Five questions for Elizabeth Pugliano

Award-winning CU Denver educator celebrates contributions of IRC faculty

When Elizabeth Pugliano, Ph.D., is teaching students, they’re not the only ones who are learning. She is, too.

“I am constantly learning through teaching, both about what I teach and how it might be taught,” said Pugliano, a senior instructor of art history in the College of Arts & Media at CU Denver. “I’ve learned, for example, that ‘best practices’ are not static or consistent, but tools to be carefully considered in the context of each course and in relation to personal and curricular goals for each class each semester.”

Five questions for Elizabeth Pugliano
Elizabeth Pugliano

Pugliano teaches courses on ancient Greek and Roman, medieval and Islamic art, as well as in the Arts Core and Humanities Core curricula. Among the honors she has received at CU Denver is a Faculty Excellence Award for teaching. She said her approach to educating students is “ever evolving.”

“I try to foreground learning as a process and a skill to be developed and honed both individually and in collaboration,” she said. “I also try to bring forward an awareness of and opportunities for transferring what is happening in my class beyond the classroom, course and semester. There is the content that students get that I hope they find meaningful and impactful, but there are also the skills and mindsets that I hope to cultivate in students that will continue to serve them outside of the context of art history, which is what I’m teaching but not what most students will wind up doing in their majors or their postgraduate lives.”

Pugliano also is president of the University of Colorado Denver Association of Lecturers and Instructors (UCDALI). The group strives to advance professionalism among and respect for Instructional, Research and Clinical (IRC) faculty at CU Denver through representation, community and communication.

“Last year, the IRC Task Force found that IRC faculty comprise 63.6% of CU Denver’s faculty,” Pugliano said. “Their contributions to the CU Denver mission are outstanding: They accounted for 61% of generated tuition revenue, 67% of student credit hours, 86% of core curriculum course sections, and those are just a few numbers. I have the opportunity and the true pleasure in my role to meet IRC faculty from across campus, and their professional and community accomplishments, commitment to their students and units, and productivity are staggering, inspirational and humbling. I will celebrate them every chance I get.”

1. Are there misconceptions about who Instructional, Research and Clinical (IRC) faculty are and what they do?

Yes. Like many organizations, CU Denver uses a lot of acronyms, the meanings of which are not always clearly conveyed and known to all. So, there are still questions about what IRC stands for and who is included in that group.

For the record, IRC includes all faculty who are not in tenure-eligible positions: lecturers, instructors, senior instructors, principal instructors, clinical and clinical teaching assistant, associate and full professors, and research faculty. Faculty in these positions used to be referred to as “non-tenure-track (NTT),” but that is a definition through negation — we were defined by what we were not. IRC is a more positive and specific designation. But even this terminology doesn’t clearly signal the inclusion of lecturers, who are perhaps the most critical group of faculty at CU Denver in terms of fulfilling our teaching mission.

There also remain misconceptions about what IRC faculty do, and why someone is in an IRC position. Lecturers, instructors and clinical teaching track faculty typically have workloads that are primarily or solely focused on teaching, but many IRC faculty are nevertheless actively engaged in research/creative work and campus and/or professional service. The IRC Task Force convened by Provost Constancio Nakuma last year found that 86% of CTT faculty, 36% of instructors and 27% of lecturers held a Ph.D., and that instructors and CTT faculty average 12 years at CU Denver, which is comparable to the 14-year average commitment found for tenure-track faculty.

IRC faculty are dedicated and talented teachers, scholars and creatives who are in their roles because they are passionate about what they do and about working with the student body CU Denver serves.

2. You are president of the University of Colorado Denver Association of Lecturers and Instructors (UCDALI). What are the group’s goals, and how does it go about pursuing them?

UCDALI represents and supports all IRC faculty at CU Denver, including lecturers, instructors and clinical, clinical teaching and research professors. Our mission is to advance the recognition of and respect for the expertise, professionalization and dedication of IRC faculty at CU Denver.

We pursue those goals through a range of activities: We host events several times a year, sometimes in partnership with other entities like the Center for Faculty Development and Advancement (CFDA). We collect data about IRC faculty issues and working conditions both to keep IRC faculty informed and to share with campus partners who can help implement change. To those ends, we stay in regular communication with campus leadership and help communicate IRC faculty questions and concerns. We publish a semesterly newsletter that highlights IRC faculty accomplishments and shares events and other information of interest. We administer grants that support IRC faculty professional development. We review and provide feedback on policies and initiatives that will impact IRC faculty.

There are more than 600 IRC faculty at CU Denver, and we have both shared concerns and unique experiences. UCDALI is a centralized body, bringing together all schools and colleges, that can serve in different ways as a resource for IRC faculty across a range of needs and issues.

UCDALI has up to two Faculty Assembly representatives on our Executive Committee (this role is currently filled by Thorsten Spehn), and the chair of Faculty Assembly and president of UCDALI have an ongoing history of regular consultation and collaboration. Right now, it so happens, the vice chair (Vivian Shyu) and secretary (Dennis Debay) of Faculty Assembly are both members of the UCDALI Executive Committee, so we have strong connections between the groups.

In the past, UCDALI has had less interaction with Staff Council. However, the current budget work on the CU Denver campus has put us in more consistent contact and I hope to foster these connections to build a more regular relationship going forward.

3. How did you come to specialize in medieval art and architecture?

Serendipitously! It is the result of a gradual coming together of interests and opportunities.

I was able to take AP Art History in high school and found the artworks from the Middle Ages we learned about visually fascinating. When I went to grad school, I knew that was a period I responded to aesthetically. I happened to enroll in a medieval art course during the first semester of my MA program where I met professor Deborah Kahn, who would become my adviser. I clicked with the material, with the scholarship and with Deborah as a mentor. It all came together in a way I never anticipated and probably couldn’t have planned.

I have never been bored studying medieval art. It encompasses a tremendously rich, complex set of artistic traditions and cultural histories that today’s medievalists are continuing to push in new, expansive directions.

4. What’s the current focus of your research?

I have two main projects going right now.

One is a study of representations of women in relation to scenes of combat in medieval art. Women are not often depicted in images of combat and when they are their roles are often limited and passive. The literary record, however, suggests a more robust and varied involvement of women in combat. I found that discrepancy interesting and in need of more scrutiny.

My other current project is a volume of essays that I am co-editing with a colleague at Tufts University (Susan Barahal) on empathy in art history, practice and pedagogy. The modern term empathy has its roots in aesthetics and is often invoked today in discussions about the value of the arts and other humanities disciplines, but scholarship on empathy in art history and arts pedagogy is limited. We have a collection of 19 essays that cross time periods, genres and disciplines as they investigate the potential roles as well as the limitations of empathy in the production, reception, meaning and teaching of works of art.

5. What do you enjoy or appreciate most about your campus, CU Denver?

The student body at CU Denver is incredible. Our students come from so many different backgrounds, and they’ve all found their ways here to pursue diverse goals that run the gamut from creative to scholarly to professional to technical. I am lucky I get to play a small role in their lives and their intellectual, creative and professional development.

About the campus itself as a location and space, I appreciate its openness and that it is nestled right in downtown Denver. I went to a college that was surrounded by brick walls. It was pretty, but it clearly segregated the college from the community. I love that CU Denver and the Auraria Campus are embedded in the fabric of Denver, and I hope to see those connections grow in the years ahead.