The instant I became eligible my first year, right after the Winter 2019 semester, I transferred from the Stamps School of Art & Design to the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. If someone asks why I decided to quit art, I would say it was because of the way the Art & Design School treats its students. Some students refer to the Art & Design School as a high school, mainly due to the excessive requirements and the absence of student input, neither of which belong in college education.
Compared to other colleges at the University of Michigan, the Art & Design School sets an exorbitant amount of requirements. At orientation, new first-year students are given lists of courses with designated sections highlighted. They are taken to a computing site the same day and required to register for class sections exactly as shown on the highlighted lists. Those are “foundation courses” required of every first-year student and comprise 10 and 13 credit hours for the first two semesters, respectively. The foundation courses are different from regular requirements as in other colleges; withdrawing from courses like the assigned foundations on a set time frame could result in academic probation, which might prevent students from transferring to other colleges in the university.
The biggest problem here is that students have no say in selecting times and instructors in their first semester. The schedules, which the school claim to be random, are distributed unfairly. Some end up with 8:30 a.m. classes Monday through Thursday, while others have no morning class at all, but rather night classes that end around 8 p.m. However, class scheduling is just a nuisance compared to more serious issues. When it comes to instructors, grades become an issue. For any one course, grade distribution can differ starkly by section and instructor. Unlike most LSA lectures, where multiple graduate student instructors gather with professors and set standardized grading scales, most Art & Design School courses are run completely by section instructors with unchecked discretion in grading. Every instructor has a different level of expectations and a different grading policy, like attendance policies that drop 1/3 of a letter grade for every absence, with no exception for excused absences or doctor’s notes. This was the case in my Fall 2018 section of Studio: 2D. Students rarely get to change their schedules once the lists are assigned, which leads to the next problem.
I remember my first year of college as an endless stream of “no.”Every time I visited my advisor or one of the deans, I was never allowed to swap sections, drop foundation courses or even take more electives. Though all of these requests are usually not a problem in other University colleges, the Art & Design School is unnecessarily strict and rigid. While personally fighting the school to make these decisions possible, I found the school’s structure represented by the assistant dean for undergraduate programs to be somewhat authoritative. On Nov. 7, 2018, as I presented my concern of students not being able to choose their sections, resulting in unfair grading, she responded verbatim, “That’s the way it works.” She then insisted that one who disagrees with the school’s policy would better “withdraw out of U of M.” This is related to why many of the Art & Design students feel they are treated as subjects who do as told with little to no input.
What differentiates a college from a high school is student agency. College students are adults with the full capacity to design their own paths academically and personally. Setting almost everything in a student’s schedule is far from what a university would normally do to students. This is especially upsetting given the Art & Design School is an art school, aiming to educate not only scholars but artists. It is rather ridiculous to expect anyone to be creative or artistic under such a rigid and authoritative system. The most common answer given in return to the above complaints is that foundations are just for the first year, and students can be patient until they get to upper-division.
Unfortunately, however, not all students are “patient” enough to endure all of the above. In fact, the Art & Design School loses a significant number of students, and artists, just a year after welcoming them. According to the Office of the Registrar, 21 out of 154 Class of 2022 students left the Art & Design School after the first year, and the number is 27 out of 158 for the Class of 2021. This data gauges post-first-year drop-outs only in order to exclude other drop-out factors such as the sophomore review. It is striking that 14 and 17 percent, approximately a sixth of students each year, left the Art & Design School after finishing their first year. They generally choose to transfer to other colleges in the university or other institutions, or simply “withdraw out of U of M,” adhering to the assistant dean’s suggestion. Due to University policy, right after the first year is the earliest time students looking to leave the Art & Design School but remain at U-M can transfer cross-campus. Therefore, not all students are willing to wait. In order to stop losing passionate young artists, it’s time to stop babysitting college students.
Sungmin Cho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.