The Ph.D. Project
The Ph.D. Project capped 2012 faculty members at its November conference.

The United States Needs to Produce More Native PhDs

Duane Champagne
2/1/14

One of the reasons that contemporary college education is not relevant to many Indian nations is that there are not enough PhDs trained in American Indian Studies related issues. To make college and professional schools relevant to American Indian communities, the colleges must produce students who are intellectually equipped to address the contemporary issues confronting tribal communities from an informed cultural understanding of tribal nation goals, values, interests, and plans.

There are only a handful of American Indian Studies programs that produce PhDs. Most American Indian Studies programs are composed of experts in a variety of disciplines, usually not American Indian Studies, and usually not having American Indian nations and their concerns at the central focus of their teaching, research, publishing and community work. I do not want to argue that all American Indian PhDs should focus only on American Indian Studies issues. However, currently too few PhDs address the future and present issues of American Indian nations.

In the late 1960s, Vine Deloria in Custer Died for Your Sins made the same observation, that academia was serving the interests of the national culture and tradition, but providing too little support to tribal nations and Indian policy issues. Now over 40 years later, conditions have not changed enough. There are too few PhDs in indigenous studies, too little academic literature, research and policy analysis addressing Indian issues and teaching Indian college and professional students how to address and solve Indian economic, cultural, political, and legal issues.

Over the past several decades American Indians have moved to establish self-determination, renew culture, work toward economic sustainability, made progress on international collective human rights, and on other fronts. The time has come to produce academic PhDs who have extensive knowledge of Indian history, culture, and policy. Indigenous PhDs should have strong commitments to use their learning and research in support of sustainable, culturally renewed, ecologically compatible, indigenous nations who will contribute to U.S. and tribal well-being.

The United States, and in fact all nation states with indigenous nations within their borders, need to support extensive programs for the development of academic leadership, research, policy analysis, and community outreach that support indigenous goals and values. Colleges need to be welcoming social and intellectual places that are at home with indigenous issues, worldviews, research, teaching, policy analysis, and tribal community engagement. Indigenous college students need more PhDs who are teachers and researchers and expanded course curricula that will provide training to enable them to address tribal issues from the point of view of tribal concerns and worldviews.

In 2008, New Zealand and Maori researchers and leaders celebrated the graduation of the 500th Maori Ph.D. Most of the 500 Maori PhDs were intellectually engaged with Maori issues and policies that addressed Maori community concerns. The population of Maoris is about one-tenth that of U.S. Indians. A comparable number of advanced research graduates for the United States would be 5,000 American Indian PhDs. New Zealand is far ahead of the U.S.

In the United States, between 2003 and 2008, about 65 Indians PhDs graduated on average each year. In 2007, 81 Indians PhDs graduated out of a total of 17,132, for a percentage of about .5 percent, a half of one percent. Persons who claim only Indian ancestry on the 2010 Census totaled .9 percent, nearly one percent, of the nation.

To equal the U.S. national average of Ph.D. graduates every year, twice as many Indian PhDs—about 160—need to graduate. The United States needs to invest resources necessary to annually double the production of Indian PhDs. Most new indigenous doctoral students should have training that is focused on indigenous issues and needs.

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davidche-weilee's picture
davidche-weilee
Submitted by davidche-weilee on
In this article, Duane Champagne reaches a new milestone in exploring two increasingly important themes within American Indian graduate education. First, there is a need to create culturally supportive doctoral education programs where the history, culture, and well-being of the indigenous communities are a central goal of education for indigenous doctoral students. Second, there is a need to cultivate much more culturally responsive indigenous talents with PhDs who are willing, able, and committed to serve tribal needs and will contribute to U.S. well-being. In the first paragraph, Champagne claims that successful indigenous PhDs should be “intellectually equipped to address the contemporary issues confronting tribal communities from an informed cultural understanding of tribal nation goals, values, interests, and plans” (paragraph 1). Prior to the emergence of this kind of the intellectual, a premise should be established—that is, a successful doctoral program or education should be designed to be relevant to these indigenous PhDs. With a profound expectation, Champagne holds a positive attitude toward the advancement of future indigenous talents, arguing that indigenous peoples need to be well-disciplined by their PhD programs and use the skills learnt to contribute to their own tribal nations and communities. Throughout his entire argument, Champagne seems to contend that indigenous nations deserve to have the best indigenous elites, intellectuals, and professionals to work for indigenous sustainable well-being and empower indigenous perennial disadvantaged status. Of course, the premise of this argument respectfully depends on indigenous students’ willingness and option. But I argue that Champagne’s stance is desirable and reasonable, and indigenous PhDs will take on their responsibilities and decisions they make. Although doctoral education or professional training has been widely discussed and studied for the past several decades within mainstream higher education literature, few studies has been conducted about American Indian PhD students’ academic experiences. Champagne throws us a cue that now is the time to reflect on doctoral education for indigenous nations. His major proposition is that mainstream institutions of higher education need to be transformed into more culturally-sensitive, -relevant, and -responsive ones to respond to the needs, goals, and cultural core values of indigenous nations. Additionally, these institutions should be able to effectively cultivate more academically well-disciplined, intellectually-equipped, culturally-responsive, and tribally-serving indigenous PhDs. In Champagne’s view, he thinks this educational ideal is feasible. To make audience more engage this topic, I list five helpful questions to better understand the indigenous PhD education and program issues confronting indigenous tribal nations: (1) What should a successful indigenous PhDs look like? (2) What is the definition of a successful graduate (doctoral) education for indigenous nations? (3) Is it necessary for non-indigenous people to understand and concern the problem that contemporary PhD programs is irrelevant to the needs and expectations of many indigenous students and their indigenous tribal members? (4) Aren’t there enough to have tribal colleges and universities to ensure indigenous success in tribally controlled institutions? and (5) Will it be a problem for non-indigenous people if there are not enough indigenous PhDs trained in American Indian studies related issues? Champagne reminders us that over the past decades a considerate number of studies have been made on how to prepare successful PhDs, but little is known about how to prepare successful indigenous PhDs. Very few studies have ever tried to define a successful indigenous higher education students, or indigenous PhDs in this article. In addition, from some national or federal education reports, the dismal results of indigenous educational attainment remain, or do not go well as much as everyone expected. In paragraphs 6, 7, and 8, Champagne provides a statistical evidence to emphasize the feasibility of calling for more indigenous PhDs using the example of the 500 Maori PhDs. At the same time, he points to a daunting underrepresented ratio between indigenous PhDs and non-indigenous ones in the United States. The weakness of this article is that Champagne does not explicitly highlight which education system he means when he calls for more production of indigenous PhDs. Although some audiences may guess what Champagne refers to higher education system should be within traditional normal and mainstream institutions, it would be better to let audiences (especially for the non-indigenous people) know whether the discussion about the need for the cultivation of indigenous PhDs is within mainstream institutions of higher education or tribally controlled colleges and universities (i.e., Tribal Colleges and Universities, TCUs). Because the direction and goal of discussing this topic may be largely different from the cases within TCUs. According to Champagne’s perspective, there are ironically few faculty members with the expertise of American Indian studies in American Indian Studies programs. This issue is worth further exploring the reasons and factors. But I argue that this reflects the practical need of mainstream academic market—namely, most mainstream doctoral programs are established to serve non-indigenous people and design the prevailing disciplines that can directly and immediately train these non-indigenous students to obtain the skills that they can apply to their contemporary careers or professional fields. Another reason to design mainstream disciplines for non-Indian students is because they are majority of most doctoral programs and their general concerns focus on popular issues that are often irrelevant to American Indian studies. Because there is no common goals, core cultural values, and well-being, most non-indigenous students may tend to serve non-indigenous people who share many similar needs, cultural values, and goals, rather than indigenous nations. From the view of the cost-effective logic, a university or college may need this mainstream group to substantially contribute to schools’ finance for their sustainable management and operation. After all, the proportion of American Indian students who are willing and able to enter graduate education is significantly lower than their non-Indian counterparts statistically. In this regard, is it reasonable for us to expect more indigenous PhDs and more cultural relevant and responsive doctoral programs? For facing the perennial disadvantaged status and threat of cultural genocide of indigenous nations, my answer is: “Yes, it is reasonable for us not just to expect the more production of indigenous PhDs, but effectively establish more culturally responsive programs to support these promising indigenous talents.” The imperative of this argument is based on the underrepresented ratio in educational attainment between indigenous people and non-indigenous people. In sum, Champagne provoked much constructive discussion worth being known internationally and locally. At least, he stimulates me to rethink the definition of successful higher education, or accurately the ideal of successful a doctoral program and education. Throughout this article, audiences may discover that defining successful higher education has a limitation of being comprehensive or all-inclusive, even if many efforts has been made to achieve that goal. But the definition always changes according to a variety of reasons, trends, and contexts at the global and local levels. Sincerely, Che-Wei Lee
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