Where do we go from here? Faculty placement of deaf linguists in US PhD programs
The following is a revised abstract for the Linguistic Society of America's 2022 annual meeting:
The documentation of understudied and minoritized language varieties is a vital activity in the field of Linguistics. However, Linguistics as a discipline has some work to do toward centering community interests, making the process and products of linguistic research accessible to language communities, and dismantling the “researcher-researched” divide. This has been discussed with regard to training and placement of Black linguists (Rickford 1997, Charity Hudley, Mallinson, and Bucholtz 2020) and Indigenous linguists (Gerdts 2017, Leonard 2020). In this paper we discuss the placement of deaf linguists as faculty in Linguistics PhD programs in the United States. This data does not seem closely tracked; for example, the LSA’s annual report on the state of Linguistics in higher education mentions “disability” six times, all as part of the data source “NSF 2019 Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report”, but does not otherwise discuss deafness or disability (https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/state-linguistics-higher-education-annual-report).
Here, surveying the LSA’s Directory of Linguistics Programs and Departments online, we identified 71 PhD programs in Linguistics in the United States (abbreviated as “departments” here; https://www.linguisticsociety.org/programs). In these departments, we identify only five active tenured or tenure-track deaf faculty who research sign languages in three departments: three at Gallaudet University, one at University of New Mexico, and one at University of California Santa Barbara. We also estimate the number of hearing faculty who research sign languages based on their publications; this yields 25 faculty members in 13 departments. We consider related “categorization” questions that stem from these figures, such as the placement of deaf linguists as faculty in allied fields to Linguistics, including Education, Communication, and Psychology, and the placement of deaf linguists as non-tenure-track faculty and/or in non-PhD granting Linguistics programs. The more we expand our definition of “Linguistics department”, the more the number of deaf linguists increases.
We take this opportunity to highlight institutional barriers to deaf people in Linguistics, which include cultural and linguistic barriers (Chua et al, in press). We provide some recommendations for departments looking to invest in the professional development of deaf linguists, and outline talking points for faculty chairs and deans for the recruitment of deaf students and retention of deaf colleagues. Examples include negotiating for accommodations at predominantly hearing universities, planning to hire designated interpreters, and implementing more accessible communication practices in the workplace. These practices can lessen deaf linguists’ additional unpaid emotional labor in the form of educating their department about access.
Finally, we also consider the role of ASL-language teaching programs at institutions of higher education (Robinson and Henner 2018). We urge faculty and administrators to hire broadly, to avoid “double dipping” that burdens deaf faculty with ASL-teaching responsibilities, and to instead pursue “cluster” hiring of signing faculty across allied departments, as much as possible. We urge the field of Linguistics to reflect on how it has benefitted from signed language research, and how it can make more space for more deaf linguists to leverage these benefits. Ultimately, these efforts will contribute to increasingly inclusive Linguistics.