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This study asks whether it is possible to build a Ph.D. in the Sign Language Studies degree program at Gallaudet University.

American Sign Language (ASL) has a heavy presence in the United States and Canada. Its use is growing rapidly and can be seen in multiple media outlets and social media platforms worldwide.

According to a report written by Goldberg, Looney & Lusin (2015) for the Modern Language Association (MLA), ASL is the 3rd most studied language in the U.S. behind Spanish and French in higher education. Popular world language courses such as German, Chinese, and Arabic are trailing behind.

To illustrate this rapid growth and demand for ASL in higher education institutions, ASL has an upward trajectory of a 19 percent increase in a mere four years between 2009-2013 (Goldberg et al., 2015).

Though the MLA report focuses primarily on higher education, the upward trend is also true of primary and secondary schools across the United States. While studies have shown strong growth of ASL courses, a growing body of literature now suggests with this success also comes a challenge in hiring qualified ASL academics with advanced or terminal degrees to fill faculty or leadership roles.

At the time of this writing, there are only two graduate programs from two higher education institutions in the U.S. awarding degrees in sign language pedagogy globally, and no Ph.D. programs to prepare its graduates to assume faculty leadership roles.

Apart from the two sign language pedagogy programs, many programs offer ASL study, such as Interpreting, an entirely different field often misconstrued to qualify for ASL positions (Harris & Thibodeau, 2016).

Consequently, individuals with varying backgrounds, experiences, and qualifications often hold faculty and leadership roles. With the ever-growing 200+ ASL programs in all education sectors across the U.S., this presents us with a challenge.

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Ph.D. in Sign Language Studies at Gallaudet University: A Feasibility Study

Felicia Williams

Kenneth DeHaan



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