In the latest in a series of events that spell trouble for the Roski School of Art and Design’s M.F.A. program, esteemed Roski professor Sharon Lockhart resigned last week, further illuminating the abhorrent structural issues within the program and reviving the conversation concerning the value of a graduate art education.
Lockhart’s resignation comes at the heels of the withdrawal of Roski’s entire M.F.A. Graduate Class of 2016 last spring in protest of various bureaucratic changes within the administration and the program they had initially enrolled in. Now infamously dubbed the “Roski Seven,” the students do not plan on returning, even after Dean Erica Muhl attempted to address their concerns in a letter sent as a response to the students’ initial dissent. In fact, the students responded by circulating a petition via Change.org that mandated Muhl resign, an appeal that has received more than 800 signatures.
The students’ choice reflected that their trust in the school they first enrolled in appeared to be nothing but a pipe dream, ruined by several changes made by administration. In addition to changing the name from the Roski School of Fine Art to the Roski School of Art and Design, a choice that illustrates the ever-increasing preference of design to fine art within higher education, several key faculty members have recently left and the curriculum has switched from emphasizing studio visits to emphasizing criticism and theory.
The fact that several professors — some even tenured — chose to leave the school abruptly in the last year and a half indicates massive internal problems within the school. Though Muhl said that the curriculum has been changed to meet the requests of the students, the fact that they will not return does not provide much confidence in Roski moving forward. The fine arts program itself was once highly regarded, but in light of the nationally covered news of the Roski Seven, it’s hard to imagine that the school’s name hasn’t been tarnished at least in some respect.
The students’ choice to leave their graduate degrees unfinished also begs the question if a degree is needed at all in order to be an artist in 2015, considering that many artists in both history and pop culture today have made a successful living without going to school for their craft. As tuition continues to rise and student debt comprises one of the most prominent issues in the 2016 presidential debate, the risk of student loans post-graduation does not appear to be worth it for some after all.
Additionally, as ever-expanding internet platforms continue to produce scores of talented new musicians, writers, directors, performers and artists every day, the need to tout a degree on a curriculum vitae is less important. Perhaps in more esteemed and private art circles nationwide the need for a degree is still relevant, but today it seems that both undergraduate and graduate degrees are unimpressive.
Some might argue that graduate education is crucial. Indeed, as more and more students are choosing to go to college and obtain their undergraduate degrees — according to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment rates have increased 24 percent from 2002 — the need for an even more prestigious degree seems important. As more saw the need for a master’s, however, the job market became inundated and oversaturated with similar degree-holding candidates, causing a hysteria within the job market for young millennials and even those in Generation X. A tradeoff was then born: the degree that created massive debt or the self-made work in the studio that provided a steady job.
Perhaps, Roski must save face by doing the unthinkable: provide free tuition for the next fortunate — or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it — artists seeking their master’s degree. Considering that New York City’s famous Cooper Union College, one of the few colleges that formerly offered a full ride to those 8 percent of applicants who were admitted, has just recently required students to pay, offering free tuition might be the only salvation for Roski in the end. This choice would not only encourage young artists — who would have thought a master’s degree unattainable due to their financial burdens — to apply, but also convey to the general public that the administration has seen their errors and are looking to repair the damage.
Ultimately, the Roski Seven, in addition to shedding some much-needed light on the school administration, have brought up relevant and pertinent questions regarding the usefulness and relevance of art school today.
Multimedia by Michelle Tak and Kevin Reeves.