Bulldozing Creativity in the Name of Convenience
What makes Stern College unique? If you ask most students why they come to Stern rather than the much less expensive options of Queens College or Touro, they will tell you a number of reasons — the excellent Torah and Jewish studies programs, inspiring and dedicated teachers, the awesome student body, the opportunities it gives to religious athletes, and the excellent art department.
For me as well as many of my classmates, the art department was a huge draw that contributed to my decision to come to Stern. The eighth floor, which was renovated in the ‘90s specifically to house the Stern art department, blew my mind when I visited it as a high school senior. Students' artwork was proudly displayed all over, the atmosphere was warm and inviting and the whole place was humming with energy and life. Many graduates of the art major have gone on to achieve impressive accomplishments such as Sarala Pool (SCW ‘16) who is currently a properties apprentice at The Juilliard School and Leah Gottfried (SCW ‘17) who created the web series, “Soon By You.” Current students also consistently inspire and amaze with the immense effort, talent, and creativity they put into their work. Because of this, the Stern art department attracts students to come to Stern, with 108 current students taking art courses and 15 graduating art majors.
The YU administration seemed to appreciate the value of the art department. They use our art to adorn their buildings, and use our floor and its amenities as an attraction to help recruit potential students. Yet despite all this, YU appears to have thoughtlessly decided to give a large fraction of the department’s precious space to a fledgling coed graduate program. If they chose to expropriate this space, YU would undermine a highly successful and growing department, negatively impacting student enrollment. No serious art student would sacrifice the opportunity to attend nearby FIT, Pratt or Parsons for a stunted art department.
In an aside during the town hall meeting with students about the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday night, President Berman spoke about the importance of the art floor, that he cares so much about the art students of Stern and how he admires us for reaching out to him and the administration about this issue. He spoke of ways to compensate the art department for the loss of their space, but this acknowledgment indicates that President Berman does not understand the value of the space that is the eighth floor. The art floor is not like other floors, with separate classrooms; rather it is an interconnected system where each piece is needed to work efficiently and in harmony. For example, the computer lab portion, one of the main rooms that would potentially be expropriated, is utilized by every class either as a place to create reference material, an instructional space for classes like photography, graphic design, and typography, or for teacher and student presentations by classes in architecture, drawing, methods in media, printmaking, and more. Putting this space on another floor will compromise its purpose, as it is an integral piece of the fluidity and convenience of the art floor.
Furthermore, if there is space elsewhere for the art department, why can’t they find space elsewhere to give to the Katz graduate program? While the Stern art department is an established program with a long history of being rooted on the eighth floor, the Katz graduate program is new, has no set place and can find its permanent home elsewhere, perhaps in unoccupied space on the Wilf Campus. Why must the success of the Katz graduate program come at the detriment of Stern College? The second concession, where the art department would get new equipment, does not address the negative impact that taking the space away will have on the art department. It is as absurd as taking someone’s house away and offering them a bicycle instead.
Students have attempted to speak directly to administrators but to no avail. Senior Vice President Dr. Josh Joseph has yet to respond to our letter sent on February 27th and Provost Dr. Selma Bottman provided platitudes rather than an answer to our request, with a nonreassuring assurance that “nothing has been finalized.” Even after sending a physical and digital petition, signed by over 1,000 students, alumni, faculty and friends of YU to President Berman, the administration has still failed to contact us art students directly and include us in the decision-making process.
At the end of the day the most concerning part about this decision is the administration’s lack of foresight. I am currently a senior so the seizure of space will not affect me at all. The reason I and so many of my fellow graduating seniors are so passionate about this issue is that we want future students to have the same amazing experiences and education we’ve had. If the administration is transparent and consults with their faculty and students, perhaps we could work together to find an alternative solution that is beneficial for everyone. If, however, YU finalizes its plans to expropriate the space allocated to the art department, they will greatly weaken this highly successful department, alienate Stern students, faculty and alumni, and demonstrate that they are unbuilding tomorrow, today.
Photo Caption: Artwork in SCW was covered in protest to the alleged plan to take away part of the art floor.
Photo Credit: Rocky Pincus