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moral dilemma/mfa/age descrimination

updated wed 20 oct 04


Vince Pitelka on mon 18 oct 04

> To me the answers to the above are a resounding NO, and I think
> prioritizing the slots available in an MFA program on the basis of age
> is an equally resounding NO.

John -
I have never heard of any graduate program doing this consciously
(prioritizing available slots available on the basis of age), but it is
bound to happen. They are ultimately looking for the students who will make
the best teachers and artists, but they want the students who will go out
there and make a big splash, attracting positive attention to their program.
So, even if they are not consciously thinking about it, age is going to be
an issue, and the well-qualified younger students will be selected before
the well-qualified older students. This exists, and it is rampant.

Of course I agree with the primary point of your message, that age should
never be a criteria when selecting a qualified person for a job. The
largest fraction of the best-qualified people in most non-athletic fields
are over 50. I do tend to be optimistic and idealistic on so many things,
but the reality is that age discrimination is even more rampant in hiring
practices. It can rarely be proved, and you can bet that the search
committees making the decisions really cover their asses on this. They are
not coming out and saying "Okay, let's hire the youngest qualified
candidate," but in the natural evolution of an academic department, old
people retire, and young people get hired.

There are exceptions of course - sometimes people are hired into new jobs at
an advanced age, most often when they are moving up from one position to
another, based on excellence of scholarship, research, or creative output.
That is a normal situation in academia. Also, every search committee is
different, and in some cases they are remarkably informed. In the case of
Diana Pancioli, the search committee knew exactly what they were doing.
They picked a dynamic, productive, talented artist and teacher, and the fact
that she was 50 simply was not an issue. That is as it should be, and I
wish that every search committee could act with such wisdom.

But ultimately, as I know you agree, all of this has nothing to do with
whether an older person should hesitate to pursue graduate studies. If they
have the desire to get an MFA, and a way to make it work, then of course
they should get an MFA. As someone else pointed out, the experience will
mean as much or more to them as to a younger grad student, and will lead to
productive contributions to society on many levels.
Best wishes -
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Craft, Tennessee Technological University
Smithville TN 37166, 615/597-6801 x111,