May 23, 2014

Make art, not bidding wars

Struggle to get into Core art classes needs solution.

As course request wraps up, I’m already anticipating my friends, my peers, and random strangers on the quad all complaining about the same thing: the difficulty of getting into classes that count for the Art, Music, and Drama (AMD) portion of our Core requirements. Unless you were one of those wise first-years blessed with foresight, you’ve likely spent at least one quarter here frantically e-mailing professors and sitting in on too many classes in which you aren’t enrolled.

First, one way to thin the crowd of students bidding for art classes is for the University to take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) credit for art classes and allow some students to test out, similarly to the way they can in math and science Core classes. This would lessen the demand for small art classes, making it easier for those who need the classes to get into them.

Second, allowing more of the classes offered in the visual art, art history, theater and performance Studies, and music departments to count for the Core AMD requirement would increase the supply of classes without requiring the University to spend more money hiring more professors or having current professors work more hours. This also wouldn’t increase class size and hurt the University in the college rankings calculus.

To try to get a better understanding of what it takes to formulate a course catalog that meets the University’s pedagogical and curricular standards, as well as addresses pecuniary and rankings concerns, I contacted Susan Art, the dean of students in the College, and professor Thomas Christensen, the associate dean and master of the Humanities Collegiate Division, asking for interviews/comments on the subject. Art diverted my requests for interviews to Dianna Douglas, the news officer for campus and student life, who took my questions over the phone, presumably forwarding them to Art and Christensen for responses. In particular, I asked what specific factors the University takes into account when putting together the course catalog and presented the alternatives I outlined above.

Through Douglas, I asked Christensen and Art what their reactions would be to my alternatives, and if they thought either alternative would be a valid and productive solution to the difficulty many students find getting into these classes.

I received no direct answers. Douglas did send me a link to the course  description and highlighted a specific section that reiterates that the AMD classes are interdisciplinary and integrated, meaning they shouldn’t be replaced with more advanced courses in the College. Furthermore, the course catalog description goes on to highlight the AMD classes and their liberal arts nature in that they aren’t “specialized introductions to one single field,” but are instead “expressly designed to broadly investigate the arts.”

To that end, my second alternative could potentially violate the University’s vision of the Core if applied to a very specific set of specialized, high-level classes within these departments. But the only response I got at all was a link to the University’s course catalogue site with a specific section highlighted, and I received no answer, direct or indirect, to my first alternative regarding AP and IB courses.

In fact, the AP and IB descriptions of the programs’ art offerings are incredibly similar to the University’s description of the AMD requirement. AP offers six arts-related courses, including art history, which its website describes as a course that aims to “explore major forms of artistic expression including architecture, sculpture, painting and other media from across a variety of cultures.” AP’s website also reiterates that a main goal of its art courses is to “develop [the] ability to articulate visual and art historical concepts in verbal and written form.”

IB offers similar courses in the arts as well, which, according to their website, “foster critical, reflective, and informed practice to help students understand the dynamic and changing nature of the arts…and express themselves with confidence and competence.”

Clearly, AP and IB strive for an interdisciplinary and integrated art curriculum in the same way the University does with the Core, which ultimately teaches students to appreciate, debate, and understand many forms of art across time and cultures.

So why can’t we ease the difficulties of getting into AMD classes by accepting these AP and IB classes as valid alternatives? Surely this would decrease the demand for the classes that count for AMD credit without hurting UChicago’s budget, ranking, or quality of teaching. Furthermore, if the University considered allowing some of its other art offerings, outside of those specialized introductions that would not serve the purpose of the curriculum, to count for the AMD portion of the Core, we would all have a much easier time getting into the classes we need to fulfill the requirements of our UChicago education. Maybe then the endless cycle of art-class angst may finally be brought to an end.

Kevin Matheny is a third-year in the College majoring in economics.