Thursday Protest

Fredonia Proposes Cuts To 20 Degree Programs

On Thursday, over 70 students and faculty marched in silent protest against the proposed cuts to several majors, as part of the college's Procedures for Emergency Program Reduction/Elimination (PEPRE) plan announced last month. Photo by Mary Heyl

On Thursday at 11 a.m., more than 70 SUNY Fredonia students and faculty gathered outside the Rockefeller Arts Center in a silent protest against the proposed cuts to 20 degree programs announced as part of the Procedures for Emergency Program Reduction/Elimination plan in November.

“We want to show the administration that we do have the numbers to have a well-balanced department,” said senior Jessica Smith, who is on track to graduate with a bachelor of fine arts in sculpture this May.

“Their cut-off was 15 people in a major, and any program under that is proposed to be cut. We want to show that everyone is interested and passionate about their major, and that all of us together – all majors – are what make a strong department.”

Smith is one of many students in the Department of Visual Arts and New Media who are deeply disappointed by the email from the office of Fredonia President Virginia Horvath, Ph.D. that detailed the proposed cuts. For the past month, members of the Art Forum Eboards including Max Lee, president; Beth Metz, Secretary; Prince Hunt, treasurer; Natalie Sacchitella, public relations; and Smith, advising liason, have been in the process of organizing this protest. Through chain emails, social media, flyers around campus and old-fashioned word of mouth, they have invited students from all majors to join the protest.

Clearly, their efforts were successful, as students and faculty from several departments came together on Thursday morning.

Many feel that the proposed cuts target the arts in particular, and the evidence would seem to agree. One third of the undergraduate degree programs being considered for elimination/reduction belong to the Department of Visual Arts and New Media: BA Art History, BFA Ceramics, BFA Film and Video and BFA Sculpture.

Associate Professor of Art History Lisa Rittelmann, Ph.D. was among the faculty members present at the protest. She, too, carried a sign, but hers listed the eight degree programs currently available in Visual Arts and New Media, half of which may be gone if the elimination takes effect. Rittelmann explained that all 214 students in the department take art history courses, regardless of their major, and that the courses would continue to be offered. Indeed, Horvath, in a Nov. 20 OBSERVER article, explained that although a degree program may be eliminated, courses in that degree program may still be available.

“It is entirely unclear what the benefit (of eliminating these degree programs) would be, given the fact that there is no clear cost-saving measure of getting rid of them,” Rittelmann explained. “There is no additional course that would be cut if you cut the Art History major, and no adjunct professor that could be cut.”

Rittelmann added that the president’s office created the list of programs considered for reduction/elimination based on a five-year snapshot of enrollment. “But they didn’t count last year,” Rittelmann added. “Our (department’s) incoming class has doubled these last two years and we’re not getting any credit…That’s at the top of our written rebuttal. They’re always ham-stringing us for enrollment, and we’ve been growing our program. It’s going to end up costing them in revenue.”

Peter Tucker, also a Visual Arts and New Media professor, said, “I was immediately worried about the PR ramifications when we got that email.”

Tucker, like Rittelmann, is concerned that the announcement regarding the proposed cuts to degree programs may make the college less attractive to applicants.

“The damage may already be done,” he pointed out.

Just before 11:30 a.m., the students and faculty who assembled for the protest embarked on their silent march around campus. Earlier that morning, Smith explained to the OBSERVER the reasoning behind the silence: “We’re going to be completely silent because we still want to be heard, but we don’t want to be distracting or unprofessional.”

This point was driven home by another member of the Art Forum Club, who, at the start of the march, informed the group that anyone who violated the silent rule would be removed from the protest. With signs and heads held high, the group began their march, demonstrating that art – like silence – may be undervalued or misunderstood, but its impact can indeed be deafening.