Completely redo graduate education?

This weekend’s Op Ed of the NY Times featured a controversial piece by Columbia’s Mark C. Taylor on the antiquated system of graduate education in our country. He was blatant and brutal, and at times just idealistic, radical, and even lame, but no matter what—-the piece was a breath of fresh air and brought to light some of the most pressing issues in academia.

Making the sweeping changes he advocates probably won’t happen or at least not everywhere and/or quickly, but what he has done is drawn attention to some of the most glaring issues facing someone like me: a soon to be graduating PhD in with an education that is creative, diverse, inter-disciplinary and multi-faceted (and multi-formatted) yet I am often encouraged to be narrow, routine, formulaic and repetitive. 

Although there have been vast hiring freezes and budget cuts, and there is a stale wind in the air, there is good news from what I can tell for people in apparel/dress/design studies:

1. It is a growing field professionally-call it the Project Runway effect, but there are more undergrads than ever, generating the need for more instructors. 

2. There is a huge retirement about to happen as many of the people who entered the system in the 70s and earlier are on their way out. I’m sorry to see them go, but it will open a lot of jobs as well as bring in a new perspective regarding topics for study, manner of study, and technology to name a few areas. However, it also means that some concepts will possibly disappear if we don’t fight for them and it is imperative that new scholars know their history and not just whatever is the hot topic of the moment (which I felt Taylor was advocating for). I recently tried to fight for some classes (about writings in our field) to stay afloat at my U since the prof who teaches them is retireing and I think they are of great value, but I lost that battle because no one knows the material or sees its value. Therefore little bits of that material will supposedly be absorbed into other classes. We’ll see how that plays out.

3. Dress can be (if you play it right) interdisciplinary-therefore you can look for options in multiple academic programs, as well as commercial art, business, textiles science, entertainment and more industry professional avenues. This contradicts Taylor’s argument that we aren’t trained to do anything. I will total back him on the problems with formulaic and overly-narrow dissertations (what I call “vanity projects”) that cannot pass the “so what” test. (Since I recently posted on WT about my diss., I’d be happy to discuss how it passes the “so what” measure if you’d like).

4. There are “fashion” programs everywhere. Yes, the research schools are all pretty much in corn fields, and yes the cities only have art degrees for the most part, but, virtually every school out there has some sort of fashion program, ranging from a class or two to PhDs, and therefore there’s work to be had at every level from adjunct through professors. Something to suit everyone in some way or another. Although I would agree with Taylor that this may be sort of leading to overkill and lack of amazing work, since there isn’t consolidation or working together happening enough between institutions–but at least it’ll help us get jobs and joblessness was a major premise of his piece. 

Now this doesn’t mean that I’m not completely freaked out by the prospects of the job market and the recession, in conjunction with a dated educational system applauding the study of minutia to be read by your BFF colleague only. But, in our field-I don’t think it’s quite as sour as what Taylor proclaims. 

Let me know what you think.

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