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American Annals of the Deaf

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Evolving Paradigms in Interpreter Education
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The recent changes in the requirements for the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) certification process are having an impact on the preparation of interpreters. As of June 2012, RID requires a baccalaureate degree before one sits for certification; the degree need not be in interpreting. As a result, many of the two-year programs are exploring “two-plus-two” options with nearby four-year degree colleges/universities, are refocusing to offer degrees in ASL or Deaf studies, or are making the change to four-year interpreting degrees, although it is unclear how many will either close or adapt. Therefore, we are moving away from “training” programs that had a “distinctly vocational profile” (Pöchhacker 2004, 31), and we need faculty who can represent that discipline in the academy and address the slow “academization” (30) in our field. It is unclear how many two-year programs are really going to make the change.

This shift toward four-year degrees in IHEs requires qualified faculty members with terminal degrees: doctoral degrees in appropriate disciplines. Although this is normal for well-established disciplines, this is still new for faculty members in interpreting education. Typical faculty members in other disciplines are required to teach, publish, and provide service, most often in the form of committee work, to their departments and universities. As IEPs move from community colleges to universities—in established departments of linguistics, education, communication, modern languages—our faculty must be able to hold their own among their colleagues in the academy. Instructors hired in our early IEPs were well-respected interpreters who had experience in the day-to-day business of interpreting, may have achieved an undergraduate/graduate degree in a “related” field, but tended not to have doctoral degrees.

Cokely stated that the “pivotal 1972–1975 period” in ASL/English interpretation offered “activities that were mistaken for accomplishments” is a nascent canon of work, mostly produced by those few individuals who have earned doctorates. Despite this, Pöchhacker (31–32) maintains that the United States is a “paragon” for education and research related to interpreting, especially the master’s degree program at Gallaudet University, which has “proved seminal to the promotion of research on sign language interpreting.” Be that as it may, the dearth of graduate programs in interpreting in the United States contributes to the production of interpreters who can practice the profession but who do not have the appropriate credentials to secure tenured employment in IHEs; consequently, they are not the scholars we desperately need to conduct research and move us forward. Our current undergraduate IEPs prepare students to interpret; employment is the goal, not graduate school nor research. The disconnect is clear. Perhaps what limits the growth of graduate programs is the question, Who would enroll in them? Another factor is that IHEs are hiring more part-time faculty, not only in our field but in general.

Challenges Faced in the Academy

Historically, full-time tenured faculty appointments constitute the core of an institution of higher education: “academics value tenure, and tenure remains the prototype of the ideal academic career” (Gappa et al. 2007, 54). Regardless of egalitarianism, there is a pecking order within the academy; the rights and responsibilities that come with tenure do not come with alternative appointments. Tenured faculty have the potential to move a discipline forward by conducting and disseminating research. The permanency connected with tenure can allow for a more balanced life; the pressure to prove oneself abates and the freedom to make choices increases. Academic freedom allows for creativity in teaching, for individuality in research, and for innovation in service.

In the 21st century, higher education in the United States and worldwide faces many important issues, including but not limited to intellectual property rights, national/international security, economic belt-tightening, and rising tuition rates. One of the primary issues in the United States is the changing demographics of the faculty: We know that 68% of all faculty appointments in the academy are non-tenure-track positions (AAUP n.d.). We know that 35% of full-time faculty members are in non-tenure-track and “one is struck by the virtual absence of research” (2005, 18). Although reliable research in our fi eld continues to be intermittent and sparse, there positions (Gappa et al. 2007, 66). And we know that in our institutions of higher education, there are 1.4 million full-time professionals who have instructional responsibilities. Only 47% (approximately 658,000) of them had faculty status and only 30% of those 47% (approximately 197,000) either had tenure or were on the tenure track (Knapp et al. 2009, 3). Regardless of which statistic one accepts, “the majority of faculty members teaching in American colleges and universities today are not on the tenure track” (Gappa et al. 2007, 82).The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) believes that

Because faculty tenure is the only secure protection for academic freedom in teaching, research, and service, the declining percentage of tenured faculty means that academic freedom is increasingly at risk. Academic freedom is a fundamental characteristic of higher education, necessary to preserve an independent forum for free inquiry and expression, and essential to the mission of higher education to serve the common good. (AAUP 2003).
This move toward contingent faculty[4] (sometimes labeled “alternative appointments,” a term that includes both part- and full-time faculty who are appointed off the tenure track) brings its own issues of working conditions and pay, but the requirements for achieving tenure are still quite stringent, allowing institutions of higher learning to become more selective—all the more reason for our signed language interpreting discipline to have faculty with doctoral degrees. The ranks of contingent faculty continue to grow and their working conditions continue to deteriorate. The contingent faculty members hired are overwhelmingly in long-established disciplines and departments where there are already a number of tenured/tenure-track faculty; the lament is strong in English, history, psychology, and so forth. However, interpreter educators have long been contingent faculty in a contingent discipline, with too few among us having attained tenure appointments. As stated previously, 72% of our IEP faculty are not tenured or in tenure-track positions. We do not have much research to support our pedagogical approaches, our curricula, or our course development. Although we are latecomers, there is still an important place for us. We need a core faculty who can contribute to the canon, who can set the standards for the field, who can contribute to the academy, and show that we are a discipline worthy of research and publication. A glaring example of the pitfalls is that all the faculty for the online degree offered at Northeastern University were contingent, which probably contributed to its demise.


4. “The term ‘contingent faculty’ calls attention to the tenuous relationship between academic institutions and the part- and full-time non-tenure-track faculty members who teach in them. For example, teachers hired to teach one or two courses for a semester, experts or practitioners who are brought in to share their field experience, and whole departments of full-time non-tenure-track English composition instructors are all ‘contingent faculty’. The term includes adjuncts, who are generally compensated on a per-course or hourly basis, as well as full-time non-tenure-track faculty who receive a salary” (AAUP, n.d.).
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