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American Annals of the Deaf

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Evolving Paradigms in Interpreter Education
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The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) lists five categories of higher education institutions in the United States: category I, those that offer doctoral degrees; category IIA, that offer no higher than master’s degrees; category IIB, that offer only baccalaureate degrees; category III, that offer only associate’s degrees and have academic ranks for faculty; and category IV, that offer only associate’s degrees and do not have any academic ranks for faculty (AAUP 2009, 45). Only the institutions in category I are considered research institutions, where faculty are expected to conduct and publish research for tenure and promotion. Other IHEs are often considered teaching institutions with the emphasis on effective teaching and scholarship associated with teaching and learning.

The tenure process at community colleges typically does not require the faculty member to publish articles or book—and therefore does not require research—although “evidence of good teaching” is required because that is the primary responsibility. “Most community colleges do offer some version of tenure—and it’s often relatively easy to get. Unlike their counterparts at four-year institutions, who may be required to publish numerous articles and perhaps even a book to be considered for tenure, community-college faculty members have no such mandate” (Jenkins 2003, 1).

The advertisement for my current tenure-track position required a master’s degree but I was only a few months away from completing my doctorate when I was hired. The level of research I was comfortable producing carried over into my pursuit of tenure. Coming from a huge state university where tenure-track positions required doctoral degrees, I was amazed at the number of faculty members in IEPs with master’s degrees, but at that point in time most IEPs offered two-year degrees. Things have changed somewhat since then.

Today interpreter educator positions in four-year IHEs tend to indicate “doctoral degree preferred,” whereas other disciplines require that candidates “must hold an earned PhD.” The doctoral degree serves two purposes: First, it produces faculty who are at the top of their knowledge base in their field, and second, it produces faculty (i.e., potential scholars) who can contribute to the research and body of writing in their specific area of expertise, moving the field—and hence the practice—forward. We bemoan the fact that there are too few qualified applicants with doctoral degrees but do little to advance the promise of those degrees. Higher education specifically for ASL/English interpreters is almost nonexistent. For example, in 2005, a graduate program was established at Boston’s Northeastern University: the master’s in interpreting pedagogy. It was a small online degree developed by leading interpreting educators and researchers but was eliminated after only a few years. Gallaudet University recently established a doctoral program in interpreting “designed to prepare interpreter educators and researchers” (Gallaudet University 2012); their master’s degree in interpretation is well established. In addition, two other programs have since been established. Western Oregon University (Monmouth) offers a master’s in interpreting studies online during the traditional academic year and onsite during the summer. The University of North Florida (Jacksonville) offers a similar blended approach for their master’s, which includes a partnership with a video relay service agency, an innovative collaboration. Yet, when we argue that there is no terminal degree in our field, we relegate our field to sit and wait for a PhD in ASL/English interpreting rather than embracing the varied seemingly tangential disciplines that are part of what interpreters need to know. Those who have already completed doctoral degrees in our field have a wide  variety of expertise and knowledge: adult learning, communication, curriculum and instruction, education, and linguistics. The expertise we have gained from these disciplines has given us a broad view of our field, and we should continue to encourage our students to pursue such degrees.

Ninety-one IEPs[2] report a total of 367 faculty who teach interpreting courses; 103 of them (28%) are in tenured or tenure-track positions (Cokely and Winston 2008, 7). The challenge for us is to make our way through this culture of teaching and learning in a balanced and realistic way, but as latecomers to IHEs we are hard-pressed to catch up with the established disciplines of higher education.

Although no data could be found on this topic, in talking to numerous faculty in IHEs, there is a clear bias against online doctoral degrees. Many colleges and universities in the United States offer online coursework and degrees, but many in the academy see the online or distance doctoral degree as “less than” the traditional one. Perhaps this will change as more brick-and-mortar IHEs offer comparable online degrees.

Some would argue that we are still involved in an evolution from the early training programs that offered two-year degrees. This is often evident in how we designate interpreter training programs (ITPs) and interpreter education programs (IEPs). Indeed, my own program is housed in an IHE of technology that offers “career-oriented studies” rather than liberal arts. Most students here are accepted into an already-declared major, allowing little time for exploration and the typical liberal studies approach to courses. Although there is a definite shift toward four-year degrees (my program changed from two-year to four-year in 2001), there are still vestiges of the original training-program approach (i.e., two years or less) established in the 1970s when the first six federally funded programs offered “basic interpreter education” (Frishberg 1990, 13).[3] The establishment of those original programs ushered in “a dramatic increase in the academic institutionalization of [teaching ASL], the language of the [American Deaf] Community (Cokely 2005, 14).”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 19% of full-time faculty at community colleges hold doctoral degrees, compared to almost 79% of full-time faculty at category I and IIA four-year colleges and universities (National Center for Educational Statistics 2004b). Because 70% of our IEPs are in community colleges, it seems clear that expectations for faculty are different in these two kinds of institutions.

By 1980, there were more than 50 colleges or universities in the United States that housed interpreter training programs (Cokely 2005, 14–15). In 2008, 91 IEPs participated in a national survey (out of a reported 130 IEPs) and 64 (70%) still offer two-year degrees and/or certificates of study (Cokely and Winston 2008, 4). Currently, 70% of our IEPs are housed in IHEs that fall into either category III or IV, where all faculty members are referred to as “instructors” or “professors” but in reality there is no distinction (AAUP 2009, 45).


2. The Conference of Interpreter Educators, the professional organization for instructors in IEPs, reports a total of 130 IEPs in the United States.

3. The Rehabilitation Services Administration of the federal government funded the National Interpreter Training Consortium (NITC), which included six institutions: California State University, Northridge; Gallaudet College; New York University; St. Paul Technical Vocational Institute; Seattle Central Community College; and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


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