Open Letter from Kelsey Stephenson (Bachelor of Design, Printmaking Route, 2011)

Dear Dean Cormack, Robin Cowan, President Samarasekera, and Minister Lukaszuk,

I am writing today with grave concerns as an alumnus of the University of Alberta in one of the areas affected by the unnecessary cuts. I cannot speak as much to the BA programs and other sections that were cut (though I do wonder at the wisdom of cutting something like Ukrainian in a city that has a fairly large population of Ukrainian decent, or of removing a large section of languages and studies in areas where we have increased immigration). I question how much money this actually saves, or if it is an ill-advised attempt to appease the advanced Education minister by offering up a selection of arts courses that were dropped. If we had a properly managed revenue base in this province, we might not be in this position at all, which is what makes it so tragic.

I would like to bring to your attention the two design program routes that were dropped. I don’t know the numbers that were mentioned in the reasoning behind the decision for those routes and the other courses in design (though if you have those statistics to forward and can release the info, I would be quite interested), but I would like to make you aware of the concerns such an action raises in me, and a number of other alumni in and outside the print community I have talked with.

I find it interesting, though, that the phrasing was “less than 10 majors enrolled”; not a word about the actual class size or enrolment of people who either needed the credit in other majors that were related, or a mention of the large portion who, while not a printmaking major, might as well have been one; there were a few of those. I was one of these students, and have gone on to study an MFA in Printmaking this year at the University of Tennessee, one of the top three schools in the States for Printmaking, with another U of A alumni in Printmaking a year ahead of me, and a former U of A graduate student a professor there. Without going through the program and the experiences I did, I would not be where I am today. With the loss of this program, those students who go to the U of A after me will no longer have the options open to them that I have had, or opportunities for success.

From what I remember as a student even three years ago, the classes that set apart the Printmaking route were usually only up to about 10 students in a single time block. This 10 included BFA, BDes of more than one route, and both 400- and 500- level students from each degree. On paper, I know it was four classes that were held in the same time block for a total of 10 students; each of those classes technically had only one to five students registered even though there were 12 in the room. I also know that there was always, usually starting only a few days to even a day after registration opened, a waiting list to get in. There were only two classes of 18 each admitted to the BDes / BFA program as incoming students to start with in my first year, and those numbers don’t change too much year to year. It isn’t a large program because it is a highly competitive program with few spots available; due to the nature of the subject matter, it is both desirable and necessary to have a small class size. A small number does not indicate lack of interest, it indicates a high standard and the ability to choose only the best students out the larger pool of applicants. Knowing this information, I know that, yes, it is likely that less than 10 majors took the class consistently — but what is not mentioned or taken into account in the media release is the other information I have described above which explains and gives those numbers context and meaning.

One of the University of Alberta’s goals has been for the past few years to “[become] one of the Top 20 public universities in the world by 2020.” It’s an admirable goal, though not necessarily achievable given current conditions and a lack of support or understanding by the shortsighted people in the legislature. That does not mean we should give up; we should still try, and cutting away programs like this will irrevocably damage the university and larger community in many ways not at first apparent.

What really puzzles me is why the University is throwing away the progress that has been made in Printmaking, especially given that the links between design and printmaking are one of the factors contributing to success. We are already one of the top universities in Canada for print. We are one of the top in North America – we have a very good reputation and are quite well known. When I was applying for an MFA in the States, everyone knew and respected greatly our print program. Our grad students come from very prestigious programs all over the world to Alberta study because they know it is a good program. Given the current feeling and lack of regard at home for the program, how soon do you think all that progress will disappear? While Lukaszuk may be content to turn the U of A into the equivalent of a student puppy-mill, churning out degrees for the oil giants up north, that is not a vision that anyone on campus should want to be a part of. A university is not a factory to turn people into oil workers, nor should we think that way. Courses should not be offered based on government dictatorship, but on diversity in courses offered; a degree offers freedom to innovate and explore, not a cookie-cutter approach. If we remove diversity and unique programs from campus, we lose an essential part of the education that will be so important for students in future.

I’m especially glad that I am studying abroad, given what is happening at home – I’ve been keeping track of the devastation with horror. I might add that this sentiment is shared by the print community in Knoxville, many of whom have never been to Edmonton, but who know people within the community, or know of our reputation, as they and I watch a program they know about start to fall apart for no good reason. This decision does not just affect Edmonton – it carries direct repercussions elsewhere. If this continues, and in a few years time I finish my MFA degree – I’m not sure that I want to come back to what was a vibrant community on leaving. Edmonton’s larger print community will be severely impacted in some ways if the University program is cut into, as there is a lot of come and go between them. Why would I want come back to a place so inhospitable to printmaking and the arts? Why would other people come back? The print community in Tennessee will know what’s happened; their grads will not be told about our program here, nor will it be pushed as a good option for study in other places in the States or elsewhere. New Alberta grads will move away, or there simply will be no new grads, as people move elsewhere to study at the undergraduate level. Edmonton, and Alberta, will lose something very important to the fabric of our city because of this.

I ask you to please reconsider the damage this will do to printmaking, and to the Bachelor of Design degree in removing this route from the curriculum. Not only will it negatively impact both Design and Printmaking students, it will cascade into the quality and reputation of the program overall, and affect areas outside the University community. Let’s not let Lukaszuk destroy in a year what took decades to build.

Kelsey Stephenson,

BDes, with an emphasis on Printmaking

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