Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

November 17, 2008

School of Art’s art education program launches Ph.D.

DeKalb — Northern Illinois University, the state’s leading producer of art teachers, is now preparing Ph.D. candidates in art education.

Courses began this fall for 15 students who are expected to grow into new standard bearers in art education research and policy that will impact K-12 schools, colleges and universities, museums, community art centers and cultural institutions.

This Ph.D. program, NIU’s 11th, is the university’s first new Ph.D. in more than a decade.

“It’s a flagship program for the NIU School of Art. Very few schools of art in the United States have a Ph.D. program, and we are now second in significance in this country. The only institution ahead of us, in terms of size and scope, is Ohio State,” said Doug Boughton, acting director of the school and a professor of art education.

“This will position our students in the field to where they’re never wanting for qualifications. Some will go back to their schools. Some will go into community colleges. Some will go into higher education,” Boughton added. “Not only does it facilitate jobs, it really is something that opens minds and provides new ways to envision the future of the field – to bring the field forward.”

“People who hold master’s degrees and want to pursue academic research can now develop new knowledge and skills and provide influence at the highest levels of art and visual culture,” said Deb Smith-Shank, head of art education. “These are the people who will shape theory and policy.”

Professor Emeritus Stanley Majeda initiated the push toward the Ph.D. several years ago with Smith-Shank.

The long process involved the critical hiring of Boughton and Kerry Freedman, both of whom are internationally renowned for their work to promote an art curriculum centered on visual culture: Children can learn so much from studying the imagery surrounding them thanks to television, movies, video games, toys, comic books, clothes, furniture, advertising, the Internet and more.

Harold Kafer, former dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and Virginia Cassidy, vice provost for academic planning and development, served as shepherds of the proposal through the administrative channels.

External review by several of the nation’s top art educators helped to polish the document on its successful journey to Illinois Board of Higher Education approval.

“After so many years of work on this project, I’m proud of the results. We have such a great group of students who are deeply committed to becoming leaders in our professional field,” Freedman said. “Art educators in schools and communities need to be supported by the work of new doctoral graduates, and it is clear that more strong programs are required that focus on research and leadership in art teaching and learning.”

Some of the 15 students are shifting from the College of Education’s Ed.D. program in curriculum and instruction, which for years has offered a specialization in art education. Nina Dorsch, who is retired from the chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning, “made it easy for the students to grow in her program while we were developing this one,” Freedman said.

Lured by NIU’s global reputation, a few students have come from foreign countries.

“Part of the university’s strategic plan is to increase the international nature of our programs, and we’re working at that. We already have interest from overseas and, in fact, one student joined us from China this year. We already have in the program two students from Taiwan and one from Macau,” Boughton said. “It’s quite helpful to the university and our students to have exposure to students from other countries.”

Completion of the degree requires a minimum of 60 semester hours of graduate course work at NIU beyond the graduate credits earned toward the master’s degree. A dissertation and oral defense are mandatory.

Some of the core courses include “Policy Studies for the Administration and Supervision of Art Programs,” “Critical Theories of Art, Culture, and Pedagogy” and “Philosophies of Art and Aesthetics.”

These Ph.D. students also must complete nine hours of research methodologies and at least 12 hours in art or related fields, including anthropology, computer imaging, museum studies, statistical analysis and women’s studies.

An early challenge already has been conquered. The group recently traveled to Champaign for a weekend graduate seminar with doctoral students in art education at the University of Illinois, which offers the state’s only other Ph.D. in art education.

“Our doctoral students and their doctoral students presented papers to the faculty at the universities,” Smith-Shank said. “Our students were marvelous. They were thoughtful, articulate, poised and professional.”

But greater challenges await.

Federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation has been devastating to art education, Freedman said, because school districts are forced to focus on improving test scores in math and reading.

“The act does state that art is a core subject, and people are starting to respond negatively to the emphasis on reading and math testing,” Freedman said. “Art is in some ways being newly valued, particularly because of greater interest in the impact of the creative industries on the economy. Arts knowledge is becoming appreciated again as parents realize that standardized testing of reading and math is not going to prepare their children for a whole and happy life.”

That’s why NIU is committed to the visual culture curriculum and, Boughton said, is counting on its new doctoral students to “help bring the field forward” in that direction.

“In the past, the focus of art education was on aesthetic theory – the attempt to generate in children the capacity to have an aesthetic experience and to understand fine museum art,” he said. “These days, in a period of enormous exposure to visual images, from cell phones and TV screens to laptop computers and just signage, kids experience art in many different forms that affect their lives. We have to include discussions of this visual culture in curriculum.”

Visit or call (815) 753-1474 for more information.

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