The Theatre department at the University of Hawaii provides not only programs in learning how to become an actor, or a director, but also for one to pursue a career as a costume designer, stage manager, set designer, sound or lighting designer, playwright, dramaturge or theatre critic, or theatre scholar. And I would imagine (I would sure hope!) that most universities’ theatre departments offer the same. I realize that many of these overlap, and that few people make a living, make a whole lifelong career, out of being solely one of these things.
But, here’s the question: why do more departments (disciplines) not do this? Music departments offer possibilities for performers, for conductors, for composers, and for scholars (musicologists / ethnomusicologists); Art departments offer both Studio Art and Art History paths. But, most departments seem to take this assumption that we are all of us there to become professors. It’s really a nonsense sort of assumption, and really quite frustrating to feel like that decision has been made for me. All these professors who seem to believe that grad school exists only to produce more professors, where do they think that curators and archivists come from? Librarians, gallery owners, heads of lecture programs at various kinds of NPOs? Many of these fields, increasingly, require the PhD. And yet, the PhD does not prepare people for these things – and besides the actual hands-on skills, what’s more frustrating, suffocating even, is the academic culture that discourages, or just ignores, these other possible career paths. Sure, we have certificate and degree programs, or at least courses, in Museum Studies, Information & Library Studies, Gallery Management, whathaveyou. But, the academic disciplines, such as History and Art History, do not work closely enough with these other programs – they don’t let them in – and they don’t take seriously students’ attempts to follow those paths. I wonder how it is in East Asian Languages & Literatures departments – is the assumption that everyone there is there to become a Langs & Lit professor? Or are they more accepting than History or Art History seems to be that one might be specializing in East Asian Langs & Lits in order to go become a librarian, or archivist?
Leonard Cassuto, in a recent article, writes:
“What if we reconceived the guiding assumption that Ph.D.’s are supposed to become professors? Recognizing nonacademic placements as legit communicates a much more positive message about the skills and abilities that are nurtured by graduate education. It affirms the value of the entire enterprise.”
I want to jump up and applaud, and say Yes. Yes. Yes. This.
It frustrates me so much that graduate programs cultivate us to become “researchers”, “scholars”, and don’t even focus on good teaching, let alone on any other career possibilities other than becoming a professor. At a time when museums in particular, and I’m not sure which other paths exactly, demand a PhD, it is absurd, and yes quite frustrating, to have to put up with years and years of being groomed for something else. And, perhaps most of all, to feel like I can’t talk openly, plainly, clearly, with my professors about these questions, because they’re the very ones creating that culture, enforcing those discursive assumptions. I guess the answer is to talk to museum professionals, and others outside of academia, about how to bend the PhD to one’s own needs/desires. But, then, that would also require me to first get to know the curator here… Though, really, we shouldn’t have to do that. The museum, the library, the archive, should not be “outside” academia. They should not be opposed. They should be an integral part of academia.
I’m not saying that I’m 100% dedicated to becoming a museum professional, rather than an academic. To the contrary, I very much would like to be any or all of the above. In my mind, museum professionals, archivists, and the like are all academics too. They’re required to be, by the museums and archives that hire them. And yet, their training comes from an institution (the university, the PhD program) that doesn’t acknowledge that, and only trains us to be one thing, a different thing. We need an academic culture, an academic community, that accepts these other people, these other career paths, and includes them. Just as theatre departments do include programs for both actors and directors, and for stage managers, and for costume/set/light/sound designers, and for dramaturgs, and for theatre critics and scholars, so too should History departments, East Asian Studies departments, and oh for god’s sake, Art History departments especially most of all, need to train people to be not only scholars, but also for careers in museums, if not in the commercial art world. Our undergraduate careers prepare us for a wide range of things, and our graduate careers need to do the same, because where else are we to gain the proper skills and qualifications such that museums, archives, etc. will hire us? The way things are structured right now, there is a terrible disconnect between institutions demanding that potential hires possess qualifications from a university, and the university, which doesn’t acknowledge its role in preparing people for those careers, perpetuating discursive assumptions that the professorial path is the only one that they need to, or ought to, be preparing anyone for.