Sunday, April 5, 2009

Parsons Faculty Is Cut Amid Protests by Artists

Parsons the New School for Design Criticized for Faculty Cuts -

A dozen members of the fine-arts faculty at Parsons the New School for Design have been told that they will not be teaching in the department in the fall.



This past week approximately 1/3 of the Fine Art department faculty at Parsons the New School for Design received email notices that there were no classes for them to teach in the coming academic year. This action was taken just before spring break so that there was no way to mobilize the Parsons community. This was done in an atmosphere of complete secrecy.

The teachers who were fired all have excellent reputations and exceptional student evaluations. Teachers who were vulnerable because their union status was probationary appear to have been targeted by the administration regardless of performance. However, some of those summarily fired have served as a distinguished and devoted faculty who have given their time and energy to Parsons for many, many years (in some cases as much as 20+ years). The adjunct faculty fought hard to unionize in 2005 and the Kerrey administration fought hard to prevent it. We were successful and the UAW now represents the adjunct faculty at Parsons. To varying degrees this protected a good number of the faculty – or so we thought.

This would be UGLY under any circumstances but it is particularly ugly in this economy. It is also particularly hypocritical –and socially irresponsible– for an administration and a school that prides itself on its progressive history to take it upon itself to undermine a union so capriciously.
You may have heard or read about some of the chaos that surrounds President Bob Kerrey’s stewardship of the New School. The New York Times and The Village Voice (see links) have written about it extensively. There have been multiple firings of Provosts, a vote of no confidence in the president, student occupations of campus sites and overall considerable unhappiness amongst the students and faculty.

Despite all this the Fine Arts Department enrollment has been consistently increasing these past five years. The department has been healthy and the community of students and faculty has been lively and progressive.

We wrote a letter condemning these actions and the vast majority of the Fine Arts faculty signed it. (Some could not be reached precisely because this was all done during the spring break) As the present administration fears more additional negative press it is OUR HOPE THAT YOU WILL JOIN OUR EFFORTS TO REVERSE THESE ACTIONS BY WRITING AN EMAIL TO THE ADDRESSES LISTED BELOW.
We have included the original text that our Fine Art faculty sent as its petition. Please feel free to cut and paste from it for your email.

We would also be grateful if you pass the word on to any other concerned academics, artists, union members or –especially– members of the press.

Warmest regards and many thanks,
Peter Drake, Laurence Hegarty
Adjunct Faculty
Fine Arts Department
School of Art, Media and Technology
Parsons the New School for Design
25 East 13th street
New York, NY 10011

Please identify your email in the subject line,
"We stand opposed to the mass firings at Parsons"

President Bob Kerrey <
Provost Tim Marshall <
Parsons AMT Interim Dean Sven Travis <

*and please BCC to: and


We the undersigned hereby affirm our opposition to the summary firing of our valued colleagues from the Parsons Fine Arts department. These fellow teachers and artists have given their time and energy to Parsons for many, many years. They, like all adjunct faculty at Parsons, have worked many hours beyond their contractual commitments and have provided scholarship, skill and guidance to countless students. Furthermore to not rehire faculty in this economic climate is both cruel and socially irresponsible.

While we support the innovations of the school of Art, Media and Technology we cannot do so at the expense of our colleague's livelihoods. We therefore insist upon an immediate reversal of aforementioned summary firings.

Solidarity Emails

As artists and as the faculty of the Visual Arts Division at Columbia University we stand united in expressing our dismay at the recent firings (and demotions) of so many talented artist/educators in the visual arts program at Parsons The New School of Design. The suddenness of this wholesale action coupled with the clear lack of prior dialog makes these firings particularly grievous. But even more troubling is that these decisions were made during a period of crisis for all cultural institutions in this city and beyond. Whereas arts foundations, schools and related institutions are all banding together to weather the economic storms, it is clear that the leadership of Parsons The New School for Design is acting in quite the opposite manner promoting what appears to be a position which is anti-artist, anti-arts education and frankly anti-culture.
Parsons is one of most respected art schools in this city and its visual arts faculty are all working artists with high levels of professional accomplishment---they are also serious and dedicated art educators. Many have given years of service to Parsons and this shabby treatment will not go unnoticed in New York’s cultural community.

We urge the leadership of the school to revisit these actions. Now is the time to stand behind your faculty and to bring them into dialog. Mass dismissal is simply unacceptable.

-Visual Arts Division,Columbia University

I am appalled to hear about the firings of adjunct faculty at Parsons, decisions taken without any faculty consultation, and under the cloak of the spring break. I hope these layoffs will be reconsidered at a time when employers are exploiting the fiscal crisis to undermine faculty unions.
-Chair, NYU-AAUP Chapter, Chair, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU

As a former Board member of the College Art Association (CAA), a
Professor in Visual Culture at NYU and a member of the New York City
art community, I write to protest in the strongest possible terms the
mass firing of instructors in the Parsons Fine Arts department.

These teachers and artists have given their time and energy to
Parsons for many years and deserve far better treatment. They, like
all adjunct faculty at Parsons and in academia in general, have worked many hours beyond their contractual commitments and have provided scholarship,
skill and guidance to countless students. As the CAA notes in their
guidelines for part-time employment, their expertise should be valued.

Much has been said about the changing mission of Fine Arts at Parsons
and that is of course appropriate to any institution of higher
education. However, those who were hired under the previous mission
should be given the opportunity to work out a place in the new
framework, as per CAA guidelines. The suggestion that other
departments at Parsons or the New School might hire these art
instructors is not much better than flippant.

Finally, to dismiss faculty in this economic climate is both cruel and
socially irresponsible. I ask that you immediately reverse these
summary firings to preserve what is left of the good name of the New
School and Parsons.

-Professor,Media, Culture and Communication,NYU (in personal capacity)

As a museum professional involved in the visual arts for almost forty years—and as a human being witnessing the “collateral damage” (i.e., layoffs and firings) of an economy collapsing under the weight of its own greed and self-interest—I strenuously object to the summary firing of faculty from the Parsons Fine Arts department. Like Brandeis’s decision to sell off the collection of its Rose Art Museum, your actions are short sighted and contrary to a great university’s mission. I urge an immediate reversal of aforementioned summary firings.
-Director of Adult Programs and Public Relations Manager, Parrish Art Museum

Not so great to fire so many of the faculty in one of your units that has performed so beautifully for the past several years. Not so fair, and not so useful to the reputation of the school. It is increasingly embarrassing to have the New School for a neighbor.
-new york university, anthropology/religious studies,co-director of the center for religion and media

I am writing to protest the summary firing or reassigning of faculty
in your fine arts department. I teach studio art at Bates College and
over the years I have encouraged students to go to Parsons as
undergraduate students, and I have sent several students to Parsons
graduate programs in painting and sculpture.

I know from those students that several of the faculty who have been
dismissed or reassigned from graduate to undergraduate courses are
highly regarded as teachers, advisors and artists, and that they have
real followings among students and alumni. I have been comfortable
sending students to Parsons because of what my students have told me.

The New School's reputation is plummeting because of the way it is
being managed. I urge you to rescind what appears to be a unilateral
decision to fire and reassign your faculty studio.

-Senior Lecturer in Art and Visual Culture

As a member of the fine art community and someone who had the pleasure to speak at Parsons, do studio visits with the students and
have classes visit my gallery, I have always been impressed with the
school, it's students, teachers and programs. In fact, whenever I am
approached by young people and their parents asking my opinion of the
many art schools out there, I have whole heartedly recommended
Parsons as an excellent choice - in particular because I believe
that the variety and dedication of the faculty truly nurtures a young
artist's spirit.
I was dismayed to hear of the recent firings and disappointed by the
names on that list. You have decimated your rich, passionate
collective of teachers to the detriment of your students, reputation
and future. Competition among art schools is so tough and costs are
so high students really do have many choices. Parsons has been a
leading school for some time. It would be a shame to see the negative
publicity and rash firings derail the number and quality of students
seeking out an education at Parsons.

-New York Gallerist

In 2005 I graduated with my MFA from the Parsons Fine Arts department. It's a degree and an education I value deeply, and chose to attend for it's strong focus on student development of their own practice, critical discussion and reading, and freedom to pursue whatever artistic avenues arose.

I am in regular contact and artistic exchange with a number of former students (some of whom are now on faculty) and instructors.

The news of firings in the department is distressing, not least because I'm concerned about the loss of quality education this will inevitably cause, as well as the devaluing of the program. Parsons Fine Arts has been a highly reputed department, known as a thorough, intensive and open minded educational experience.

-MFA Graduate 2005

I join my colleagues at Parsons and beyond in their disapproval of the cynical and shortsighted firing of arts faculty in this time of economic crisis. Adjunct faculty and arts faculty are the least rewarded but also the 'least expensive' according to the student-consumer orientation of today's academy.
Too, adjunct arts faculty have long had an extremely productive relationship
with cosmopolitan institutions such as Parsons. An adjunct arts faculty is
precisely that which puts the lie to the old saying that 'those who can't do,
teach.' They are the practitioner-pedagogues that the rest of us wish we were.
Please do not use economic uncertainties as a smoke screen for the leadership
necessary in times like these. Parsons is too important to the future of NYC
and the future of the arts

-Department of the History of Science, Harvard University

My Parsons MFA experience was very rewarding due largely to the outstanding faculty. These summary firings are distasteful and disgraceful.
-Parsons MFA alumni

I am writing to address the unprecedented and egregious manner in which faculty of Parsons Fine Art Department of the New School were summarily dismissed. Despite what authority the administrators of the school may exert in their defense, it is disappointing that even institutes that claim to be promoting higher standards and new ways of working in society can resort to behavior so draconian. In hard times, it is those who respond to difficult choices with grace and foresight that lead the way, and it is disappointing to see the opposite of this occur in academic settings, where we hope individuals will lead the way. If the decisions cannot be entirely and completely reversed, I encourage the administration to consider their options for partial reversal, compensation, or other alternatives. I was a student of one of these faculty members and can attest to the professionalism and quality of instruction I received while in contact with said faculty member.
-Department of Art and Design,University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

For an institution such as the New School not rehire faculty without departmental consultation and collaboration seems to be counter to your schools social policies it professes. Please reconsider this action.
-Professor of Art, Department of Art, Hunter College C.U.N.Y