The Porter Quad swarms with people at the 2011 Irwin Grant Scholar’s gallery opening. Students, faculty, administration and family mill around the galleries in the evening light to the music of conga drums. They are here to celebrate the artistic achievements of 12 art department students, each awarded $2,500 to create the works displayed.
Here, a classroom is transformed into an otherworldly space made out of repurposed materials. A woman sits under the staircase, inviting others to dip her hands in paint and use them to describe their racial identities on the canvas under her. A large triangle of wood hung with three slender black strips of cloth dipping into pools of bleach occupies the Sesnon Gallery.
Since 1986, this has been an annual celebration of the creative victories of the Art Department’s students. This past spring, however, it draws a stark contrast to the department’s suffering from crippling budget cuts. They have lost, and will continue to lose, instructors, facilities, course offerings and ultimately students.
In a time when the whole UC system is struggling to keep its fiscal head above water, instating a 9.6 percent fee hike to try to offset the 746.7 million budgetary shortfall, the art department risks being overlooked as just another struggling subdivision of the arts and humanities.
What sets the art department apart from other non-science departments is the unequivocal nature of its offerings and facilities. Since the community studies department was cut in 2009, students in the program have been forced to switch majors. While it is no means a communities studies program, students can still pursue a degree in sociology or anthropology, seeking out similar classes and internship experiences.
The art department is the only department on campus to offer hands on art instruction, studio classes in disciplines ranging from printmaking to inter-media, sculpture to painting and photography.
“We have right now 700 students who are involved in the arts, either as majors, pre-art majors, or intending to become art majors,” said Norman Locks, Art Department Chair and photography professor of thirty years. “There are 275 majors, 300 pre-art majors, and then another 150 students who have indicated that they wanted to study art.”
For 2011-2012 the Art Division is receiving a Permanent reduction of $635,700, as well as $238,920 in One-Time Bridge money to temporarily buoy the cuts by doing such things as opening up more class sections where needed.
UCSC’s budget is organized in terms of dollars vs. full time equivilent (FTE) students or faculty. According to the UC Santa Cruz Budget 2010-2011- A Bird’s Eye View, “Student Workload FTE is an approximation of the number of full-time students taught by the division over the course of the academic year, based on student credit hour”. The Art Department’s 2010-2011 budget is $1,339,880, $156,114 more dollars than 2009-2010 $1,183,766 budget. But the full time equivalent (FTE) of students has increased from 11.0 in 2009-2010 to 13.14 2010-2011 while the staff FTE has stayed a constant 6.47. This means that while there is a little more money in the program for the increased number of students, there are not more faculty to accommodate them. And since full professors can only instruct 4.5 classes at a time there is limited ability to increase class offerings.
“What we are facing now is there just isn’t anymore money,” Locks said. “It’s no longer about the argument. In the past, you could say ‘there’s money, we just need to make a good argument for it’ but what we’re seeing right now is there just isn’t any money. You can’t make a good argument; there just isn’t anything there.”
With all the arguments in the world and no money, the art department is being forced to restructure. This coming year, course offerings will be reduced by 20 classes, leaving a total of 60 courses for the three quarter year.
“If the budget cuts keep coming, we’re going to be at 45 courses a year. The measure of that is that we started out, a few years ago, with a hundred courses, and then 85 courses, and then [60 this] year and then [potentially] 45 courses in a year and a half,” Locks said.
This is a big issue when you take into account the 275 art majors and 300 pre-art majors at UCSC. In the past year, art students have struggled to get into the classes they needed to graduate.
Michelle Silva, a fourth year art major with a painting emphasis and Lit minor, said she has not been able to take more than one art class for many semesters.
“I wasn’t able to get into art classes the first couple of years, [so] I decided to go onto the lit minor…I like literature, I like reading but also I didn’t want to take a bunch of crappy classes I don’t need,” Silva said.
Silva attributes part of the difficulty with getting into classes to the gated enrollment system that opens up a given amount of seats in a class at a time.
“You have 100 art students all vying for 4 spots at 12[pm] and that keeps going throughout the day. So even if you are sitting at your computer waiting and you click enroll, someone clicked it 2 seconds before you did and they got in,” Silva said. “Once classes are full, wait lists can reach 40 students by the next day.”
For pre-art majors there is the added problem of having to wait for the paperwork to go through for you to receive official art major standing, which unlocks enrollment to all upper division classes.
“You can’t actually enroll until you’re declared art and that doesn’t happen until grades come in so basically you can’t unroll until everyone is already enrolled,” Silva said.
The department is trying to preserve upper division course offerings while providing for pre-art majors. To do this, the intro to drawing class will now be offered as an 80-person lecture with TA’s leading studio sections.
There are many mixed emotions about this change. Some see it as a total loss because students will get less studio and professor time.
”It’s hard not to see it as a diluted class when a drawing class that used to be an intensive art majors only 20 students and a teacher is now a lecture class with 80 plus, that’s a very different experience,” said instructor Miriam Hitchcock. “That’s a very different background. My students feel less prepared for the upper level classes. Students are coming to me who are supposed to be intermediate and advanced students, and they feel less like intermediate and advanced students.”
Others see it as an opportunity to give students a more rounded broad conceptual view of the subject.
“There are ideal things that go along with having a small studio class, the kind of interaction you have, but the big classes can work,” said instructor Richard Wolphiler. “In some aspects they work better because students actually see more examples of images than they do in a studio class. And I find that filters through to the work some times in some ways. So as long as students take them seriously they can help.”
Students’ increased exposure to art forms outside their emphasis is not just theoretical, however. With a greater scarcity of upper division studio courses, it becomes advantageous for students to take what they can get, which are often courses outside of their desired emphasis. This can force growth, but often cause frustration.
Without being able to offer many courses, and with the 11.0 to 13.14 FTE increase from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011, there is talk of instituting a portfolio review for sophomores before pre-art majors are admitted to the art major.
This would create a sort of culling gateway to the upper division courses. Having less art students in the program could be a good thing when dealing with such limited resources. The counterargument for this, however is that a portfolio review might inadvertently favor those students who had access to arts education in high school, generally students who grew up in communities of greater economical means.
Trying to cut from an already lean budget is problematic. For the art department to continue to run, they have to pay for tenured faculty, minimal staff to run administration and keep labs safe, and materials. One of the few things left to cut is also one of the programs greatest assets — the lecturers
Lecturers bring to the art department a range of style, technical skills, points of view, and experiences as well as variety to the professors who teach within an emphasis. If a literature major doesn’t get along with a professor, they can choose to take classes from other faculty. But if an art major doesn’t get along with a faculty member, and that faculty member is one of two that specialize in their emphasis, chances are that students will be taking their classes many, many times.
And these aren’t the fly by night guest lecturers or researchers; these are individuals who have instructed for upwards of 15 years at UCSC.
One such instructor is Miriam Hitchcock, a UCSC lecturer since 1992 who just last spring was given her pink slip. This is not a total lay-off, but a course reduction that affects the benefits Hitchcock receives.
“I lose my health insurance and it takes what has been a small income and makes it even more questionable,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock is teaching this year, but does not expect to be asked to return. She does not know what the future holds for her. She says she can shake the bushes and possibly find a position teaching elsewhere or “I might be selling produce at the farmers market,” Hitchcock said,.“Or waiting tables like I did when I was in my 20’s. I don’t know, scraping it out.”
When lecturers are cut, so is the number of courses offered. If the budget does not improve, courses will continue to be cut until only tenured professors remain, which the state is obligated to pay by contract and who can offer 4.5 courses per quarter.
Currently, the art department employs ten professors who by themselves can offer 45 courses a year. Obviously there is no way to hire new faculty, but whether or not it can afford to replace retired faculty may play a large roll in the future of the department if the budget does not improve.
“Four of us, of the ten, are in our 60s and if we retire is there going to be a replacement? Every time we retire four and a half courses go,” Locks said.
The faculty is in a particularly difficult position during this budget struggle. Faculty do not come and go like students do; rather, the university is their livelihood. But they are also connected to the students they instruct, unlike more removed members of the administration. They experience the devastation of the cuts first hand, but are not in a place of direct power to alter things.
Locks sits at his desk and motions to his laptop. “Right now what I’m doing is [receiving] a dozen emails every day from students who want on a waiting list for a course or want independent studies because they can’t get into courses, or are frustrated because they are trying to graduate and they can’t get in to courses,” he said. Locks gets these emails forwarded to him by advisors.
“There’s not a lot that can be done,” Locks continued. “We have in the department increased enrollments, we accept on the lower division level community college units, and we have also increased dramatically the number of summer classes we offer so that students can get courses that are difficult to get into during the year, [which] are prioritized in the summer.”
Locks added that students wanting to raise complaints are without a clear place to voice them.
“In the past a student might go from the teacher to the chair to the dean, but at a certain point the answers aren’t in those directions any longer because hands are tied,” Locks said.
Locks urges students to make their voices heard to state legislators because ultimately, it is the state legislature, voting public, and governor who decide if education receives funding. Hitchcock agrees that students should stay vocal.
“I’ve told them to squeak loudly,” Hitchcock said. “There are some ethical issues here when they’re collecting tuition from you and not providing courses. And it’s not unique to UCSC and it’s not unique to this department, but that’s not an excuse, that doesn’t make it right.”
Presently, Locks emphasizes that there are still many resources for students. He points to such opportunities as accesses to the art studios, which are open 24/7, the student monitor program, and the annual Irwin Grant and smaller Irwin funds which are offered twice annually.
But just as there is always a sunrise after the night, there is promise in the restructuring if the art department. “Every cut we make is going to diminish excellence but on the other hand if we’re constantly thinking of how to do things better, how to improve the program, how to improve the educational system then were constantly thinking about excellence,” said Locks.
Some of these ideas include possibly offering inter-arts-division courses. For example combining a lighting course offered in the film department with an art department one, or a basic drawing course from theater.
Another project the department is working on is the creation of a graduate program. This would be the first within the arts department. It would bring in new ideas, and grad students to help TA undergraduate students.
“I’m not going to sit here and say there is any magic bullet, because I don’t know of any,” said David Yager, Arts Department Dean. “It’s like a card game, I’m dealt a hand and I’ve got to play the best way I can with that. And the best way I know, as a past department chair, is to really trust the faculty, that they’re really concerned. What they really care about is the long-term quality of the program for students.”
Back in Porter’s Sesnon gallery, one week after the Irwin Scholar show opening night, echoes of celebration are replaced by audio components of a few pieces. The sound of a beating heart. A voice droning, “Myself. Herself. Himself. Their self….” It is the same as a week ago, save spring graduate Richard Desanto’s hanging sculpture in the center of the room.
Last week it was a triangle of wood with long impenetrably black sheets of fabric hanging down into glass vases of water and bleach. They looked dark and foreboding. But in the past week changes have occurred. The bleach has slowly eaten away at the fabrics black dye revealing wisping gradients of rust red, brown, trailing into brand new white. The beauty of the piece is in its transformation under destructive substances.