CU plans to create new, consolidated arts department

David Accomazzo | Boulder Weekly

The University of Colorado Boulder is moving to combine its three arts departments — Art and Art History; Film Studies; and Theatre and Dance — into a single entity, tentatively known as the Interdepartmental Program in Fine Arts (IPFA).

The program will operate as a unit within the College of Arts and Sciences. Dean Steven Leigh and Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities David Boonin announced the new unit in an email sent to faculty on June 20. The letter named Professor Bud Coleman, the chair of the theater and dance department, as the interim director of the new unit.

The proposal might finally bring some closure to faculty in the three arts departments. Since CU’s journalism program was stripped of its school status in 2011, an exploratory committee has looked at ideas for the new journalism unit. The committee’s final report, submitted to the provost in April 2012, recommended merging the fine arts departments — specifically mentioning art and art history; film studies; theatre and dance; and music — within a new journalism college.

The proposals met resistance from some of the arts faculty, who saw the marriage of the arts with journalism as somewhat of a shotgun wedding. One faculty member thought the proposal sounded somewhat sloppy, mentioning that just because the university was “just sort of cobbling departments together and throwing the word digital in there as well” didn’t make it a good idea. Another professor, Phil Solomon, said the existing film studies faculty’s specialty was not in journalism.

“We know media from the fine art perspective, not necessarily from the information perspective,” Solomon says.

“[Former Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld said you go to war with the army you have,” Solomon continues. “Well, the army we have is artists, and scholars interested in the arts. It’s true of our film critical studies faculty, and it’s true of our film production faculty. Every one of us is interested in the art of film. … [Journalism] is a very different animal.”

So some in the arts departments greeted the IPFA email with relief. However, confusion returned just days later. On June 25, Provost Russell Moore sent out a report announcing what seemed to be the final framework for the new journalism unit, to be called the College of Media, Communication and Information. He created a nine-professor committee and charged it with creating the framework for several degree programs within the new college, including one in “The Moving Image and Media Production.” Moore wrote that the unit “will continue to nourish [the university’s] striking presence in experimental film and to explore such promising areas as documentary filmmaking.”

It’s still unclear what the final shape of the journalism college will be. The committee has until spring 2014 to complete its work. But Boonin and Leigh say that the IPFA reorganization will be “much, much lighter administratively” than that of the journalism college. Film studies faculty members don’t have to worry about being vacuumed into the new journalism school.

“We circulated a message from [Moore] a few weeks ago sort of reassuring the film department that no one’s going to be kidnapped, but there will be opportunities for people [to transfer to the journalism school] if they’re interested,” Boonin says.

The combination of the arts departments is the first step in Leigh’s overall plan to consolidate some of the programs in arts and sciences into larger units. Leigh, hired in May 2012, oversaw a similar consolidation while associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois.

“When I came in, I thought it would be worth deciding if [these consolidated] schools would have advantages for CU arts and sciences,” Leigh says. “So we put together a committee of our very best people, these are chairs and directors of programs, departments, and basically we looked at the problem.”

The committee identified several departments that might benefit from consolidation. Leigh says the next step will be to combine CU’s two math departments, mathematics and applied mathematics, into one. He would like to create a statistics department, since statistics is currently taught in 22 different departments. Boonin says he will talk to CU’s multiple foreign language departments to see if they would like to form a single unit within arts and sciences.

The consolidation process might not be pretty, Leigh says. There might be jobs eliminated in the name of efficiency.

“This is going to be controversial. There probably are some staff reductions that we’re going to see,” Leigh says. “We might very well see some overlap across professors and across expertise when we do this. So most likely, that’s going to happen when you have a pretty clear, basic curriculum. So mathematics, biology, chemistry — if we were going to work in those areas, we’d probably find a pretty fair amount of overlap in instructional staff that we could address. So it’s very possible that we could find that. So it’s hard to say. I’m cautious to pitch this as a cost-reducer. It’s cost-neutral. And again, the gain really is in efficiency.”