College of the Arts is failing its students

Students question PSU’s commitment to students’ education

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Flier circulated by frustrated students. Jake Johnson/PSU Vanguard

The art department at Portland State sometimes feels like an afterthought. Recent cuts coinciding with the renovation of Neuberger Hall brought art students’ simmering feelings to a screaming boil. Forcing art students into trailers is frustrating, but trailers aren’t the biggest problem facing art students; it’s PSU’s massive reduction in resources.

Class offerings have been cut. Trailers housing painting studios and student lockers are not accessible on the weekends or after hours. The security of the trailers is questionable; they are all unlocked during the day, even when no classes are scheduled. Labs crucial to certain art practices no longer exist, and replacing them doesn’t appear important enough to address.

“We have to deal with all this BS so another rich guy can have his name on a building,” complained a circulated poster, ending with “Warmest regards, the art students. #screwedbyPSU.”

The renovation of Neuberger is potentially great, but few students who are currently enrolled will benefit. Even if it will benefit students attending PSU three years from now, how does that help current students trying to make the best work of their academic career before they graduate?

Cuts, cuts and even more cuts
“PSU is supposed to give you the tools to graduate in four years, but I’ve been here for five,” said PSU student and Portland State Vanguard Photography Intern Silvia Cardullo. “I needed one more class for my photo minor, and PSU wasn’t offering it, so I had to organize an internship to essentially make up the rest of my degree. I’m glad it worked out for me, but not everyone is [able] to take advantage of something like this.”

Photography students lost a darkroom and a high quality photo printing lab. Those interested in jewelry-making and small metal sculptures lost their small metals studio. PSU doesn’t even have a kiln for ceramics.

Required courses such as intermediate painting now only have one course offering, if any. Many art history classes are only offered online, forcing students to pay an extra $150 for the online fee. Students shouldn’t be pigeonholed by limited offerings. They should have the opportunity to explore their interests and specialize in the topics most inspiring to them. We don’t want prerequisite waivers. We want an education.

The number of Bachelor of Fine Arts students increased from 14 ending in 2016–2017 to an anticipated range of 42–52 students in 2018–2019. How are future students supposed to create large bodies of work at the high caliber expected of them with little resources and less than 25 percent of the already cramped space? This is the pinnacle of our undergraduate education, and we don’t have enough room to create and store the work we are required to make. Inclusivity is important, but logistic accommodation is necessary.

Banished to the trailers
Art trailers lie at opposite corners of campus. Thinning out art students weakens their community and education by reducing chances for interaction and inspiration. It sucks to haul work and supplies from one corner to the other, but hardly seeing other art students and their work is worse and extremely detrimental to the development of our practice and exploration.

For years, professors told us to use oil paints because they are the best medium. Now upper-division students attempting to create their best work are being told that the optimal medium for their craft is not an option because the trailers lack the proper ventilation. According to BFA art practices student Karl Freitag, the new accommodations “completely remove a student’s ability to learn the most fundamental medium of painting.”

PSU is not holding up their end of the bargain. Lack of security shows students that PSU doesn’t see student art as something valuable enough to protect. This issue makes students wonder whether PSU would even care if their paintings were stolen. We should be focused on our studies, not worrying about the safety of ourselves and our work. One painting trailer just got a PSU ID card reader for access, but who is permitted or when students have access has not been disclosed. It just showed up in week eight of winter term with no information.

Building a darkroom and a small metals lab in trailers is possible. Creating proper ventilation to allow use of oil paints in a trailer is not difficult. Hiring additional security to patrol the extremities where trailers are located and implementing ID card readers so students have 24/7 access to trailers are achievable and should have been part of the bargain. It took over a week for us to get running water and five weeks for hot water to reach my painting classroom. At week six, the Douglas Fir portable pod bathrooms were still without hot water, and there are no drinking fountains or water coolers for students to use.

Everyone has homework, art students included, but if the painting classrooms and lockers are closed on the weekends, how are we supposed to complete the work if we have nowhere to do it and can’t access our supplies? Someone recommended calling the Campus Public Safety Office to let me into the art lockers on the weekend, but the last time I needed after-hours access when my card wouldn’t let me into Neuberger, CPSO told me they might show up if they have time.

Portland Community College provides more resources
Tuition at Portland Community College for 12 credits costs $4,086 annually. At PSU, it’s $8,784. Since PSU costs over twice as much, shouldn’t our resources be twice as good? PCC has a ceramics department with a kiln, a photography department with a darkroom and the ability to paint in oils. PSU is offering one intermediate painting course in spring. It’s not intermediate painting instruction. It’s a special topics course focused on painting quickly and producing a lot of work—only 12 students can take it due to space constraints.

PCC has 14 intermediate painting offerings; they also run the course as a three-part series. Much of your education is about having the agency to get the most out of it for yourself. Another important factor are your instructors, which PCC and PSU commonly share.

Students enrolled in the PCC and PSU dual-enrollment program cannot apply for certain financial awards. When resources at PCC are so close and resources at PSU are so limited, why would PSU punish its students by removing access to financial awards for students who take advantage of these resources through dual-enrollment?

College of the arts faculty speak out
Tia Factor is a senior instructor and art practice, BFA art practices coordinator who said COTA faculty concerns are not being listened to by higher PSU administrators. Administrators meet with faculty, agree their concerns about recent situation changes are terrible, but then proceed to do nothing.

“We are really sympathetic to the students,” Factor said, “and we also are the first line of absorbing all the rage students have as well.”

“It’s affecting our teaching,” Factor continued. “We have certain outcomes that are expected based on the curriculum, and then to have limited access to the environment in which the art is supposed to be made. How are students supposed to meet those learning outcomes that are stated in this sort of contract? We already put forward this curriculum that was approved through OAA [PSU’s Office of Academic Affairs] and then at the same time, [art professors] were put into these limited spaces that make it impossible for the students to even meet the learning outcomes in [the approved curriculum].”

“It’s always art at the bottom of the university because it’s not valued by our society, so it’s not valued within a university either,” Factor said.

Let PSU serve its students
We are being put out into the graduate art world with a disadvantage students who attend other art schools don’t have. The PSU art program’s atmosphere of uncertainty creates worries students and faculty at a university shouldn’t have. It is distracting and diminishes the quality of our work.

Cuts have been hard on many people at PSU. Teachers have been pushed out, art faculty and liberal arts grad students share a trailer, and there are many more students within other majors whose visions of what college life would be like have been shattered. Our tuition keeps rising while PSU’s budget is constantly being slashed. No one likes feeling snubbed, especially by a school many of us are going into massive debt to attend.

PSU is right in the middle of Portland, Oregon’s cultural hub. PSU needs to be providing more, not fewer, resources and support for students and faculty if they want to posture us to be an integral part of the arts community.

Continually challenging students and faculty to figure out how to turn low-budget resources into a high-quality education while increasing their financial burden is not the way to do it. Students shouldn’t have to show up to campus and be told to make do with their educational experience. We deserve better.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I can kind of see both sides here. On one hand, the university could definitely do more to accommodate the art students, like clustering their trailers near each other and giving them 24 hour keycard access to the trailers where their art is stored. Hiring security for the art trailers seems like a bit much, but at the very least there should be cameras to deter vandalism or theft.

    On the other hand, the whole reason this is happening isn’t so that “some rich guy” can have his name on a building. Neuberger is easily one of the most dated buildings on campus and it’s receiving some very important seismic upgrades in this renovation. We’re an urban campus in a metro where building acquisition is expensive as hell – what else are we going to do?

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