Henry Bial Defends the Ph.D. in Theater

by Phillip Witteveen on February 22, 2013

In a recent essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Henry Bial, author of Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen, responded to growing concerns within the academy relating to doctorate programs in the performing arts.  There is, according to Bial and the article’s c0-authors, “an antagonism between those who study the theater and those who create it.” This issue falls hardest on those students “enrolled in 36 doctoral programs in theater across the country.”  Bial and his co-authors promoted a separation between the inherent value and marketability of the degree, saying,  “market value is a flawed metric for both the M.F.A. and the Ph.D. when calculated only in terms of whether the degree will secure the candidate a job in the professoriate.”

The article that spurred this response, written by the pseudonymous professor Jody Olson, stated that, “When I looked at the credentials for the chairs of theater departments at Big Ten universities, I found that only one of the 12 department heads has a Ph.D.,” implying that even the small niche the degree currently inhabits is becoming less and less relevant. “Yet that is hardly the same as ‘vocational equivalence,’ any more than an M.B.A. is ‘vocationally equivalent’ to a doctorate in economics,” comes the rebuttal from Bial, who serves as the president-elect of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

You can check out Bial’s contribution to the full article in The Chronicle of Higher Education here.


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