Art students complain of fewer classes

Students interested in the department of fine arts and art history are reporting issues with taking even the most basic art classes after space in entry-level classes was reduced this year.

In the fall of 2008, four Survey of Western Art I sections were held, offering 215 spots for students. This fall, there is only one class offered, with room for only 89 students. The department is offering four fewer classes this year than last, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Executive Associate Dean Roy Guenther said.

Some students reported having to petition the department for entrance into those seminar-level classes in order to graduate.

“Since it’s a small department, you can only take certain classes in fall or spring, so it can be inconvenient,” senior Emily Grebenstein said. Since 2005, the number of students in the department has decreased by almost 30, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

But department chair Thomas Brown said he feels smaller classes benefit students and he said he purposely decreased class sizes this semester.

“We used to have a lot of sections of our beginning survey classes. We decided to make that a single section taught by one faculty member and raise the level of engagement by having discussion sections,” he said. “The discussions often meet at local institutions in order to engage our students with local D.C.-area collections.”

Brown said he does not feel the decreased class offerings will stop students from graduating on time.

“We don’t anticipate any problems with having our students graduate on time. We have no indication of that yet. The change to the basic survey class was just instituted this academic year,” he said. “We will work with students on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to consider our majors, but we had to restructure our curriculum for general students too and I think we’ve done a great job with that.”

In past years, students would sometimes double major from within the Elliott School of International Affairs or School of Business, professors said, but some have reported this trend is slowly decreasing with the class offerings.

“They found the arts to be very compelling,” a professor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she did not want to be seen criticizing the department, said. “I’ve noticed, because those students would really enrich my classes. The more diversity in the department, the better off you are, no matter what field it is.”

Junior Miru Yim has noticed fewer students from other schools in her classes as well.

“Most of the kids in my art history classes [now] are majoring or minoring,” she said, comparing the level to her freshman year. “It was pretty beneficial to have students from other schools. My friend had taken an architecture class that he recommended to me. Hearing it from a non-major student was helpful.”

Some students interviewed also reported being upset with the removal of professor Rachel Pollack. Last year, Pollack was originally not contracted to teach classes in the 2009-10 academic year. Students petitioned and created a Facebook group about her dismissal, and eventually Brown promised to assign Pollack at least one class.

As of this spring, Pollack is working in the University Writing program and was not offered a class in the fall or spring, according to GW’s schedule of classes. She declined to comment on the issue.

“I think there was a lot of frustration about why she left. It was just really refreshing to have someone new and young working towards establishing her reputation, as opposed to people who are tenured,” Grebenstein said. “They should move her out of the University Writing Center, and move her into a class that is required for an art history major.”

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