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SECAC Statement of Standards and Practices Concerning the Promotion, Tenure, and Retention of Graphic Design Faculty

SECAC urges all institutions of higher learning to endorse and conform to these standards and practices.

The purpose of these standards is to provide recommendations for those involved in Promotion and Tenure (P&T) processes of Graphic Design and Visual Communication Design Educators at U.S. Institutions of higher education.

These standards are intended to provide suggestions on relevant topics and issues related to the P&T process. However, implementation of specific policies and procedures should be at the discretion of each individual institution.

Statement Acknowledging the Mission of Institutions of Higher Learning
Given the diversity of institutional missions, SECAC recognizes that a variety of P&T models and processes exists. SECAC encourages all colleges and universities to consider the specific needs of Design Educators and to articulate policies and procedures regarding retention, promotion, and tenure that will provide fair and balanced evaluations of their contributions to the disciplines of design.

The Role of the Graphic Design Educator to Higher Learning
Graphic Design and Visual Communication Design programs can be found in a variety of Departments, Schools, and Colleges, such as Art, Fine Arts & Communication, Art & Design, Industrial & Graphic Design, Architecture & Design, Communications, Journalism, among others. Regardless of the academic setting, the teaching and research efforts of the Graphic Design Educator is typically practice-based and thus focused on preparing students for future roles in the profession.

The goals and outcomes of the Design Educator differ from those of other educators within a typical studio art discipline. Traditional exhibition, research, or publication models are not necessarily applicable to the teaching and research efforts of the Design Educator. Therefore, the criteria used for evaluating the results of the Design Educators’ teaching and research efforts should be considered within this context.

General Evaluation Criteria for Graphic Design Faculty

Overview While elements of fine arts, science, humanities, and social science models may be applicable, no one model is adequate or appropriate for design faculty. The discipline of graphic design is quite diverse in nature, and the wide range in creative, professional, and scholarly work in which faculty in design may engage should be acknowledged. Designers may be involved in the creation of professional work for clients, experimental work that includes venues of review closer to the studio arts, as well as traditional scholarly work in the form of articles, conference presentations, books, invited lectures, etc.

A very significant part of graphic design is professional practice, and thus the work produced for clients, whether for pay or pro-bono, can constitute the bulk of a faculty member’s creative production. For such work, the selection of a designer by a client is in itself a competitive and highly selective process that includes considerations of quality and competence. Design faculty who engage in professional practice do so in a part-time capacity, and often within the constraints that their educational institution imposes on the amount of time they may dedicate to remunerated consulting activities. As such, securing a client in a proposal submission process places the designer in direct competition with larger design firms and agencies that can dedicate multiple designers and support personnel to the project.

Consequently, when design faculty has his/her own design practice, the nature of his/her clients provides some indication of the quality of the work done, and should be considered analogous to having work accepted in a juried exhibition.

A common venue for peer review is in the form of juried competitions that result in the selected work appearing in publications (whether printed or in digital form) and sometimes (though rarely) exhibitions. These competitions are sponsored by reputable design organizations, design publications or publishing houses and are often published as annual issues for periodical publications or as books for publishing houses. A very select group of design organizations offers actual exhibitions that supplement the publication. When awards are offered, they indicate additional recognition of the significance of the award winner’s design(s). In such cases, each instance of publication, even if pertaining to the same work, shall be considered as a separate instance, and the quality of each venue or publication, its international, national or regional scope and competitiveness shall be articulated separately.

Often designers also have opportunities to publish on the topics of design, pedagogy, technology and other topics related to graphic design and the teaching of design. Critical essays, book or exhibition reviews, writing of textbooks, magazine/journal articles, chapters in design texts or collections of essays, are all recognized forms of publishing in the design area. In situations in which the publication may not include a peer-review process, the faculty member should articulate the importance and relevance of the publication and internal and external reviewers will provide additional qualitative evaluation. In addition, delivering papers or serving as a panelist at recognized design or academic conferences can be considered the equivalent of publication.

Practicing designers need to spend time researching new technology—especially computer technology and software. The extent to which this research impinges upon, or otherwise affects, the faculty member’s output should be taken into account in any evaluation of his or her activity.

Invited lectures and presentations can be indicators of impact and visibility, and such activities should be weighed as they relate to the stature of sponsors and audience (university, association, publication); scope of presentation or participation (delivering a paper prepared in addition to visual work, portfolio presentation); and critical reviews.

Faculty concentrating their efforts in research scholarship would be expected to work in areas consistent with their academic preparation and teaching assignments. It is assumed that the candidate’s output would make an original contribution to the body of knowledge about design or about design education (this category could include teaching innovation when done in ways that take a research perspective and yield results that can be extrapolated to the field.) Typical measures of performance by peers and forms of dissemination include grants and sponsored projects and unfunded research. For faculty concentrating their efforts in experimental or non-client-oriented work, exhibitions and screenings of their work may be a main venue of peer review.

Specific Criteria

Taking into consideration this overview of evaluation within the discipline of graphic design, the Graphic Design Educator is committed to Teaching, Scholarship/Creative Work/Research (professional activity), and Service (academic/artistic). SECAC encourages institutions to develop appropriate means for Educators to document results of these efforts and for peers to review these accomplishments in P&T processes. Common standards for each criterion are listed below.

a. Teaching – Evidence of excellence in teaching should be demonstrated by Design Educators in P&T processes. Objectives often presented in this area include: Cultivation of a student’s research skills, problem solving abilities, and visual literacy. Development of course syllabi, handouts, and presentation materials. Effectiveness of personal teaching methods that affect the results of student work and the development of courses, content, and methods. Assessment of and flexibility in personal teaching methods and course curriculum.

b. Scholarship/Creative Work/Research – Evidence of excellence in scholarship, creative work (including most professional practice activities), and/or research should be demonstrated by Design Educators in P&T processes. Objectives often presented in this area include: Development of art/design theory, scholarly inquiry and publication, professional design practice (project/client work), and creative peer-reviewed work for exhibition, publication, and/or competitions, among others. Acceptance into peer-reviewed exhibitions, competitions, or publications should be considered in relationship to the “acceptance rate” or “degree of difficulty” for each venue. And often, research is shared in presentations through publications, public lectures, conference papers, or exhibitions.

SECAC encourages institutions to recognize non-traditional means of dissemination of Scholarship/Creative Work/Research activities by Design Educators. Venues typical to other academic fields, such as print-based, peer-reviewed journals, have traditionally held limited opportunities for Design Educators. Emerging means of publication via electronic media should also be recognized as valid outlets for Scholarship/Creative Work/Research activities. Peer-reviewed acceptance procedures are preferred, but recognition of the publication venue and its reach to the field should also be considered.

c. Service – Evidence of excellence in service to the institution (university, school, & department committees), the larger community, and the profession should be demonstrated by Design Educators in P&T processes. Objectives often presented in this area include: Actively associated with community outreach efforts, institutional committee work, and service to student groups. Evidence of substantial involvement in Professional organizations or venues such as AIGA, UCDA, ICOGRADA, SIGD, Graphic Artists Guild, SEGD, SECAC, CAA, among others, may also be considered. Relative importance of the above evaluation criteria: SECAC recognizes that institutions may weigh the relative importance of Teaching, Scholarship/Creative Work/Research, and Service in different methods as appropriate to their various missions. SECAC encourages institutions to make such expectations clear to Design Educators when academic positions are appointed.

Hiring Standards and Practices for Graphic Design Educators


Graphic Design Educators hired to teach graphic design and/or studio art classes should be qualified by earned degrees and/or commensurate professional experience. SECAC encourages institutions to recognize the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) and/or equivalent degrees as the terminal degree qualification for U.S. Design Educators, especially in the case of current, full-time appointments. However, some Design Educators may possess graduate-level degrees that were conferred prior to the wider adoption of the MFA as the terminal degree, such as the MA (Master of Arts), or the MS (Master of Science).

Additionally, some Design Educators may not hold graduate-level degrees at all, but have many years of full-time teaching experience and peer-recognized professional practice. SECAC encourages institutions to recognize the contributions of current Design Educators regardless of degree held, and to provide flexibility on this matter in P&T processes, as appropriate.

In as much as the Master of Fine Arts is the highest professional degree in the field and thus, equivalent to the Ph.D., faculty hired to teach graphic design should be afforded the same opportunities for rank, tenure, tenure-track salary, and professional development as their colleagues hired with doctorates.

Finally, although a small number of Ph.D. programs in specialized areas of Design (History, Theory, Criticism, Research, etc.) do currently exist, it would be unreasonable for U.S. institutions to require any degree higher than the MFA or equivalent as a condition of appointment, or as a condition of P&T.


Institutions seeking to hire graphic design faculty shall follow prescribed professional practices in all searches. This includes (but is not limited to) a forthright position description and adherence to standards and expectations articulated in this and similar documents from agencies such as the College Art Association and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Beyond the position description, a candidate may request and should be given detailed information regarding responsibilities and departmental policies relevant to tenure and promotion. Specifically, this information should include:

1. A thorough position description.
2. All institutional catalogue copy pertinent to the instruction expected of the potential faculty member.
3. A detailed list of responsibilities including: faculty work load, number of courses to be taught, contact hours required, student advising duties, supervision of graduate and special students, studio and classroom maintenance, technical support/maintenance, the range of committee expectations and extraneous activities such as gallery work, mentoring responsibilities, administrative duties, office hours, etc.
4. Availability of studio and office space for faculty.
5. Availability of research and professional development support through the department, college, institution, etc.
6. Copies of unit, departmental, and university governance documents, including description of procedures and standard for the awarding of promotion, tenure, and salary increments.

The Professional Environment

Class size, course loads, classroom supervision, and support duties should contribute to sound teaching practices and safe learning/working environments. We endorse CAA's recommendation for class size and studio courses taught by teaching graduate students.

The Work Environment

Graphic design faculty are to be provided with adequate space and facilities to offer the curriculum as articulated institutional catalogues and/or bulletins. Given the space and equipment considerations most graphic design curricula require, it is particularly important that appropriate, safe, and hospitable work places be guaranteed to faculty and their students. Curricula should not be offered for which adequate space does not exist or which lacks appropriate safeguards for the health and safety of its users. Graphic design faculty are charged with the safety and well being of their students in work environments that are typically computer lab settings. It is expected that graphic design faculty and their institutions will cooperate in seeing that every possible precaution is taken to insure a healthy environment in these computer classrooms. If graphic design courses are taught in an art studio setting, adequate ventilation of work spaces (where known or potentially toxic chemicals are used), providing adequate lighting, insuring that safe and well maintained equipment is available, access to trained medical assistance, and easy access to thorough material safety data on all items are necessary.

Support Duties

Support duties assigned to faculty that contribute to the smooth and qualitative operation of the department, but are exceptionally time-consuming (i.e., gallery work, supervision of visual resources, or studio maintenance of kilns, presses, computers, printers, and other technical equipment, etc.) warrant a reduced teaching load.

Expectations and Standards for Promotion, Tenure, and Retention

Teachers of graphic design with the recognized terminal degree, the Master of Fine Arts, are entitled to full faculty status and should be given the same regard and treatment for promotion as other faculty members. In order that every faculty member understands the requirements for tenure and promotion, the department or college should have a document readily available to the faculty and especially to potential faculty or candidates for positions, in which minimum standards and expectations for each level of advancement are clearly outlined. This information is often found in the college/university faculty handbook. So that faculty will not have to discern between multiple sets of expectations, guidelines should be written to coincide and agree with general standards mentioned in a Faculty Manual and be written with regard for their contractual implications.

This document should include:
1. A description of departmental mission or philosophy.
2. Expectations of the faculty member as teacher, including undergraduate and graduate student instruction, and advising duties.
3. Minimum research/creative activity and exhibition/presentation expectations.
4. Acknowledgement that research/creative activity and exhibition/presentation expectations should be as discipline-specific as possible, recognizing thatdigital media, time arts, collaborative projects, and new genre artwork might have different criteria than painting, sculpture, etc.
5. Expectations in the area of service to the university including such items as recruitment, fund raising, grantsmanship, alumni development, involvement in distance-learning, and committee work.
6. Minimum expectations in the area of community service if the school has expectations in this area.
7. Professional activities, including exhibition/presentation, participation on panels, presenting papers, jurying art competitions, conference attendance, and participation in professional arts organizations at the local, regional, and national level.
8. A calendar of regularly scheduled conferences between the faculty member and appropriate administrators, to discuss faculty progress and issues related to promotion and tenure.
For each level of Promotion/Tenure, terms, such as “teaching,” “research,” “creative activities,” and “service” should be carefully defined, their relative weights stated, and expectations made explicit.

Appropriate Roles and Uses of External Evaluations (as defined by the AIGA DEC Statements on Promotion and Tenure of Design Educators)

SECAC recognizes that evaluators from outside of an institution provide an important role in the P&T process, but suggests that their roles be limited to assessment of Creative Work, Research and Scholarship activities only. As external evaluators are not exposed to the day-to-day teaching and service roles of an assessed Design Educator, it is not appropriate for institutions to expect evaluation of the quality of such activities. As well, it is generally not appropriate for institutions to ask external evaluators to render opinions concerning the viability of a Design Educator for P&T, as such opinions are, by their nature, formed via partial information. External evaluators should be provided with any applicable P&T documentation that sets the context of how Creative Work, Research and Scholarship activities efforts are defined and valued by the institution.

SECAC suggests that external evaluators for P&T processes should be chosen from peer Design Educators of higher rank at comparable institutions. Therefore, Design Educators currently at the Assistant Professor level should be evaluated externally by Associate or Full Professors. Likewise, Associate Professors should be evaluated externally by Full Professors only. In some cases evaluators from professional practice may participate in P&T processes, but only if their academic credentials are equivalent to those of external Design Educators of the appropriate rank. The number of external evaluators solicited will vary in different institutions, but AIGA DEC suggests that the range be from six to eight. Any less can be seen as not comprehensive, and any more may become a burden to other educators and institutions.

Compliance with Other Organization's Standards

SECAC strongly recommends that art departments/colleges of art be familiar with and/or comply with the current standards of AIGA, CAA, NASAD, and AAUP.

Copies of current standards/guidelines of these organizations should be readily available to all faculty.

SECAC Ad Hoc Committee on Standards and Practices Concerning the Promotion, Tenure, and Retention of Graphic Design Faculty

Standards completed by:
Dana Ezzell Gay, Associate Professor of Graphic Design, Meredith College
Diane Gibbs, Associate Professor of Graphic Design, University of South Alabama
Richard Doubleday, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Louisiana State University

Last updated by Dana Ezzell Gay, September 13, 2014