. For instance, a host might serve a bottle of red wine at a dinner party, and the guests would likely comment about the wine. If one of the guests had never tasted red wine before, his or her opinion might not yield reliable knowledge about the wine. On the other hand, if a guest were an expert sommelier, his or her opinion would be more valued.
At the highest levels of academia, we seek to develop people who are extremely focused disciplinary experts. By itself, this is not a bad thing—professors should indeed possess advanced knowledge in their fields. However, one of the most significant problems with academic personnel committees is that the individuals who serve on them have sometimes become so immersed in their disciplines, so well-versed in their own particular practices and methodologies, that it becomes difficult for them to see how another scholar’s work meets advancement criteria. It would be like inviting the sommelier to a coffee-tasting event. Whether the committee members are physicians, painters, physicists, poets, philosophers, or pianists, they have each achieved such a narrow focus in their pursuit of personal distinction as scholars, it’s especially challenging to look beyond their own primary domains in order to evaluate other scholars’ work.
Faculty members whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries present a special challenge to T&P and academic personnel committees, who expect to see a traditional package detailing how candidates’ work qualifies them as distinguished members of their departments. But what if work actually takes place in departments other than the ones in which the candidates were hired? Even more disconcerting, what if they work in ways that differ from the expected norms of their fields? In my research I’ve seen many such instances of people doing recognizably excellent, innovative scholarly work that crosses disciplinary boundaries, breaks new ground in otherwise traditional domains, or is simply difficult to categorize according to standard methods. These interviewees reported that achieving tenure or earning a promotion was very difficult because their work did not seem to fit anyone else’s expectations. This was the case with an industrial and systems engineering professor, who began working in photography and collage related to his engineering work. Neither his own department nor anyone from the College of Fine Arts knew how to evaluate what he was doing in terms of career advancement.
Outside of academia, the workplace is primarily a collaborative prospect. People from different disciplines work together, improving existing products, planning services to meet public needs, or developing new technologies. Innovations seldom arise in isolation. It only makes sense that the university should recognize that collaborative work is more of a norm than an exception, taking steps to provide for recognition of faculty members who stray beyond the borders of their home disciplines in order to engage in scholarly activities.
Emphasizing scholarship allows faculty members to engage in their scholarly work in ways that best fit their investigations and professional interests. It removes the term “research” as the primary consideration, replacing it with something much more flexible and inclusive. Under this designation, all three of the professors in the earlier example—the pianist, the historian, and the neuroscientist—would be evaluated first as scholars. This could be considered by means of three simple questions:
1. How does the faculty member’s work demonstrate excellence?
2. How does his/her work contribute to the advancement of knowledge and learning?
3. How does his/her work enhance the educational experiences he/she provides to his/her students?
Framing the evaluative process in this way renders the tenure and promotion question less problematically than comparing the faculty member’s work to external criteria of research or creative practice. It would provide a means for scholars in all fields to engage in activities that do not otherwise fall within traditional departmental lines and to recognize the interdisciplinary, collaborative nature of the world beyond the confines of the university.
It also accounts for the vastly different things that people mean when they talk about research. All of the people I’ve spoken to during this project say that they do research. What this means in practice, however, is not at all consistent. Research, like scholarship, is a broad heading encompassing activities that bear little resemblance to one another. Scholars view other scholars’ work through their own disciplinary lenses, making the research of others difficult to evaluate.
However, if we change our T&P guidelines from “research or creative practice, teaching, and service” to “scholarship, teaching, and service” it opens up evaluative criteria to many different types of academic engagement. Currently, this is presented as an either-or proposition; either the candidate is doing research, or they’re doing creative practice. But, as I’ve seen countless times in my research, many excellent educators are engaged in work that doesn’t fit neatly into either of these descriptors. The word scholarship covers these hybrid, extra-disciplinary, or collaborative faculty activities and provides room for recognition of every type of excellence.
Simple? Yes. No. But this topic is worthy of discourse and further consideration. Check back for further updates.
I recently completed my 390th research interview and decided to share a list of the disciplines in which the interview participants work and study. Many of these are broad headings covering a number of sub-disciplines, so the list is actually more extensive than is shown below. However, given the crossover and hybridity between disciplinary designations at different institutions I’ve visited, I decided that a broader approach to the categories was more advantageous.
Agriculture and Environmental Sciences
Architecture and urban studies
East Asian Studies
Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
History and Art History
Information Technology and Services
Library and Information Sciences
Media and Game Studies
Spatial Imaging and Holography
Visual Studies and Education
Interview Participants Include:
20 University Presidents or Vice Presidents (the majority of whom were Vice Presidents)
18 Provosts or Associate Provosts
95 Deans or Associate Deans
56 Directors, Associate Directors, Chairs or Department Heads
137 Faculty Members, and
64 Students or Fellows
Bruce M. Mackh, PhD