Friday, October 08, 2004

If I blog it, will they come?

Okay, so I love the IDEA of blogging but can't decide, after one previous failed attempt to maintain a blog, if I am any good at this. It is, I suppose, a little like keeping a journal, and I have always been lousy at that, so maybe this is a bad idea that will fade away.

Nevertheless, I figured I'd give it a go. My situation has changed recently, and with a new position, I felt like blogging might be a good outlet to join in the public conversation about academia.

Background on me: I just started my first tenure track academic position (and my first full time teaching position), as an Assistant Professor in a Communication department, teaching film, screenwriting, media, etc. I suppose I should come up with one of those cheeky names for my university, so I can remain anonymous. I don't know that I've been here long enough to really categorize it effectively. I think of it as Moderately Well Respected Mid-Size University, but MWRMSU is way too long to type every time I want to talk about the school... I'll have to think about it.

As for the blog title, well, I think the description states it adequately. I have a Master of Fine Arts, and that is a terminal degree, though not a doctoral-level degree, of course. Some departments and universities and colleges recognize this, some don't, and some just don't care and want to hire PhDs. Okay, so that's their prerogative, but I maintain that an MFA is not just NOT a PhD; it's a very different type of degree, for a different type of person/educator. I think of myself as an artist, not a researcher (not at ALL a researcher), and thus what I bring to the table, from an education perspective, is experience as a 'practitioner' in my field. Does this benefot students? I think so. Do I think they don't also benefit from teachers who are primarily researchers in their fields? I didn't say that.

I think a good balance is of the two is essential, but my experience has shown me that very few departments or universities agree. Perhaps this is driven by ranking systems that measure your worth as an institution by counting percentages of those holding PhDs among the faculty.

I sat in one pseudo-interview with a department chair that illustrates my issues. I call it a pseudo-interview because I wasn't an official applicant for a position. I was visiting my undergrad alma mater for Homecoming and one of my former classmates, now a tenure-track professor at the school, arranged a meet-n-greet with the department chair because I was pursuing the idea of returning to teach there. This dept. chair wasn't at said school when I matriculated, so we didn't know each other, though he had my CV, sent to him by the VP of Academic Affairs (who was the dept. chair under whom I studied and who was an ardent supporter of mine).

Anyway, in our little chat, he went ON AND ON about how he would only hire a PhD because he could, because it was a buyer's market, so to speak, and he could have his pick of candidates and thus would always choose someone with a PhD. This in spite of the fact that he himself was hired before he had completed a PhD and had ascended to chair of the department. I tried to have a pleasant conversation with him and discuss the reasons I had for choosing an MFA -- the fact that I would spend five years or more working on a PhD that wouldn't make me any better as an artist, and that my experience in my field, coupled with my degree, made me a legitmate YADDA YADDA YADDA. He didn't care.

My point was, and is, that for certain positions, those which focus on experiential learning (in my field, I would say this refers to things like film production, screenwriting, directing, etc.), an MFA is the appropriate degree, because the teacher should have some experience in the field in which he or she is teaching. I gave up on him, and my alma mater (sadly), and then landed my dream position at a better school, with better facilities, more funding, and people I didn't have to convince to hire me. They wanted me. Yippee!

So I've solved my hiring issue, but the MFA issue is still out there and still a problem. When I come up for tenure in six years, the people who will be Roger-Ebert-ing my tenure application will be PhDs, some of whom (at least on the committee now) don't like the idea of teaching practical education or having people with less-than-a-doctorate doing it. And even if things work out for me (my department is supportive, and the department's tenure document is appropriate for what I do), there are many others out there who should be teaching but can't get jobs with their 'lowly' MFAs.

But I don't want this blog to be just about that one issue. I certainly welcome people to discuss that, but like most academic blogs, there will probably be discussions about grading, instransigent students, and perhaps even my upcoming projects (to get tenure, I don't publish books or articles; I make films).

So, if anyone actually shows up and reads this post, please drop a comment and say hi.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Foolish Knight said...

Hi (as ordered).

At 7:18 AM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

Hi indeed! The issue you describe is an interesting one - at my last job, they had no problem with hiring MFAs for appropriate positions (i.e., studio art, drama, creative writing - they didn't have any film people), but it was still a little strange at tenure-review time; the Fine Arts was lumped in with the Humanities, so the MFAs were evaluated by primarily PhDs. I think the PhDs were sympathetic enough, but I heard they had to be re-educated each time how to evaluate the work of an MFA (applied work, I guess you'd say) vs. typical PhD research. Certainly I wouldn't do very well trying to evaluate any of your films! But if your department is supportive that's the most important thing, I think.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger AiE said...

I feel compelled to post for a number of reasons. First, congratulations on getting a tenure-track position as a film MFA. That is great.

Second, I feel totally the same way about blogging. I have had a number of failed attempts and feel somewhat ambivalent about the publicity. I am currently giving it a third try.

Third, my partner is a Filmmaker who is currently pursuing his MFA. I'm an academic-in-exile. I quit my Ph.D. program after obtaining my master's degree, taught as a visiting professor for year, and then decided that I didn't really want to be a teacher. Thinker, researcher, and writer, yes. Teacher, no. By this time my partner matriculated into film school, where he has totally flourished. He's now finishing up his last year and is "on the market." As it turns out, I know a lot more about the academic culture than he and his professors do. He's in an art school that is organized differently than most of the places where he's applying for jobs. I've been helping him write his CV and cover letter, which I actually find to be a lot of fun (I guess it's the writer in me).

So, I guess your blog resonated for me in a lot of ways, so keep blogging and I'll keep commenting!

At 3:36 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

WOw -- thanks for sharing, folks. I knew there were others interested in this out there, but it's hard to 'meet' people online and find out who thinks what!

I definitely think the PhDs have to be re-educated every time an MFA is up for tenure. My dept. head has taken a pro-active position on this, starting to educate the dean on film festivals and screenwriting competitions. Dept. Head asked me for a list of film festivals in a descending order of significance (trying to liken them to journals). According to Dept. Head, the Dean's office is in tune with the MFA-tenure concept, but they don't know anything about it and actually want to be educated. Which I think is good.

Of course it's good that they want to be educated. What I'm not sure about is whether or not it's good that they don't know anything about what I do. It could work in my favor -- "I don't know what the heck that's all about, but he made this whole film and it played in XYZ festivals, so..."

On the other hand, it could mean they just decide that having your film play in some minor festivals isn't enough to get tenure. I don't know what to expect. But I'm working on a feature film to be shot next summer. I want to get that major project out of the way early. I view it as publishing a book -- a big part of my tenure, but of course not the only thing that will be required. Of course, I don't think they get how expensive it is to be a filmmaker as opposed to someone who is a specialist in James Joyce. I mean, other than travel for research in specialized locations, it doesn't cost a lot of money to do that. I have my concerns.

As far as blogging, it's alot easier when you have something worthwhile to say (duh) and, more importantly, when people actually write comments, which makes it seem more like a conversation and less like a journal.

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went back to college and got an MFA in Creative Writing, fully expecting to go into teaching (I even did the "teaching track" that focused on pedagogy rather than the "publishing/editing track" that had internships at local publishers). But the reality of Creative Writing programs is this, according to the fellow who wrote one of my letters of recommendation into the program:

To get a job as a professor of creative writing you...
a) have great publishing credits and no degree
b) have good publishing credits (a book or two from a major, non-academic publisher) and an MFA
c) have some or no publishing credits and a PhD

Unfortunately, no one's been interested in my book, so I'm back working in the computer/Internet field again, using my writing as creatively as I can in a business context.

I've added your blog to my feed-reader, as I found reading through the posted entries interesting. Thanks.

Glen @

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I googled "MFA creative writing blogs" and yours comes up first. Great Googleability.
I'm applying to Creative Writing MFA programs for Fall 2006. I've been writing my buns off (I've loved every second of it), and I plan to spend the next six months working on my writing sample. I've read all of the University webpages and their application mumbo jumbo, but I wanted to get a sense of the post degree environment.
Yesterday, I just read a blog about a Columbia MFA reunion and . . . Yikes! I know writers can be dramatic, but are only the cranky ones blogging? Yours seems to be a level headed blog. Looks like the second time is the charm.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous olseda said...

I'm doing my MFA in Media Production & Studies and am focusing on Digital Filmmaking, High Definition and DVD Design. I wonder if that classifies as "focusing"? Anyway I am get set to start principal photography on my thesis film and am planning to defend in April next year. I am trying to write my CV. Could anybody here help me out with writing my CV? I know some universities begin advertising for their positions as much as a year in advance which would mean I'd need to be prepared to send out applications as early as September. I'd love some advice especially from someone like you TerminalMFA, since you've just been through the process.

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, now i am terrified. i just got into Temple's MFA program for film production, with the intent to teach later. Their site had said the MFA is comparable to a PhD, but i've also read that most schools want a Phd for tenure track positions. This is a scary place to be in since I could do another three years of school and still not have the job I want!


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