Friday, October 29, 2004

And again I say...

...an MFA is a terminal degree! It means I can hold a tenure track position in academia. Yes, I know it's not the same as a PhD, but I am so tired of being treated like I am in some sort of academic ghetto because I chose a degree based on practical application (or, in my case, artistic application) over research.

My wife was corresponding with an old family friend who has a PhD and eventually plans to go into teaching after putting in several years in the corporate world (in his field, this would be appropriate, I think). Anyway, he said to her, via e-mail, "I didn't think there were still any tenure track positions for non-PhDs."

My wife said it was nothing, people don't know what an MFA is, etc. But it was that "still" in the comment that angered me, as though there used to be positions for people with "just a master's," but doggone-it haven't we eliminated those by now? It just rubbed me the wrong way, and of course my wife by now knows the whole MFA speech drill, so she recites it chapter and verse for people like this friend. I just feel like people think, "how'd you luck into that gig?" when they find out what I'm doing now, and I always have to say (come on, repeat it with me): AN MFA IS A TERMINAL DEGREE.

I'm thinking of appending profanity to the end of that, for emphasis, but I'm not really a "profanity" guy, so I guess I won't. Maybe I'll just start chronicling in here every time I have to explain this to someone, as a way of avoiding potential insanity.

In other news, how cool is "early voting"? Had never heard of that before moving here, but I voted yesterday and now won't have to wait in a long line on my way into the office on Tuesday. Of course, the stick-um on my "I Voted" sticker will be completely gone by then, so I'll have the appearance of one who did not vote or who was not proud of having voted, but who cares. They should have special "I Voted (Before You)" stickers for those of us who got there early.

33 Comments:

At 10:39 PM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

Sorry people are such shits. I don't recall not knowing about MFAs being terminal, but I also did my undergrad studies in a field that grants MFAs (in addition to PhDs), and that was the degree some of the faculty had, so it seemed normal to me.

 
At 11:04 PM, Blogger chutry said...

Same here. Many of the MFAs at Purdue were quite accomplished (one was even nominated for a National Book Award, as I recall). Looks like I'll be voting Tuesday with all of the regular slobs, in part because "early voting" has been very popular in these parts, with anywhere from 2-4.5 hour waits.

 
At 10:05 AM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Just one of those petty little annoyances. I shouldn't get all riled up. I should, however, be more concerned about it as tenure time approaches. I worry that the powers-that-be, while acknowledging that it is terminal, still won't have much respect for it. I know that's true at some places and among some people. I guess there's no point in worrying about it between now and then. I've got six years to become so distinguished that they can't afford to lose me :-)

 
At 12:09 PM, Blogger Laura said...

I think this is something like the MD vs. the PhD. Many non-academic people think of the MD as something more than the PhD even though they're not. My husband is PhD and his brother is an MD. The family so obviously values the MD.

 
At 11:40 AM, Blogger AiE said...

I did early voting, too! It was cool, except that in my town the lines were very long. I got in line at 7:30 a.m. and cast my vote at 10:15 a.m. Since I'm now out of town starting this new job(and therefore unable to vote on Tuesday), I didn't mind the wait. I am terrified to know what sort of country I'll be waking up to on Wednesday morning, though.

It can be very difficult to get a tenure-track job, no matter what kind of terminal degree you have. The proof is in the pudding (is that the right phrase? how strange). Obviously your creds were excellent, otherwise you wouldn't be on the tenure-track. I remember, back when I was a grad student on the Ph.D.-track, I would get incensed when people--even close friends--would say that I didn't have a "real" job. For a brief moment, I wanted to kick them in the teeth. Their misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of my status always felt unfair and somewhat willful. Off to a benefits meeting now...

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger nolapoet said...

When people ask, I tell them the MFA stands for MuthaF*ckinArtist.

I hear your pain. I also was hired by someone who knew what an MFA was (and paid me as a Ph.D.-equivalent, albeit P-T non-tenure-track), but there's a new regime coming in and I know I can do better elsewhere.

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger Tempus said...

Speaking with some of my PHD holding co-workers, I was blown away at their ignorance of the MFA. I Pointed out the 60+ credits and the 80-90 hour weeks I spent in my studio making art the year leading up to my thesis. To argue that the MFA isn't as valid a degree as a PHD is just silly and comes from a lack of understanding.

I am thankful to have a job teaching full time and on tenure track....but the 10k a year extra I would get paid if I held a PHD would be nice too. Too bad there isn't one in Art...at least not in the United States.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Michael said...

A MFA is a terminal degree, but you really cant compare it to a Ph.D. This is not from lack of understanding. I finished with over 100 credits of graduate work plus 3 years of research (6 years graduate work)to get my Ph.D. is Mathematics. To compare a MFA to a Ph.D. is just funny.

 
At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But comparing mathematics to a creative field like writing is worse than comparing apples to oranges . . . it's more like trying to use a protractor to measure and compare the artistic merit of Faulkner and Hemingway; it's a futile comparison. Does the mathematics field have the equivalent of an MFA? No. It's master's to PhD. In creative fields such a writing, visual arts, and music, we have something called a Master of Fine Arts for people who wish to practice their art rather than just talk and write about someone else's. Of course, MFA's do engage in reading, writing about, and discussing other writers' work, but their capstone is a creative thesis rather than a impractically obstruse dissertation that will be forgotten before anyone outside of the doctoral candidates dissertation committee even attempts to read it. Furthermore, I have found that most MFA programs are longer in duration and much more rigorous than the typical M.A. program in English; and I hold "only" a master's and not an M.F.A. Once the mathematics field develops the equivalent of the M.F.A. write again you ignoramus.

 
At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shame on me. I'm an English Teacher and the above is strewn with typos. I am typing this at school, which I should not be! Shame on me II!

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

You know, I was going to respond to that last post from Michael back when he wrote that, but I just didn't have the energy to make the argument again that you can't compare the two. So thanks, Anonymous, for taking the time to do so. It IS apples to oranges, but I think I've given up trying to convince people who are completely determined that their degree is superior. Fine, it's not a PhD. Fine, it's not as long.

It's just different. Sheesh.

 
At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, you may have a Ph.D. in Mathematics, but with an MFA one can at least distinguish the difference between a verb and a preposition.

 
At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my field of Filmmaking, an MFA IS a doctorate... it's just a doctorate of practice instead of a doctorate of philosophy...

An MFA is (1) a terminal degree that qualifies one to teach as full-time tenure-track faculty at any college/university, (2) usually involves the completion of 60+ hours of coursework and disertation/thesis hours, just like a Ph.D., and (3) involves a creative thesis (dissertation) that takes just as much time, effort, and background research to produce as a dissertation for a Ph.D. (sometimes more, since in filmmaking you have to turn in your film WITH a printed production book - my binder was at least 3-inches thick.)

Speaking as someone who has gone through both a Ph.D. program and an MFA program, both degrees are technically equivalent, so both degrees should be considered doctorates, regardless of whether they are "practice-oriented" or "scholarly-oriented." It bothers me that some people/institutions of higher learning fail to recognize this, either due to an MFA's literal mislabeling or due to many colleges' unfounded/unnecessary academic traditions. And I also get really frustrated with many universities' automated employment websites that fail to provide the MFA designation (or generic doctorate designation) as an option for "highest degree earned" when I am applying for an open faculty position.

If we want to improve the state of our education system in the U.S. (which is in dire need of reform as well as financial support), let's start by doing our best as educators to correct and clarify these misconceptions and misrepresentations that already exist.

 
At 1:46 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Hear, hear!

 
At 2:57 PM, Blogger jody said...

i have an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing on Fine Arts ( art, theatre, Music)... I was told this would be terminal and = an MFA... ANY thoughts?

 
At 6:42 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Jody - an MA is an MA. I have never heard of an MA in any field being equivalent to an MFA. I could be mistaken, but I've never personally heard of that.

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger virginia.maksymowicz said...

Unfortunately, the PhD in art (music, visual art, film, theater, creative writing, etc.) is starting to proliferate in England, Australia and here in the US. When the degree was first conceived, I wish it had been called a DFA. It wouldn't have made two things clearer: (1) it is a degree focused on artistic practice and (2) it is not a research degree focused on other people's art!

If any of you are going to be in LA at the College Art Association conference in February 2012, come to the panel "PhD for Artists: Sense or Non-Sense?".

 
At 7:38 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

I'm in complete agreement about a DFA and what that would signify.

 
At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, "DFAs" have been awarded (not earned) as honorary doctorates here in the United States. Yet another dumb mislabeling on the part of "tradition."

Sad to say, but if there was a sound way to officially switch the two labels (as well as make the change retroactive on all earned diplomas), it would probably be more accepted by employers as a terminal degree equivalent to any doctorate.

 
At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole MFA issue is interesting and is often misrepresented. I am a professor and former department head (and hold a doctorate) in a non-artistic field, and I am married to a lovely woman with an MFA who is a professor in an artistic department. We have this discussion all the time, and we agree on it. An MFA is considered a terminal degree, but it should not be confused with a doctoral degree. A doctoral degree requires (normally) post-master's degree coursework and an independent research project that "contributes a new idea to the body of literature" in the field. The doctorate is taken after (again, normally) the completion of a master's degree, and often the master's degree requires the completion of a thesis. The MFA is, as many above listed, a practical degree. The doctorate (and there are many out there, e.g., PhD, DPhil, EdD, DA, SD, DSc) is usually designed to train researchers for the most part, and teachers, secondarily, but not always, and lastly, administrators. Stating that the MFA is a terminal degree that allows a professor to seek a tenure-track position (in an artistic field and in a position teaching applied courses) and to be eligible for promotion to Full Professor, is correct generally. To state that the MFA is comparable to the doctorate is incorrect because the two degrees are not designed to train the person for the same thing. Further complicating the issue is that fields such as Music have the DMA, which is a practical-oriented doctorate, and that really complicates the issue, especially when Music, Art, Theatre, and Dance departments are combined. Lastly, I know faculty members who held the MFA and wanted to pursue the PhD, but they were forced to go and get an MA before they would even be considered for acceptance into a PhD program. It just goes to show that the degrees have different purposes and training.

 
At 7:06 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Very well said, Anonymous.

 
At 9:08 AM, Anonymous M*SHAKA*FUSION said...

I am currently going through this debate as well. I have begun to use the title Dr. in front of my name, and have been catching grief from the dance community of all places. Other fields, nursing for one, recognize an MFA ad a terminal degree and refer to those of us who hold this degree as Dr.

The program that I went through was 5 years, and was just as strenuous as any PhD program in any other field. So, the degree, and subsequent title was well earned. And I agree with the person who stated that the degree should be changed to DFA= Doctoral of Fine Arts.

We did the work, so we should enjoy the rewards of our efforts. I will continue to rock the title DR. in front of my name, as we all should.

Let's send this horse to the glue factory!!

 
At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An MFA and a Ph.D are not the same. Both are terminal, yes. The Ph.D. takes more time and requires more work to complete-- just a fact. Though I hold an MFA, I must concede the point. An MFA is assumed to be accompanied by a body of work and experience as an artist. I think it should be respected more than it is, but comparing them side by side academically is a red herring and it's not a fair comparison.

 
At 1:11 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

I tend to agree with the latest Anonymous - that is, the MFA is a different type of terminal degree. Not the same as a PhD. Just apples and oranges. They're intended for different things.

Also, I'm amazed this thread is still going. Not a bad thing! Just amazing after this length of time.

 
At 6:43 AM, Blogger V. Pates said...

I am putting together documentation for my administration to show that MA degrees are on a different pay scale to MFA degrees. (Maybe this will get me a much needed raise!)
Can anyone provide me the names of institutions that pay an MFA the same as a PhD? You know how admin is - I need to provide documented examples.

 
At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MFA is more similar to a JD than it is a PhD... Both about 3 years and fairly terminal.

 
At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My stars, people, why the arguements? I have a B.S, M.S, and a Ph.D in Biological Sciences (Microbiology, Entomology, Ecology) and I could take copies of all 3 to the coffee shop, along with two dollars and get a cup of coffee. What matters is what you do with it.

 
At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Judy said...

You think you got it bad... I have a MPW - also a terminal degree... but what the heck is an MPW???? any guessers?

 
At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's strange. In my MFA program, you absolutely could not get by without using profanity.

 
At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judy, does it stand for "Master of punctuating wrong?"

 
At 6:06 AM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

I use a lot more these days than I used to...

 
At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
I just finished my MFA in April and submitted paperwork for pay increase as a I am a teacher at a high school in Southern California. Human resources told me that they do not recognize the MFA as being equal to the Ph.D. and thus I will not be paid the higher stipend. Who recognizes the MFA as being a terminal degree?

 
At 4:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The College Art Association recognizes the MFA as a terminal degree.

 

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