Photography and graphic design move to art department

By Abigail Saggio

Staff Writer

The photography and graphic design faculty and courses have moved to the department of art and music.

The transition of the programs went into effect at the beginning of the fall semester.

The four full-time faculty members who moved to the art department are professors Robert Alter and Leslie Starobin, who teach photography, and Jennifer Coleman Dowling and Laura Osterweis, who teach graphic design.

Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Marc Cote said the transition had been discussed for a while, and was finally implemented after a formal proposal was made.

“There’s been a history of ambiguity between the two areas [of art and communication arts],” Cote said. “Throughout the years, conversations have been had to figure out what the best structure would be.”

Paul Yalowitz, chair of the art department, said, “It was very confusing for administration and students to hear that there was graphic design in two different departments.” 

“If someone was coming in as a freshman and told Admissions that they wanted to go into graphic design, there was a confusion [as] to which department they should go into,” he added.

Derrick TePaske, chair of the communication arts department, said, “I don’t know if there [was] as much confusion as people said.”

“It seems to me some people think that their [art department] graphics [faculty] should have come to us,” he added.

Yalowitz said, “When I became chair I said, ‘Well, let’s finish it one way or the other, because I don’t like people being in limbo. Let’s get a final decision for these people, mostly the two graphic design teachers, Jennifer and Laura. Then it became evident that the photography people were very interested in coming over, too.”

He met with each of the four professors individually to determine whether the restructure made sense for the art department. From there, the proposal was passed on to Cote.

“From what I understood, this had been an ongoing thing for a long time, and I didn’t think it was a surprise for anybody that this might happen,” Yalowitz said. 

He added, “I think when Marc Cote got involved, or the provost got involved, that is when Comm Arts got informed. They weren’t informed from the very beginning.

“I didn’t think there was a reason to have to go to them if it didn’t make sense,” he said. “Then when I thought it made sense, and the dean thought it made sense, he went to comm arts, and I think that’s where the misunderstanding is – that it happened so fast from their point of view.”

Cote said he also met with the transitioning faculty members and discussed programmatic and curricular changes before a formal proposal was presented to administration.

“I drafted a proposal that I brought to Dr. Vaden-Goad [former provost and vice president for academic affairs], and if she agreed to it, we would then go to the President for final approval, and then to the Board of Trustees,” he said. 

Osterweis, who teaches graphic design and visual communication classes, said by bringing both graphic design areas together, the department can build a stronger program with a clearer curriculum path for students.

“The difference between what professor Dowling and I taught in communication arts, and the graphic design concentration in art and music, has been unclear to students, faculty, and administrators for some time,” said Osterweis.

She added this is responsive to changes in the industry due to technology. “The distinction between screen-based and print-based media, which existed when I first started at FSU 15 years ago, no longer exists in the design industry, and professionals are expected to be able to design for all mediums.”

Starobin, who teaches photography and visual communications, agreed the transition will benefit students who are interested in design and photography.

“Photography means ‘painting with light.’ By moving the photography classes to the art and music departments, students in the major will be required to take the other core studio classes as well as art history classes,” said Starobin. “Students interested in photography will have a stronger foundation in design from which they can cultivate their own voices and aesthetic.”

Cote said the synergy between the core art classes and photography classes is important for students. 

“There is some kinship between graphic design and illustration, both of which are sort of more commercially oriented concentrations in art,” he said.

Cote added another aspect considered in the decision was the accreditation that the University recently received from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

This transition of the departments was an initiative suggested by NASAD. One of the future plans for the University is to offer a bachelor of fine arts program.

According to Cote, NASAD will come back to review the University with external site reviewers this year. The University applied five years ago and was granted provisional accreditation. With a passing grade, the University will receive full accreditation from NASAD.

When fully accredited, the Art and Music Departments will “immediately try to get a B.F.A. in graphic design, then aspire toward a B.F.A. in studio art,” Cote said. 

Osterweis said, “The designation of a B.F.A. versus a B.A. will appeal to students seeking a serious art degree.”

Cote said the elimination of curriculum overlap allows for development of new classes in the department. He added the art department would also like to add a photography design concentration when the University is fully accredited by NASAD. 

Starobin said, “There is a lot of interest in photography among high school students, so hopefully, a concentration will attract more applicants to FSU,” which she said will help increase enrollment in the department. 

There is no change in curriculum for students who were enrolled prior to this academic year. Cote said any new courses in these departments will have “some delay” due to “teach-out.” 

Teach-out requires professors to teach the current curriculum that align with major and concentration requirements until enrolled students graduate. No changes will be made to these classes, except for the prefixes of the courses, which have changed from COMM to ART.

TePaske said he had concerns about how the restructuring happened. 

“It’s a big deal, too, to change and restructure a department in this major way in a short period of time,” he said. “There have been a lot of disagreements about this upheaval in the last few years.

“It’s a question of individual egos, frankly, and personal interests about where people feel more comfortable,” TePaske added.

He said the restructuring of the departments continues to involve adjustments. For example, the existing supplies and computer laboratories that once belonged to the communication arts department now belong to the art and music department.

“The question [is] of who’s responsible for the care and feeding, as we call it, of the computer lab. Somebody from – now the art department – asked our department to pay for inks in the printers,” TePaske said.  “To the casual observer, people wouldn’t necessarily know that anything much has changed. They’re still in their same offices. They’re still in their same labs.”

With the loss of the four faculty members, the communication arts department now has seven faculty members and are in the midst of a restructure.

Audrey Kali of the communication arts department said, “The future for communication arts is exciting.”

Kali added she is optimistic of the restructure and said, “I think of a dung beetle. You have a pile of crap, and a flower grows out of it.”

She said the department “Got together last May, and we thought, ‘Here are the six of us. What are our strengths? What can we do?’” She said the six faculty members specialized in three areas of expertise: communication/media theory, film and television, and theater and performance. 

TePaske said, “People who are interested in film production, rhetoric and theory, or performance and theater – we are your place.”

The Communication Arts department will be eliminating its four major concentrations of the major, and will now introduce “course groupings.”

Kali said the decision to eliminate concentrations completely gives students “more latitude to pick from.” This new system gives communication arts students freedom to take classes they are interested in, and are not “forced to take other classes.”

Students will now take six core classes instead of four in order to have a well-rounded understanding in each area of expertise within the department.

The department will also change its name to “communication media and performance” to align with its new identity. 

Kali said that theater classes will now be called “performance.” Performance can refer to a broader curriculum which includes more than just theater courses. 

TePaske will be retiring this coming spring. Due to his retirement, Kali said, “As far as we understand, the University is giving us another tenure line that we would advertise for in the fall for Academic Year 2021.” 

Kali added department is missing a faculty member with a specialized expertise in advertising and social media, and “it would be nice to have a stable faculty member” in that area.

A new course group being offered will be “professional communication.” Other new course offerings include “Video Basics, Voice and Movement, Environmental Communication, African Americans in Television and Radio, Rhetoric and Popular Culture, Audio Production: Podcasting, Scene Study, Communication and Social Media, and Communication and Leadership.”

TePaske said the proposal to change departments and curriculums was a “sensitive matter.

“Changing college curriculums in a big way is like relocating graveyards – there’s so many sensitivities involved, so much tradition,” he said.

TePaske added when he was first hired by Framingham State University in 1988, the communication arts department had separate concentrations for photography, graphic arts, and television. These concentrations then turned into the current concentration of Integrated Visual Media.

“Communications changes a lot because a lot of it relates to technology,” he said. “We have to appreciate and embrace the complexity of the world and be ready to adjust to the changes that are going to happen.”

Kali said, “If you stay the same through all the years, then you’re not really moving with the times and you are not addressing the world that the students are getting into. I see that too with the move of photo and graphic design to the art department.

“We’ve had our moments,” Kali said of the communications department during the restructuring. “We have disagreements and don’t see eye-to-eye on so many things, so we are actually putting communication into action.”

During the transition, the department’s curriculum committee invited two student representatives to give feedback on the restructure of the communication arts department.

Senior Matty Alvarez was one of the students appointed to the committee by the faculty as a voice of communication arts students. 

Alvarez said “The professors were kind and welcoming to our ideas,” and were receptive to the suggestions made by the student representatives.

“They personally invited us onto the committee because they understand our input is pretty valid in terms of how it can affect the student body,” he added. 

Sophomore Jenna-Nicole Richard said she does not agree with the transition. “I see design and photography as being a graphic form of communication that is an integral part to the communication arts education,” she said. 

Richard added she thinks the department will become “more specified” and have less “diversity and versatility.”

In the future, Richard said she’d like the department to “look into new methods of obtaining equipment such as the cameras and film” to refresh curriculum.

Junior Alisha Schofield said, “Photo and design should be in both departments” because they have elements that fit into both areas.

Starobin said, “Personal preferences aside, as educators, we have a mission and a commitment to educate our students. Therefore, we need to be prepared to make difficult changes in order to strength the programs we offer.”

Kali said the switch is a prime example of how the faculty and curriculum at Framingham State are interdisciplinary. “I talk about things in psychology, sociology, and philosophy, and other departments are maybe teaching their students about giving presentations and argumentation. … I think that instead of thinking of ourselves as these little boxes, we could really help each other grow in different ways.”

TePaske said, “When I retire and think about how they are doing, I know I will say that they are doing just fine.”