Message from the Provost on Parsons Fine Arts Faculty
Peter and Laurence boldly respond – i.e. our response is in bold face
NEW YORK, April 22, 2009 -- The following is a message from Tim Marshall, the Provost of The New School regarding recent events in the Fine Arts program at Parsons:
I am writing to you with an update on the situation in the Parsons Fine Arts program. Since our letter of April 8, 2009, we have heard from many people on the changes that are being enacted in the program. While there is considerable enthusiasm for the general direction we are moving in, there has also been concern voiced by some valued members of our faculty community. Our failure to consult and communicate adequately as we strive to broaden our Fine Arts program is simply that: a lack of communication and participation. I am committed to improving the former and working to create the conditions to enable the latter.
Except it was not quite that "simple". Under cover of a failure to consult and communicate adequately the administration managed to deprive 12 faculty members of their jobs and without consultation to turn the curriculum on its head. Thus it is hard to believe that the failure to communicate wasn’t by design.
All annual faculty who were not assigned teaching in the Fine Arts program due to the curricular changes will be offered alternate teaching assignments appropriate their expertise. In addition, we will make every effort to offer appropriate teaching assignments to non-annual faculty. This intention was not made clear in the original memo that was sent out, which followed a more standardized protocol. We should have personally engaged the faculty about these pending changes. I want to offer my sincere apologies for these shortcomings and the discord it has caused. I will be working with Human Resources and all the New School divisions to improve this communication process so that all faculty members are properly acknowledged for the positive contributions they make to our academic community. Out-of-context quotes implying that we see these kinds of changes as "business as usual" are inaccurate.
The apologies of the Provost are most welcome but appropriate teaching assignments for Annual Faculty should be found in their own departments first as per the union contract. Less senior faculty should not be offered teaching assignments over equally or more experienced faculty. Additionally, the removal of three senior faculty from teaching assignments that are still being offered may ring of ageism. We welcome a serious effort to replace course loads for all of our colleagues however difficult it is to believe that this was the intention of the administration all along. No hint of such intention existed prior to the press coverage and valued support offered by academics, students and artists all across the country. Could there be, we wonder, a connection between press coverage and the administrations clarification of intentions? We believe that our valued colleagues should not have lost their jobs in the first place. The "business as usual" quote can be found in The New York Times article from April 3rd and judged on its own merit.
In order to transparently remedy the situation in a timely manner, we have established a faculty taskforce (including full-time and part-time members) led by Sven Travis, Dean of the School of Art, Media and Technology (AMT). This taskforce will engage in a fuller conversation about all curricular changes within the Fine Arts program that were approved by the Parsons Curriculum Committee earlier this year. They will review both the content and implementation of these changes.
As of this moment there isn’t a task force in place. There are reservations on the part of the faculty and the union because of the suggested presence of both Print Department faculty (a transparent attempt to boost the number of faculty in the Fine Arts Department and thus minimize the significance of the numbers fired) and the embattled Chair, Coco Fusco. It is also unclear whether the task force will be empowered to reverse the firings and make curricular changes or will simply be a PR stunt to give the appearance of engagement.
I am convinced that the Fine Arts community at Parsons is poised to become stronger than ever. We are deeply committed to enrolling the most talented and diverse incoming class possible, and have made great strides toward that end in this past year. In a delicate economic climate like the one we currently face, it is imperative that we all do everything possible to succeed on this front. The good news is that the MFA has seen an upswing of interest, with applications at historically high levels and with more accepted students depositing earlier than in the past.
The " upswing in interest" and "the historically high levels" of applications should be the final argument for the success and superiority of the existing program. What excuse could there be for displacing the very teaching assets who made this success possible especially given the "delicate economic climate" we all face? The "good news" also applies to the BFA program whose extraordinary students continue to succeed and represent Parsons admirably in graduate programs, residencies and the larger art world.
As Fine Arts expands its influence across Parsons, we envision many possibilities for new cross-disciplinary, curricular, and extra-curricular models. To support these ambitions, we will be creating a new Inter-Media Initiative within the School of Art, Media, and Technology to assist in the development of these projects in the years ahead. In order to enable AMT to undertake this work, we will soon be announcing a new administrative structure for the Fine Arts program moving forward.
The existing faculty of The Fine Arts Department have embraced change and look forward to the expanding role of fine arts at The New School. We hope that new initiatives are not a Trojan horse to create a design-centric curriculum which is both at odds with the unique qualities of the Fine Arts department and a limited view of the larger art world. In keeping with your commitment to open communication and participation any new initiatives should include the full involvement of the faculty. The absence of any specifics in your announcement of a new Inter-Media Initiative and a new administrative structure makes these proposals seem less than transparent – indeed hollow.
In sum, we can and will learn from our mistakes, and we appreciate the time and energy many faculty have invested in working to better the situation. I ask that you join us in building the best possible program to welcome a great incoming class in Fall 2009.
No argument there.
Provost, The New School
Peter Drake and Laurence Hegarty