VUW’s School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies (SACR) faces threats of dissolution for the 2019 school year.
The change proposal is found in a consultation document sent out last May. The proposal states that enrolment in the schools has declined over the past four years, while costs have been steadily increasing.
The first round of changes will come into effect on 1 January 2019. It is likely that one long-term senior lecturer and four administrators will lose their positions across the whole School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies. Art History itself will lose its sole administrator.
Furthermore, the Programme would temporarily become a unit within the School of History, Philosophy, Politics and International Relations (HPPI).
A representative of Victoria noted that not each Programme has had a decline in enrolment. When Salient asked about VUW’s target Equivalent Full-time Student (EFTS) ratio for the SACR, Vic replied, “these guidelines are commercially sensitive and not publically available”.
Courtney Johnson, director of The Dowse Art Museum, is dismayed to see Victoria put forward a proposal that appears to be to be entirely motivated by cost-cutting.
“Today’s graduates are emerging into an environment where visual literacy, criticality, and the need to be able to communicate fluidly over a range of ever-shifting modes and platforms, will be crucial to their ability to survive and thrive in employment and in their engagement with the world around them,” she said in her submission. “Art history can equip them for this world and Victoria’s Art History department, properly invested in, could be a leader in doing so.”
Kirsty Baker, an art history doctoral student, created the @support.vuw.arthistory protest ‘gram in hopes of raising awareness and motivating action. The ‘gram’s bio reads: “Thank you so much for all of your support, submissions in response to the change proposal are now closed.” “I wanted to do something other than bemoan the fact that art history is an undervalued as a discipline,” Baker said.
On another hand, Paul Morris, a professor of Religious Studies, thinks the proposal will benefit the school of Religious Studies. If the proposal passes, the school will become a programme within the School of Social and Cultural Studies (SACS).
“It is vital that Victoria students continue to have the opportunity to critically and systematically examine why and the ways this intersects with our understandings of politics, culture, society, gender, politics, environment, and morality,” Mossis said.
Students and alumni have written ardent submissions in response to the proposal. Hanahiva Rose, an Honours student, wrote “As a Māori and Tahitian woman, the potential removal of Peter Brunt, specialist in Pacific Art History, sends a blunt message: Victoria University does not value the taonga of this region.”
Cuts in the arts at tertiary institutions have been a motif of 2018. Earlier this year, Auckland University announced it would shut down three libraries, including the Elam Fine Arts Library. The university claimed its primary reason for shutting the libraries was to cut costs. Kirsty believes that these sort of cuts are the result of a government whose dedication to the arts perhaps wasn’t that strong. “We’re inheriting the legacy of that,” Baker said.
Similar to the UoA, VUW’s reasoning for dissolving the school is to cut costs. The document states: “The Programme’s current academic staff:EFTS ratio falls below the University target and significant cost savings are required in the short-term to provide a sustainable financial base to explore and solidify options for the future.”
The proposal notes that the number of students taking Art History in Year 13 appears to have a key influence on university enrolment. In her submission, Milly Mitchell-Anyon notes “the neglect from secondary schooling will not be resolved by further neglect at a tertiary level”.
The consultation document makes it clear that if numbers don’t improve in 2019, “additional reductions in staffing will need to be made”. Students and faculty have pointed out this goal would be harder to achieve in a transitional period. “We won’t be a part of SACR anymore. We won’t be a part of HPPI. The visibility of the discipline will be tenuous and temporary at a time we needs its strength in order to encourage students to study with us,” Baker said.
Though busy with their resistance, students of the Art History Programme continue to make their mark on the community. In the past two weeks the Programme has collaborated with City Gallery on “What is New Zealand Art?” and have also worked with the Adam Art Gallery, Joy Public Art Gallery, and The Dowse on a symposium on feminist art history, mana wāhine, and queer practice, No Common Ground.
“It’s really strange to be trying to defend the importance of the discipline while you’re actively involved in public programmes where art history is the core,” said Baker.
The outcome document will be published during the week of July 23.