If a student government’s agenda is any indication of
general student attitudes, the School of Art and Design’s
transition to a completely revamped curriculum appears to have
finally hit its stride.

Beth Dykstra
Art School Dean Bryan Rogers addresses Art and Design sophomores Glenn Getty and Cara Levine yesterday. (CRISTINA FOTIEO/Daily)

The Society of Art Students, this year’s art school
student government, provides a clear contrast with last
year’s government. Whereas last year’s organization
often lobbied the administration to scale back major elements of
the new curriculum, SAS has come to accept the program, focusing
its work on incremental changes.

The new curriculum, designed and implemented in 2002 in large
part by School of Art and Design Dean Bryan Rogers, requires art
students to take courses in a wide range of techniques and media
before choosing an area of concentration in their final two
years.

In the early stages of the transition, many students
— especially those who, planning careers in areas such
as graphic design, had little interest in taking conceptual courses
or carving spoons out of pine wood — rejected the
school’s new philosophy outright.

Thirty percent of the first class under the new curriculum
transferred out of the school. And at the end of the last school
year, the student government, then called Art Students League,
drafted and submitted to the Rogers and Associate Dean Mary Schmidt
a “proposed curriculum” that would have significantly
weakened the new program’s requirements.

One of ASL’s leaders last year and among the most vocal
opponents of the new curriculum was Shlomo Goltz, then an Art and
Design freshman. Goltz, who has since transferred to Washington
University, wrote in an e-mail last August that he decided to leave
the school because he felt the deans were inflexible in their
commitment to “a vision of art education that diametrically
opposes what students need.”

SAS representatives have adopted a more conciliatory attitude
with the deans. Unlike ASL’s sweeping proposals, SAS’s
suggestions have all been minor changes and additions. And most of
them — such as preserving chemical photography, which the art
school had planned to eliminate, and adding more information to
online course guides — have been adopted.

“We’ve developed what I consider a very positive
relationship. … I never feel on the defensive,” said
Rogers. “This is not a gripe group. They’re coming here
wanting to make a better school, and we share that
desire.”

Unlike most student governments, SAS’s style is strictly
informal. During meetings every other week with art students,
representatives and students discuss concerns about the art
school’s curriculum and facilities; no resolutions are
passed, and generally nothing is brought to a vote. Rather, SAS
representatives gather concerns from students and discuss their
past and upcoming meetings with the art school’s deans, which
take place on the weeks between the open meetings.

During yesterday’s hour-long meeting between SAS
representatives, Rogers and Schmidt, the deans were mostly open to
ideas presented by SAS representatives.

When Art and Design sophomore Cara Levine proposed modifications
to student storage lockers and the addition of U-Haul storage bins
for large projects, Rogers was open to the suggestion, asking
Levine to send him information on the bins.

“I don’t know anything about these,” Rogers
acknowledged. “This sounds like something we can act on right
away.”

While not every suggestion was accepted in full, compromise was
reached on nearly every point. When SAS representatives requested
that an advanced web design class be added to the curriculum,
Rogers explained that most faculty are unenthusiastic about
teaching a “vocational” class that focuses on a single
piece of software.

“They just don’t see the pedagogical value, and
frankly I agree with them, in teaching a class … that
basically goes through the manual of a piece of software,”
Rogers said.

After some discussion, Rogers said he would consider offering a
course that uses web design as a medium to express conceptual
content. A course whose only goal is proficiency in a web design
program, he said, would be like “advanced use of the
screwdriver.”

“Can you make a proposal for a course that’s more
than trade-tech web design?” he asked. “We can come up
with a course, but it has to have some meat to it.”

In an interview after the meeting, Rogers expressed gratitude
toward the group for bringing minor student issues to his
attention. Outside of the meetings, he said, he has little contact
with students and no way to ascertain such needs.

“I don’t wake up every morning and worry about
storage for students,” Rogers said. “It would be easy
not to pay too much attention to these issues if they were not
bringing them forward.”

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