That Compromises the Notion of Professionalism
Content in this issue was driven by a theme where the intersection of glass and education could be examined. I pitched an idea for an op-ed that would investigate this notion a little less on-the-nose and a bit more indirectly. Although the article I wanted to write didn’t take root in glass pedagogy per se, there was certainly a connection that could be made with a valuable part of what I’m responsible for as an educator when it comes to issues of professional practice.
Ultimately, I submitted an article looking into the phenomenon of extended deadlines - especially within the glass field - when it comes to professional opportunities that call for application.
The article starts by speaking towards what it means to be a “full time educator” and what’s all entailed when a full-time educator goes about his/her “teaching”; what we’re really preparing our students for, how we prepare them to go about it, and why. It then begins a conversation about facilitating a sense of sound workmanship within our students, the ethical nature that professional practice is built upon, and how deadline extensions compromise a performance truly worth referring to as “professional”...
Although the article takes a position that the trend of deadline extension is highly problematic (speaking as both an artist and an educator), I was interested in objectively finding out more about the varying factors that lead an organization to extend their application deadlines, what those scenarios imply, and what we as applicants can do to help step up our punctuality game.
Below is the draft I submitted to my Editor in its full, unedited version to serve as supplemental material to what is seen in the Winter 2016 issue of GASnews:
As a full-time educator in a degree-earning institution my job obligates me to wear many hats, to facilitate many responsibilities.
Some of those duties address ‘education’ and my ‘educational objectives’ indirectly by way of administrative action and strategy; duties that take place behind closed doors, within my office, in a conference room, and, most often, behind a laptop. Yet, some of my responsibilities are more obvious; ones that take place in the classroom or in studio. But a full-time educator is more than just being a teacher, even though teaching is certainly the best part of the job. But what does “teaching” fully include?
To be responsible for influencing, guiding, and nourishing the hands and minds of young people is as fulfilling as it is personally informative. It’s hacky to say out loud, but it’s true: my students have as much to offer me as much as I do them.
Yet, when it comes to “teaching” within a glass-based program, my interaction with these young people extends far beyond material and making. Teaching how to engage and competently work with glass is the most obvious educational offering that I’m meant to provide; but, as essential as it may seem, lessons involving “glass” are only a sliver of what kind of learning is being facilitated in studio.
Mentoring young people as they develop their voice and vision is important. Designing unique learning opportunities that allow students to realize something new about how they see and operate is important. Fostering a student’s sense of curiosity is important. Helping students establish a sense of how their ideas and their making stand within the context of both historical and contemporary art are important.
But all the above (and many other educational objectives) are in the service of having my students understand themselves as makers, thinkers, and workers.
Essentially, those are good things; foundational things that help develop their artistic identity, their creative impetus, and their relationship with a chosen material. But it’s still not all that “teaching” encompasses. In fact, a student of mine who enters the real world with the most sophisticated handle on all things mentioned above, but minus a sense of professionalism, is ultimately pursuing a doomed career.
One of the most important parts of my job as an educator isn’t necessarily to “teach” how to do any specific thing, but to cultivate a sense of soundness in how they go about doing their thing; not only when in our program, but especially once they move on. Just as it is with learning proper glass working procedure, matters of professionalism demand us educators to put our students through equally rigorous training that builds a competent understanding of what it means to navigate their field under respectable codes of conduct: how to establish and adhere to a personal sense of excellence, how to appropriately engage their community, how to establish a sense of reliability unto themselves, reliability unto others, and how to perform as a respectable practitioner within their field is a tremendous responsibility.
As full-time educators can attest, our goal isn’t only to produce and release provocative artists into the world, we’re also working to cultivate highly decent, conscientious people; people who are not only encouraged to change the game with what they do as artists, but people who adhere to the highest standards of professionalism while doing so.
There are no classes within a course catalog that are designed specifically to teach things like discipline, decency, dependability, etiquette, ethical conduct, following directions, or time management. However, these are things that are most certainly “taught” along the way both directly and indirectly in our day-to-day engagement with them. These teachable moments occur quite regularly as we talk to students about meeting our expectations and why, about accountability to others, to correct thoughtlessness within the working culture of our studios, point out missed opportunities in their performance, and hold deadlines.
In fact, deadlines are perhaps the single most important tool we have as educators to enforce a highly relevant, highly practical application of sound workmanship upon our students; designated moments that epitomize every lesson our students could ever learn about all that “doing a job well” entails…
Deadlines force students to think about time and timing in relation to their goals/objectives. Deadlines teach them about prioritizing their activity. Deadlines challenge students to perform beyond what they already know they’re capable of accomplishing. Deadlines hold them accountable to themselves and their community.
Deadlines encourage students to take risks. In short, deadlines accelerate personal transformation.
Deadlines are a sacred thing to me; not only as a full-time educator, but as a full-time artist. In fact, the degree with which I hold my students accountable in following directions and meeting deadlines is so high that I, in turn, am obligated to adhere to them within my own studio practice even more so.
So, naturally, it bothers me when my goal of facilitating a group of young people who I’ve mentored and conditioned to become sensitive towards issues of professionalism is undermined when professional calls for application from respectable organizations within the field announce deadline extensions.
CHAPTER 3: ripple effects and tremors
I’ve been observing a trend that’s been happening more and more frequently each passing year of the past 5 years within the contemporary field of glass: of professional glass-based opportunities that call for application who eventually extend their deadlines.
In an issue of GASnews devoted to exploring the thematic intersection of glass and education you might wonder what this has to do with anything this issue is trying to accomplish. Of course, as mentioned above, it concerns me as an educator with goals of facilitating students who perform every aspect of their practice to the highest degree of excellence…especially after graduation.
But it also troubles me as a full-time artist and applicant who adheres to these same rigorous standards that I hold my students accountable to. I also know I’m not alone; whether I know them or not, there are many of my colleagues within the contemporary field of glass that find this tendency for professionally-based opportunities to move their closing dates of application. To think a little more broadly along the theme of education, what are these professional organizations “teaching” us about approaching our discipline as disciplined practitioners? Why bother doing anything on time when we can expect to catch it on the flip-side of an extension?
I find deadline extensions problematic on two fronts. It’s not only disappointing when the deadline is extended while the original deadline is still upcoming, but incredibly questionable when a deadline is extended after the deadline has come and gone (*both of these cases, by the way, have occurred during 2016). Not only are these circumstances undermining several ethical principles of competitive opportunity for the applicant, it sets a bad precedent to our community on how we understand and conduct contemporary notions of professional practice within our field.
In turn, the trend in deadline extensions discredits every ethical urge the dutiful members of our community hold to a higher standard of quality, conscientiousness, dedication, discipline, and punctuality to name a few.
On the other hand, deadline extensions personally piss me off. As one who practices what he preaches, they compromise my professional impulses; they dismiss the standards I set for my colleagues and my fellow competitors, and, quite frankly, they unnecessarily fuck up my odds in being short-listed (as it does with all the other punctual applicants out there).
In fact, following directions is a significant part of competition. Contests determine winners not only by the capability of its contenders, but their capability measured against each other according to a set of rules. If I show up to play by way of applying on time and my opponents do not, they should lose immediately by not following the most important rule of the game. At the very least, punctuality should be used to an applicant’s advantage. To use phrasing from the world of athleticism, I see deadline extensions as unsportsmanlike. But in the context of ethical conduct I see deadline extensions as unfair and inconsiderate to the dutiful; I see deadline extensions as discriminatory towards the punctual. I see granting deadline extensions altogether a dishonorable thing.
So what’s this deadline extension thing all about? Where does it come from? …and why does it seem to be occurring so much more often these days?
CHAPTER 4: under a lens
It’s clear that I have strong opinions about the issue of deadline extension. But in order to seek some objective understanding on the matter, I identified and approached twenty internationally-recognized organizations that I could recall who have regularly held glass-based opportunities that call for application over the past several years. Some I knew have extended deadlines in the past. Some I knew never had. Some I didn’t really know.
I reached out to foundations, educational entities, museums, galleries, venues of residency and internship, and organizations of annual and biannual prize. I was so very humbled by the level of response…and equally surprised by the varied answers to my questions.
This article isn’t about calling specific people or places out or using the information that had been gathered for quotation. Instead, it’s about calling attention to the issue, to understand why it happens, to see if it truly needs to, and what we can all do to heighten our sense of professionalism within our professional practice.
I ask for your understanding with how generalized and anonymous the information is down below. Out of respect for what was promised to my respondents, I am unable to substantiate the information below by properly citing and providing reference to those who have contributed. Those who were willing to participate were asked up to four questions:
*Have you ever formally announced the extension of a deadline to a call for applications? Why or why not?
*If “yes”, what percentage of applicants who applied within the original deadline were selected for the opportunity? In turn, what percentage of applicants who applied between the day after the original deadline and the deadline’s extension were selected for the opportunity?
When it comes to deadline extensions happening, here are some of the cases that have been expressed:
From an administrative point of view, there are systemic circumstances that have warranted a deadline extension. Now with the opportunity to submit materials digitally, there are times when the online forms or process are compromised by technical issues; glitches lending way to applicant materials being lost or road-blocked by an unforeseen bug in the system. In these cases, the deadline has been extended to allow applicants to still submit for the opportunity following the deadline to make up for the inconvenience caused by the malfunction.
Deadlines have been said to be extended in response to purposes happening in house; administrative shuffling and rescheduling based on unforeseen timing or financial conflicts involving the receipt, processing, or jurying of applications. Even, at times, having extensions occur due to conflict with other internal and unforeseen snags unrelated to the call for application.
Some organizations extend deadlines when no materials had been submitted for a call for application; or when there are several vacancies that are needed to be filled and the number of submissions fall below the quota required to allow the opportunity to happen at all.
For some organizations, there has been many shared cases put forward where administrators attest to the difficulty in providing strict adherence to deadlines to their calls due to the location of their opportunities, the organization’s financial standing, their dependency on outside funding, or the limitations of being only available to a glass-based field of applicants. In fact, some mentioned that the glass world is, although growing, a much smaller community in comparison to larger professional fields of material specificity - not to mention generally larger fields of creative activity within the context of contemporary art and/or design.
In turn, some of these respondents have mentioned that flexibility is essential to maintain a functioning, vibrant, and productive art/glass organization; ones that revealed that, whether they personally also had issue with deadline extensions or not, felt that the occasional circumstance to extend a deadline was justified by their rigorous programming and the frequency with which they provide many opportunities throughout a given year.
Speaking from the perspective of a full-time educator who has to strategize administratively to organize and facilitate learning opportunities within my own program, I can sympathize with these reasons. But one that I cannot was put forward more frequently…
A significant number of response stated that some organizations felt that the number of submissions for an opportunity were lacking; that the limited number of applicants, in turn, compromised an organization’s opportunity to assess a sense of the current landscape of our field more fully. By extending a deadline, these organizations claim that widening the scope of a search in this way enables them to select individuals within a larger sample; a truer survey of where the contemporary glass field currently stands and a larger net with which to honor and award applicants of greater ability.
Although it’s not difficult to understand the desire for organizations to pursue the “best” candidate(s) for any provided opportunity, what exactly do cases for extension like what’s above imply?
Suspicions run wild…
Wouldn’t the “best” candidate(s) be the ones who followed the directions as they were stated? Did the perceived quality of the punctual applicants not meet the expectation of the organizer? ... if so, who’s really at fault? Was the type of applicant they wanted not clearly defined? ...did they not market their call to the correct audience? If application fees are involved, is a deadline extension an opportunity to raise more money? Or did they have someone specifically in mind for the opportunity? …someone they are looking/waiting for? Is pre-determined selection something a community of punctual applicants be suspicious of? Why not simply work with those who respected the deadline enough to respond promptly?
Although warranted, cynicism might not be the best approach. I do think it’s fair to vocalize the collective knee-jerk reactions to this issue from the point of view of all who believe deadlines should be held to. But, to provide some additional insight, some organizations bring forth really strong cases why deadline extension is something that other organizations should consider curbing:
Whether the organizer fully developed their call or not, some organizations feel that artists who apply on time and meet the parameters of the call for application should not be placed at a disadvantage for their timely response; that it is unfair to post deadlines that some of our community can follow and then re-post those deadlines because others could not.
Some organizations expressed concern that extending deadlines fosters a culture within our field that enables mediocrity and conditions the application pool to perceive acceptable notions of professionalism with a highly diluted perspective…not only waiting to the very last minute of a deadline, but eventually coming to anticipate the first deadline as a ruse; that the new deadline will soon be announced.
Deadline extension is seen to indirectly teach young – and even established – practitioners that punctuality is optional. In fact, some organizations have indicated that they feel so strongly about application punctuality that they would go so far as to not accept applications that come in even a little bit over the deadline; that applications submitted a day – even an hour – past the posted due date and time would immediately disqualify the applicant. Some organizations demand such high standards of professionalism that they have revealed the inability to follow directions as being a significant factor in their lack of review of submitted application materials. Of course, honoring the due date being perhaps the most sacred of directions to follow.
Adhering to deadlines, according to some organizations, helps set a precedent for the future and develops a sense of fairness. At times, even having to make the difficult decision to stick with their principles and turn away highly qualified applicants due to their inability to follow application directions or honoring its posted deadline.
The rush of producing and accumulating materials for a deadline that eventually becomes extended doesn’t only compromise the applicant’s sense of balance and time management; there are others involved, at times. When references or letters of recommendation are asked to be provided, professional figures who want to support an applicant are obligated to give their two-cents in a timely manner, too (…and usually on top of an already busy schedule of their own). Aside from the applicant, deadline extensions equally undermine the time and sacrifice these individuals generously donate when meeting the original deadline.
Bottom line is that deadline extensions stink; even when I can sympathize with an organization’s rationale to extend a deadline under peculiar circumstances, it still warrants a sense of disappointment. It affects more people than just us hungry applicants. It affects our students when we teach them about proper professional procedures and demeanor. It affects members of the professional field we reach out to speak on our behalf as our references. It affects our perception of the staff of an organization and their credibility. And should we ever find out whether a candidate who submitted materials after the original deadline once a deadline had been extended, it also affects our perception of their integrity and reputation as a distinguished recipient.
So what do we do now?
If I had my druthers, I’d call for a unanimous stance to cease deadline extensions. I’d ask for organizations to hold to their deadlines regardless of whether or not their projected number of submissions are met or not. But perhaps this is part of the conversation where we all look inward; to consider what we as a community of applicants are doing (or, rather, not doing) that might be perpetuating this issue of deadline extension within our field.
As a community of creative individuals, we have a general tendency to put things off. Especially things involving paperwork, formality, or any other subconscious repellant associated with composing/ gathering/ organizing/ submitting application materials. But here’s something to chew over for a second…
I did have an organization reveal that they’ve noticed a pattern; that roughly 90% of their applicants usually submit to an opportunity within 1 hour of the final cut off point. That’s pretty close…close enough to make an organization with an itchy trigger finger feel like an extension is needed. When we have opinion on political matters we vote…and that voting has a specific timeframe with which we can cast our ballot. When we demand decency and ethical conduct from corporate businesses we consume certain goods and avoid others to make a stand…not to mention what distributors we give our money to and what one’s we don’t. What if we applied that same sense of action to how we approach deadlines of professional opportunity?
If there are others out there like me who find deadline extensions to be problematic, I humbly ask you to look within yourself as you approach future matters of professional practice. What should we as applicants be holding ourselves accountable to? …what about holding our students or our colleagues accountable, too? What could we change in our response time to deadlines to indicate that we collectively value promptness in a juried situation? What can we do to collectively hedge our way to preparedness for each deadline?
If you ask me, the “best” candidate for any opportunity isn’t necessarily the one who has the most impressive materials, but the one who has those things in conjunction with an impressive ability to follow protocol as it’s been requested.
In the meantime, applicants, I urge you to enhance your standards of excellence in every way in which you engage professional opportunity. Organizations offering juried competitions of professional opportunity, I urge you to facilitate a higher standard of excellence by holding to what you originally asked us to adhere to. Let’s all do better in how we perform as, seek for, and crown “the best.”
David Schnuckel is an artist and educator, currently serving as Lecturer within the
Glass Program of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.