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Michele Damato

Is a MS Degree in Communication Design sufficient to teach?

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I received my MS Degree in 1999 from Pratt Institute in Communications Design. At that time, it was the only terminal degree they offered for design. SVA did not have their program yet. I lived in the NYC, worked as a designer and pursued part of my degree while I worked. Finally, I went full-time, because it was taking to long to finish while working. I never intended to teach with this degree. I only did a Master's for myself and hone my craft. 

I have been teaching for twelve years now, and would like to pursue other teaching opportunities. I was hired at an R1 University with my current degree, but do not know if this will be the case at other places. Do I need to pursue my MFA? Has anyone else been in this situation?  I would appreciate any advice or help other members could offer. Thank you.

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Our Promotion and Tenure document lists MFA as the terminal degree in the arts. We are currently looking at would another degree plus X amount of years in the field be considered for tenure, which I certainly think should be the case. Most of the positions I have seen out there require an MFA. I actually had classmates when I was attending graduate school coming back to get the F in their MA because of that requirement. Does anyone know what NASAD's requirements are? That maybe where to look. I would imagine a Masters plus work experience at most places might count. 


Not sure if that helped at all.


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Hi Mitch,

Thank you for your feedback. I would hope so, but I am not sure. I know that AIGA made case for other degrees in their "AIGA DEC Statements on Promotion and Tenure of Design Educators" Article. Again though, like you said, I don't know what NASAD's requirements are. It may be that I have to go back for another degree.  

Best, Michele 

MFA (or Equivalent) as the Terminal Degree; Other Degrees
AIGA DEC urges institutions to recognize the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) and/or equivalent degrees as the terminal degree qualification for US Design Educators, especially in the case of current, full-time appointments. However, some Design Educators may possess graduate-level degrees that were conferred prior to the wider adoption of the MFA as the terminal degree, such as the MA (Master of Arts), or the MS (Master of Science).

In addition, some Design Educators may not hold graduate-level degrees at all, but have many years of full-time teaching experience and peer-recognized professional practice. AIGA DEC urges institutions to recognize the contributions of current Design Educators regardless of degree held, and to provide flexibility on this matter in P&T processes, as appropriate.

Finally, while a small number of Ph.D programs in specialized areas of Design (History, Theory, Criticism, Research, etc.) do currently exist, it would be unreasonable for US institutions to require any degree higher than the MFA or equivalent as a condition of appointment, or as a condition of P&T.


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Kia ora Michele,

How your MS is assessed is entirely up to the institution that wants to hire you! Different institutions will have different expectations or requirements. Same with how much value is placed on your professional experience. In the United States it is entirely up to each institution and its hiring processes. This is not true in other countries, where there are clear national standards for those lecturing in tertiary education and clear national standards for postgraduate levels of study. 

I once served on a promotion committee for a US candidate that did not have a terminal degree, but instead had a letter from his Provost citing an equivalency based on his professional experience and international standing. In the context of that institution, this was not something that could be challenged.  

While NASAD has guidelines, you would never see an institution get written up over one or two of its faculty not having terminal degrees. If it was across the board in a program, you might see a mention in the report, but individuals would never be singled out. 

The key issue here is what defines a "terminal degree", a term used in the United States but -- as I have discovered -- not anywhere else. To be "terminal" means that it is the highest degree awarded in a given field. This is not university specific, but is based upon professional standards within a discipline. For art and design in the United States, this is the MFA and has been since the mid-80s. In theory, the MFA is separated from the MS or MA by a significant amount of studio practice and independently-led research. In practice, these programmes can overlap in terms of curriculum and expectations. But it is the distinction (MFA) that is considered terminal, not the programme, so those who hold alternate masters degrees often struggle from the issue you describe.

When facing a hiring committee assessing you in the United States, the onus would be on you to show that your master's education was roughly equivalent to an MFA in terms of being research-led so they can be sure that you are adequately prepared to undertake independent academic research / scholarship outside of professional practice. No matter how much professional experience a candidate has, if they will be assessed and promoted through an academic lens (such as journal publications) it is unfair to drop someone into that environment if they do not have some foundation within it.

But, again, its all about the expectations of the school and their expectations for teaching, research and scholarship. 

The funny thing about this whole discussion is that most other countries no longer consider the MFA as terminal. A PhD is required to teach in Europe, Australia and many other countries. That last sentence in the NASAD standards is an opinion and a position -- "Unreasonable" is a strong word -- and I honestly wonder how long this will last with so many programmes around the world cranking out new design Masters and PhDs. 

Apologies for this long post! I oversee BDes, MDes, MFA and PhD programmes in Design, so I am quite fascinated by the topic of academic leveling and progression.

Do you need to pursue another degree? Not until someone makes you! It is not uncommon to hire candidates with the stipulation that they complete a specific academic degree within a certain time-frame. However, if I was to build a requirement to achive an MFA or a PhD into a faculty contract, I would also expect to pay for it, as it is a condition of employment!  

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