LEAD: EU art department faces potential cuts; university program review ongoing

Categories:  News    The Arts
Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 at 8:54 PM
LEAD: EU art department faces potential cuts; university program review ongoing by Kimberly Firestine
File Photo. Loveland Hall.

As Edinboro University continues to celebrate Art 100 this fall, the art department has been tasked with defending itself against potential program cuts. 

Art Department Chair and Associate Professor Suzanne Proulx said in an interview with The Spectator that while she couldn’t disclose what specific art programs are being looked at, she noted there are several in the fine arts that are being considered for cuts as part of a broad program review that is PASSHE-wide and across the university. Proulx further specified that the review of the art department is looking at fine arts and art history, including graduate-level programs.

EU Vice President for Marketing and Communications Angela Burrows, when asked for specific program cuts being considered, stated that, “Work on the program review continues and we don’t yet have a definitive list of programs to be impacted.”  

Meanwhile, most student and alumni reaction has spawned from the Facebook group, Save Edinboro University Fine Arts, which has posted several screenshots of the rumored art programs in danger. Find details about the group at the end of this article, along with interviews with those involved.

Proulx explained that when faculty was notified of the review throughout the university, department chairs each received a list of their respective programs being considered for elimination or consolidation with Slippery Rock.  

“We were given the chance to prepare a defense and consult with our faculty. I’ve met with the dean (Dr. Scott Miller) in-depth and he allowed me to also include testimonials and feedback from professors, so we’ve actually had more than one conversation,” she explained. “He brings this information to the Deans’ Council, which consists of deans and a couple other administrators, as well as Provost (Michael) Hannan. That Deans’ Council right now is intensively meeting and going over data, going over chairs’ defenses, and they’re making decisions as to what changes they are going to recommend to the president.”

The art department has seen growth over the last two years, according to Proulx, especially in applied media arts, graphic design, interactive design, art education and illustration. Proulx said some of the smaller fine arts programs have kept steady, but have not increased.  

“We have 36 entering students in studio arts this year. The art department is one of the only departments that has had growing enrollment the last two years,” said Proulx. “We added a whole new cohort last year and then again this year. We have 137 freshman this year.” 

Proulx also noted the role the art department plays at the university, stating: “The past three administrations, our current president as well as the previous two, have named the art department as one of the programs of distinction, and [we] were considered the flagship program of the university as well as the flagship program within the PASSHE system. We’re one of the strongest art programs in the state — not just the region, but the whole state.” She said that part of what makes the department so strong is the popularity of the applied media majors.  

In addition, Proulx explained that the “breadth of our offerings” within the department are what distinguish Edinboro’s art programs from those at other universities.  

“There are a lot of art departments that have those majors that have big draws, especially animation and graphic design. However, the richness of the breadth of our offerings really sets us apart. It also changes the nature of a student who is a graphic designer, or an animator, or a filmmaker, because they have this rich experience of taking classes in all different media that really changes them as an artist and as a creator,” said Proulx. She emphasized the importance of having the diversity of class and studio options, as they can often be brought into other disciplines. 

See all programs and concentrations offered through the art department.

Proulx believes the Edinboro administration sees the value in the art department and doesn’t want the perception to be of a battle between the department and administration.  

“They have some tough decisions and I really hope they make the right decision with art, but it’s a process of negotiation,” she said. “I feel optimistic about it.” 

She noted the department provides students an affordable option to study a range of fine arts from professors that Proulx considers as leaders in their fields. She believes this is becoming a rare opportunity, mainly available at institutions that cost three times that of Edinboro.  

As far as faculty cuts are concerned, Proulx noted that she isn’t sure what to expect and that there's the possibility that no changes are made within the department. Noting that the issue of program cuts has come up in the past, she said: “I think there is cause for worry and for people to be concerned, but not cause for panic, necessarily. It doesn’t mean our quality will go down and that we’re going to lose all the fine arts. Last time it did not happen, but I just really don’t know. I don’t have any clues into how this is being negotiated.” 

In June 2019, the university received a 10-year accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, which Proulx says is an honor to have.  

“We’re very proud that we have NASAD accreditation. It’s very difficult to attain and a lot of my friends who teach at other universities and art schools don’t have that NASAD accreditation,” she said. “It’s very rigorous and a sign of the quality of your arts program that you can meet those high standards.” She believes that because it is such a distinction, the university wouldn’t jeopardize the accreditation and whatever changes made to the department would fall within the guidelines. 

As rumors of art department cuts began to heat up, The Spectator reached out to EU’s Office of Marketing and Communications for an official statement. Setting up the statement, Burrows said that they had heard from a “number of students, faculty, alumni and friends of the Art Department, advocating that none of the art concentrations be eliminated.” 

“We fully agree that Edinboro has excellent Art programs, a proud tradition in the arts, and talented Art faculty, many of whom have been tremendous role models for developing artists. The University has made no final decisions regarding program eliminations in the Art department or in other academic departments,” it reads. The statement goes further to note the specific concentrations being looked at have low enrollment, some fewer than 10 students. “We understand that in some instances, a concentration may be foundational to the academic preparation of all art majors. That will be factored into our decision making as we continue our evaluation.”  

Regarding current students, Proulx explained that if a student is already enrolled, the diversity of the coursework shouldn’t change. “I really can’t believe that all of these programs that are being proposed will go away. I have a hard time believing that,” she said, shifting back to overall thoughts. “You have to keep in mind that they’re sort of casting a wide net of things that are being looked at. I do think it would be a mistake if we lost several of those disciplines.” 

Discussing the career success of alumni from the art department, Proulx said the department impacts not just the Edinboro and Erie communities, but the broader community and economy in Pennsylvania. 

“Of the alumni they (the university) track, we have 6-7,000 alumni, including just under 2,000 in the fine arts. Many of them graduate and stay within the Commonwealth. Not only do we have people in Erie and Edinboro who are a big part of the fabric in those arts communities, but also, we’ve got a huge alumni base of fine artists in Pittsburgh as well as Philadelphia,” she explained. 

“Our fine arts students actually do very well. They are intelligent and entrepreneurial people who are creative thinkers. Many of them go on to be entrepreneurs, they start their own businesses, they work for non-profits, they’re art professors, craftspeople and do major commissions.”  

She continued: “We get these stories all the time of people within our region and the greater state who are making a name for themselves. I think of things like the Art 100 documentary and how many of these alumni are out there across the country making a name for themselves in their field. There was also a documentary my husband and I were in called ‘A Few Things About Artists’ by Tom Weber about the Erie arts community. So many of those people are Edinboro alumni. It was just really striking [seeing] what a feeder we are in terms of the arts community, the creativity and the economy.” 

Save Edinboro University Fine Arts 

The most passionate reaction against potential art cuts has come with Facebook group, Save Edinboro University Fine Arts.  

The group was initially created in 2013 by Edinboro alumni Alison Stinley and Zack Pontious. Stinely said the department faced a similar threat back then. “It seems that the art department is perpetually on the chopping block,” she said. "Therefore, this time around, all that was needed to rally the troops was a reactivation of the now 7-year-old Facebook group.” 

Pontius said he was shocked, frustrated and sad when he first heard of the art department’s rumored moratorium list, but then began adding more to the Facebook group to “get the message out to other Edinboro art peers.” 

Both Pontius and Stinley note they believe cutting any programs within the art department would be detrimental to the university. 

“Eliminating the only program that is unique and competitive on a national scale seems very short sighted. Other academic areas that are deemed to be ‘more important’ are not going to become a destination for students when you eliminate the art department,” said Pontius. “Other academic areas are not going to compete with universities with billion-dollar endowments. The art program is the only program on campus that can do that.” 

Stinley noted: “After having attended various institutions as a student, as well as having taught at several more, I can say that the studio arts at Edinboro offer experiences on par with more well-known programs and with an infinitely better cost/benefit ratio.” She continued: “The faculty focus on student success [goes] well beyond each student’s graduation date. Ten years later and I still ask former professors for letters of recommendation (sorry, Prof. Vitali!), and they always oblige. I don’t know where I would be without the studio arts experience I had at Edinboro, and I can say that hobbling its programs will only remove opportunity from current and prospective students, and demoralize the region as a whole.” 

In addition to the Facebook group, a Change.org petition currently has 1,300 signatures to "Save Edinboro University Fine Arts."

Kimberly Firestine is the Executive Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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