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Student and Alumni Address to McMaster University Senate

April 14th 2010


Adam Belovari
Representative for the School of the Arts
BA Art History, Expected 2010

As the student representative for the School of the Arts, My main concern in this matter is that
the University Administration did not adequately consult students, faculty, and other interested
parties, and that the decision is not in the strategic interest of the University.

I am deeply upset that such a well-known and respected program was targeted for elimination,
and even more so because of the weak reasons behind the proposed closure. I am extremely
disappointed with the administration’s process and the treatment of this matter.

Current students and alumni received official confirmation of this proposal to phase out the Art
History Program in a memo issued by the Faculty of Humanities published on the Daily News
website on February 3rd 2010. In this memo, no reasons for closure were provided.

In several media articles in the following weeks, students were informed that a lack of
resources and low enrolment were the reasons for the proposed closure. However, despite
these negative impressions from the administration, Art History enrolment is healthy for a small
program. This program does not have “consistently low and declining enrolment.”, and
moreover, its current enrolment is comparable to at least one other program in Humanities for
the 2009–10 academic year.

The numbers provided also exclude part-time students! And thus these numbers only account
of 2/3 of all students in the program!

A recent favourable External Review for the Art History program from 2009 contradicts the low
enrolment argument. The Reviewers stated that “the programme should be lauded for the fact
that overall enrolments in Art History have significantly increased over the past three years.
This, in itself, is evidence of its high quality.”

Now, enrolment has been declining for a relatively short amount of time, and a curriculum
review was recommended by the art history program review. It was recommended that one
additional faculty member be added to the current faculty compliment of three full-time
positions which would expand course offerings as well as resources. The report emphasized
that a curriculum review was of paramount importance. This curriculum review did not take
place prior to the phase out proposal.

After a meeting involving two Studio Art faculty members on November 30, on December 1 the
Dean of Humanities informed the art historians that Art History needed to be closed and
resources moved to Studio Art. This decision was startling.
The proposal was then rushed to Undergraduate Council on February 23rd without any debate
or discussion involving students or Art History faculty. One senior Art Historian, who is on long-
term disability leave, but present with us today, was neither officially notified nor consulted on
this proposal to phase out the Art History Program despite McMaster’s Protocol for the Closure
of Undergraduate Programs that explicitly states that “the proposal should be discussed with all
members in the department or program..” (Protocol, p3, 2007).

First year students in art history classes were not properly informed since no class visits were
conducted. This is especially important in light that Art History will continue to be offered as a
major for the 2010-2011 academic year. Art History was not advertised to these first-year
students as a possible major for 2010- 2011 during the Humanities’ fair on March 3rd 2010.
Administration in Humanities assumed the closure of a program without obtaining proper
approval for it.

Although part-time students have received assurance that they will be able to complete their
degrees, what courses will be offered and for how long?

I am aware that the McMaster Association of Part-Time Students (MAPS) met with the Provost,
Dean Crosta, and Associate Dean Wright on March 9 in order to inform the University that
MAPS was aware of prospective donors that would be interested in donating money to the
University in order to salvage an combined Honours in Art History, given that the Dean
indicated that the only obstacle to salvaging a combined Honours in Art History was the
financial one associated with hiring an additional three faculty members. At this meeting, it
was made it clear that if such donors were to come forward with the requisite $10 million, the
offer would be turned down as a combined Honours degree in Art History is not a priority, and
that said donors would be encouraged to look elsewhere, such as funding graduate programs
within the Humanities.

Ultimately, what is it that is actually being achieved by closing Art History, beyond the
university losing a respected and successful program? Apparently, faculty numbers remain the
same. The expansion of Studio Art involves major new expenditures for space and equipment.
How does the proposed expansion of SOTA and a new, robust, MFA align with McMaster’s
recent budget report in a time of financial hardship across the University?

Cutting costs should not be an ad hoc activity but a soberly considered element in a much
larger and forward thinking plan. The Art History program ultimately has the potential to
continue to excel, but it needs an infusion of resources. The quality of the art institutions, the
James Street North community in Hamilton, the opportunities and faculty unique to the
McMaster program, are unmatched in Southern Ontario.

Art History being a major contributor to Canadian academic history is not in itself
justification for a program's survival. Instead, it is the accomplishments of students and faculty
and the centrality of the discipline to the humanities that are at issue.
Desirée Valadares
McMaster Alumni
B.Arts Sc. Arts & Science and Combined Honours Art History, Class of 2009

All self-respecting research institutions of merit and international stature have respectable Art
AND Art History Departments. In consideration of the economic facts that Hamilton is
developing itself into a city of the arts and that surrounding institutions are redoubling their
efforts to bolster and foster their arts related endeavours, McMaster needs to act urgently to
regain, or at the very least, maintain any status it may still have as a respectable and
competitive university in the arts.

On February 3rd 2010, the Faculty of Humanities officially announced a “sacrifice” of the Art
History program to introduce new Fine Arts degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Like McMaster, many Canadian colleges and universities are taking action to strengthen and
expand their degree offerings to provide new opportunities for students in the arts. Starting in
the 2010/2011 academic year, Brock University will begin to offer a BA Art History degree due
to demand for the discipline, and OCAD, once solely devoted to the Fine Arts, will also celebrate
the inaugural year of its Master’s in Contemporary Art History in 2010. OCAD’s Liberal Studies
program provides its undergraduates with the choice to attain a degree in Art and Visual
Culture, and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) also offers its students the
option to complete a BA in Art History. Since 1971, a college-university partnership between
the Sheridan Institute of Technology and the University of Toronto has led to a very successful
diploma-degree program in Art and Art History. These Canadian universities and technical
schools recognize the connection between AH and Fine Arts. McMaster University’s failure to
offer a degree in this discipline would be a precedent that will significantly diminish its stature
and the 24 units offered as a minor are an inadequate replacement of the high quality Art
History program.

Art History has been taught longer at McMaster (since the 1930s) than at any other Canadian
university. And although always small, the faculty over the years have had an extraordinary
record of producing future professionals in the field. It must also be noted that the recent
favourable External Review of Art History completed in April 2009 has been excluded from the
materials submitted for consideration by this Senate.

Barry Lord, a distinguished graduate from McMaster University, is the president of Lord Cultural
Resources, an international museum and heritage strategic consulting firm that was recently
hired to develop the McMaster Museum of Art’s new Strategic Plan. On March 2nd 2010 he
remarked: “Studio Art programs without art history are appropriate to college level education
not a university. Art History is vital to ensuring visual literacy in an age when visual
communication has become so much more important in comparison with verbal
communication.”

Twelve accredited universities in Ontario namely Brock, Carleton, Guelph, Ottawa, Lakehead,
OCAD, Queens, Ryerson, Toronto, Western, Windsor and York grant degrees in BOTH Art and
Art History. And most of these institutions cannot compete with McMaster’s resources!

The Art Gallery of Hamilton is Ontario's third largest public art gallery and the McMaster
Museum of Art was found, coincidentally in recent Strategic Review by Lord Cultural Resources,
to have the best University-collection in all of Canada thanks to Dr. Herman H. Levy’s generous
multimillion dollar bequest and donation of art. This was a donation that was made in
recognition of the many courses that Dr. Levy had taken as a mature student of Art History at
McMaster. The local art institutions, addition to the James St. North art community and the
Dundas Valley School of Art, enable McMaster’s Art and Art History students to gain vital
experience and knowledge, both academic and practical, which benefits their studies and
careers. The suggested compromise of minor in Art History will not fulfil the basic graduate
admission requirements of Art History and Design programs and the minor will fail to provide
Art students the full range of topics to properly inform their artistic practice.

Phasing out the Art History degree to "free up resources" for the proposed Fine Art Programs is
not an appropriate solution to a financial challenge nor is it in the strategic interest of the
University. McMaster may secure short-term profit from higher government funding for BFA
and MFA students but ultimately can these programs be sustained without an Art History
degree and will they appear competitive amongst other research institutions and technical
institutes. The administration has provided no evidence that the improvement of one program
is conditional on the closure of the other. Already today, you have seen another consequence
before you: a major university Museum that is to be run without the advice of a single,
professional art historian.

Let us conclude by urging you to postpone a decision on this matter until there has been
further investigation. We do not believe you have all the relevant documents before you and
this is major irreversible decision that requires a public forum with proper debate and broad
consultation.

This discipline is central to the Humanities and should be prominence.

We ask that that Senate recognize the value of an Honours and Combined Honours degree in
Art History to the new Fine Arts programs, to the School of the Arts, to the university, and the
rest of the community.