The death of A & C

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“If the students suddenly demanded it, it would probably come back,” says Garry Sherbert.

“If the students suddenly demanded it, it would probably come back,” says Garry Sherbert.

The U of R’s diverse arts program will soon be no more

Article: Ethan Stein – Contributor

[dropcaps round=”no”]T[/dropcaps]he arts and culture program was relatively new, but it was a discipline that offered flexibility and opportunity for students. The program wasn’t large, but it was passionate and thrived academically. It was officially discontinued last year; new students cannot enroll in the program and current students must complete their studies by 2019. The program was designed to offer a degree for students who had interest in a variety of programs, as opposed to just one, with a heavy emphasis on flexibility and allowing students to explore different programs while still working towards a degree. Students would be able to “create” their own degrees by majoring in their favoured programs. Although arts and culture has been cancelled, visible interest could actually save it.

Mark Anderson belonged to the stable of instructors who taught in arts and culture. An associate professor in the history department, he worked alongside professors of varying academic backgrounds which included theatre, English and queer studies. He feels that arts and culture offered a uniquely adaptive option for students who didn’t feel suited to one specific discipline.

“The program served as a feeder program for the excellent and thriving graduate program in interdisciplinary studies in fine arts. Second, the program helped students who had interests that lay beyond or fell between the more traditional offerings at the university.”

Anderson emphasizes the fact that arts and culture “catered to students who eschewed the often narrow strictures of more traditional disciplines (e.g., economics) by allowing students the broadest range possible of creating individualized interdisciplinary degrees.”

Anderson says the main reason for arts and culture’s death was its status as a program instead of a department: “it therefore had little or no influence when the bean counters struck as the inevitable outcome of the university’s failed Academic Program Review (APR), lasted three years…accomplished little apart from sowing divisions and generating a lot or hurt and resentment.”

Anderson doesn’t see justification for discontinuing the program.

“Did killing it save the university money? Technically, yes. The cost of paying a faculty member to administer the program the amount of one course reduction per year was split equally among arts, fine arts, and Luther College. Do the math. It’s a pittance.”

Dean of Arts Richard Kleer was surprised by the program’s lacking interest.

“I thought that a very flexible degree that allowed students to define, in essence, their own interests, would’ve been better demanded and yet it wasn’t. And I don’t know the answer for that.”

Programs like the APR are designed to ascribe funding and academic priority to programs which display their value through criteria that measures faculty size or economic benefits. Although the U of R cut its APR, academic review programs have appeared in universities across the country.

Kleer says “It was a pilot program from the beginning. We had already committed to two years” to decide whether or not the program could generate enough interest to survive.

Moreover, the program’s end was as much a shock to faculty as it was to students. Anderson says, “To my knowledge, none of the faculty who were involved in the laborious, yet invigorating process of creating the arts and culture program were advised of its impending demise. It was just killed, apparently, in the name of ‘cost savings’ or ‘efficiencies,’ flabby ideological euphemisms that really meant that, in the context of the APR, nobody would stand up for it.”

The loss may prove rather jarring for actual students in the program. The Carillon’s own Sports Editor Autumn McDowell currently studies in the program and finds “While I was very interested in journalism, I did not think that I would be able to take a full mandatory class load while still having to work. I also wanted a program that would allow me to explore my wide range of interests. After changing programs several times in my first years of university I finally found something that I thought fit with the arts and culture program.”

The arts and culture program drew a passionate response from faculty and students; so why was it cancelled? One reason is a lack of interest.

Kleer said “There were seven to nine students in the program at the time.”

Although the amount of majors was small, Garry Sherbert, a professor in the Department of English, says one class “had 24 people enrolled.” In addition to the lower student count, Sherbert says the program’s experimental nature made it a larger target for cuts compared to more established programs that had dedicated offices, faculty and a clearer “territory” – a more specific area of study, and less crossover into other faculties.

Sherbert saw a lack of advertising as highly damaging. “[Arts and culture] was seriously under-represented. No one took charge of it. It just got passed and around then everyone just lost interest in it, and it dropped out of sight. In my opinion, the numbers were poor because there wasn’t enough student awareness of it, and the information about it was not circulated enough.”

Sherbert also notes, “Students were becoming aware of the program just by word of mouth, because it was filling a gap for a lot of people completing their programs. It was a good way for a lot of people to get through the system” and allowed students to “collect” their interests into a program.

Sherbert feels the program’s operation between three Deans from different faculties created an “organizational problem,” which made it very difficult for a single person taking charge, which is what Sherbert feels is necessary. He says if the program were targeted, the lack of organization meant there was no one to defend it.

“I’m not criticizing the administration for going after it, because they have to cut” and commends the administration for allowing it to operate, but its lacking organization didn’t help when cuts need to be made. Sherbert emphasizes the fact that if the program were to return, it would need a single faculty to oversee the program, rather than three.

“The problem is, the concept of culture is seen as competitor to some of the humanities courses.” Sherbert notes that some in faculties like English or anthropology saw the program as a rival because of arts and culture’s crossover into other faculties, which were already seeing lower student counts.

Can the program be saved? Kleer says while the process to overturn a cancellation is long and complex it’s possible.

“I’d welcome a student delegation of people that thought something was overlooked and we missed something. I haven’t seen a group like that, but it would certainly cause me to think very carefully about it if I did see a large group like that.”

Anderson encourages students to “write letters/emails to the three deans and the VP Academic.

“Get some students together and take the case directly to Vianne Timmons.”

Likewise, Sherbert argues that students can take action by expressing their interest to the arts and fine arts deans, as well as Luther College.

“If the students suddenly demanded it, it would probably come back. The student population drives everything. Students don’t realize the power they have.”

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