Interior Design in Research Universities: Optimizing Opportunities and Thwarting Threats

Presented by: Ruth Brent Tofle, PhD & Laura Brianna Cole, PhD

Interior design as an academic field of study is critically tested to demonstrate its scholarship and position in a research university. This presentation will identify competing demands and dilemmas exacerbating this problem and also address how one CIDA accredited interior design program in an AAU public research institution has attempted to optimize the opportunities and thwart the threats. Method or strategy: Organizations present themselves by the records and documentary data they accumulate (Silverman, 2004: 3). These records are useful in a Strengths /Weaknesses/ Opportunities/ Threats (SWOT) analysis of an academic program review. Review of textual documents will be reported for an academic program in a research university with membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) with Research I Public ranking. Internal and external data and narratives are reviewed along with funding opportunities, national doctorate completions, and perspectives on the association with architecture programs. This background provides a rich understanding of opportunities and threats. Analysis of the outcomes: Documents from interior design accreditation and AAU metrics highlight dissimilar and competing demands. Specifically, interior design accreditation standards focus on undergraduate education, preparing students to be practicing professionals while AAU metrics focus on doctoral education and research. The competition for resources, particularly in a small program, is serious. Based on review of AAU metrics (see Appendix) with national comparative benchmark data, the greatest threats to an interior design program in a research university are: 1. Lack of federal research funding. Is interior design not considered a high impact critical-mission field of study? 2. Low scholarship nationally. Few faculty are publishing research in books and Digital Object Identifier (DOI) journals with scholarship citations where the rewards are located in AAU schools. 3. Wide fluctuations in enrollment and job placement demand. 4. Budget threats. Reallocation, cut-backs, down-sizing, and the increasing need for programs to generate new dollars are customary. 5. Degrees awarded annually. Large number of professional degrees and few research doctoral degrees granted -- risking sustained scholarship. The presentation will address one program’s attempt to optimize the opportunities and thwart the threats to stay competitive in its Research I environment. The challenges presented require both long term strategic planning as well as flexibility that values opportunities and quick reaction to change. Strategies are organized as: 1. Balancing enrollment demand with increased collaboration 2. Adapting composition of faculty involved in teaching and research 3. Balancing tradeoffs between undergraduate and graduate instruction 4. Communicating performance and campus rewards to faculty campus rewards 5. Generating new dollars Implications: Interior design as a field of study will continue to be defined by scholarship in creating new knowledge. The broader implications for interior design’s search for its place in the academy will require addressing the following questions to sustain the profession’s teaching and learning: 1. How can interior design faculty contribute scholarship productivity in generating new knowledge within an AAU university? 2. What strategies can be utilized to balance the competing demands and reward systems academically and fiscally? 3. Beyond teaching interior design as a specialization for employment, can we make the case that our teaching and learning contributes to general education addressing intellectual and moral missions? (Deresiewicz: 2015) 4. Can interior design scholarship demonstrate high impact for the betterment of society?


  • Association of American Universities. AAU Membership Policy. (April 20, 2010) Retrieved from
  • Deresiewicz, William. (2015) The Neoliberal Arts: How college sold its soul to the market. Harper’s Magazine. September.
  • Silverman, David. (2004) Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.
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