Plans to Reduce Art Floor Space Spark Student Protest
Yeshiva University has drawn up plans to designate half of the 8th floor of 215 Lexington Ave. for the use of the Katz School of Science and Health’s new cybersecurity master’s program. The floor was previously reserved solely for the Stern College for Women (SCW) art department.
Students of the art department were notified of these plans at a meeting held by Prof. Traci Tullius, chair of the SCW art department, on Wednesday, Feb. 26. In protest, students covered up artwork displayed around Stern College, created fliers to inform students about the administration’s plans, sent a letter to Senior Vice President Josh Joseph and created a petition that has amassed over 1,000 signatures.
As of the time of publication, the administration has denied making any changes despite the protests, claiming that plans for the art department have been put on hold due to the pandemic. “This issue is on the back burner until we deal with the more immediate concerns,” stated Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon. In Yeshiva University’s recent COVID-19 response call, President Berman expressed that “cybersecurity is important, and building the cyber-lab is important, but it certainly should not and will not be on the back of the art department, which is also crucially important to us … The people in charge are working on creative ways so that both programs have an enhanced space.” President Berman also mentioned that there has been discussion amongst the administration regarding an update of the art department.
On Nov. 5, 2019, staff members of the art department were informed of some of the upcoming changes to the art floor. According to Tullius, the decision to utilize the art department for the Katz School was proposed by Chief Facilities and Administrative Officer Randy Apfelbaum. Dean Bacon first reached out to Tullius regarding the utilization of the computer lab on the art floor.
Tullius and her colleague, Prof. Mary Creede, decided to offer up Room 810 — a room primarily used for storage space — as an alternative location for the cybersecurity program to use. However, as Tullius explained, “since that original email, the amount of space planned for moving from art department use to cyber has quadrupled” to include the graphics lab, video lab and Tullius’ office. These rooms are planned to be converted into a classroom, computer lab, lounge and pantry.
Up until their meeting with Tullius, most students were completely unaware of the prospective changes and many feel that the university has not been transparent regarding these developments. “Students didn’t appreciate that the process was happening in secret, and voiced to me that they viewed the proposed renovation as a lack of respect and support for art students,” said Tullius.
“I think that if they had consulted with anybody, they would have understood how those rooms are integral to our major,” said Rocky Pincus (SCW ‘20), a studio art major. “The people making these decisions didn’t know what these rooms were used for.”
Upon hearing the university’s plans, students immediately took action to protest. Pincus and Yael Frank (SCW ‘20) initiated a plan to place coverings that stated, “no art floor, no art” on art pieces all over the Beren Campus. “We want people involved at this university to understand that art touches them every single day in ways they don’t even realize,” explained Frank. They felt that the most effective way to accomplish their objective was to rid the school of the artwork that art students over the years have created. Additionally, a petition to “save the art department” was created by Basya Goldstein (SCW ‘20) to advocate for the alteration of these plans. Currently, over 1,000 students have signed.
Many students have described the plans as being a “personal attack” by reducing a space they regularly use as a place for study and a “safe haven” from the academic rigors of college life. “I spend a majority of my days on the art floor. It’s a place I jump out of bed to go to, and the place I feel most comfortable,” expressed Talia Guttman (SCW ‘22).
As of the time of publication, Apfelbaum has declared that, “no decisions have been made about the space despite what students have claimed,” and explained that, “the art department has been and will continue to be involved in conversations as we consider different options.”
Provost Selma Botman said that plans are still in flux. “Yeshiva University is very proud of Stern’s Art Department," she said in a statement. “We value the program and appreciate the feedback that we have received from faculty, students, and alumni. For some months, we have been in discussion with both the Art Department and the Katz School to identify creative ways to reconfigure the space to ensure that both programs have enhanced space. Particularly for the Art Department, this includes upgrading the video studio and outfitting several classrooms with state of the art AV systems.”
“These discussions are ongoing and we will share updates as they become available,” Botman added.
Photo Caption: In protest of the prospective changes, students covered up artwork around the Beren Campus.
Photo Credit: Rocky Pincus