Students and Faculty Troubled by Art Floor Reallocation, Administrative Indifference

By: Sarah Ben-Nun and Molly Meisels  |  February 28, 2020
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By Sarah Ben-Nun and Molly Meisels

An administrative decision to dedicate space to Yeshiva University’s Katz School of Science and Health’s MS program in cybersecurity will leave Stern College for Women’s art department short half of their floor.

The proposed plan cuts out the left wing of the floor, which includes the video and computer labs, a multifunctional greenscreen and studio room, and office space. This would effectively leave the department without the necessary technologies to fulfill student major requirements effectively. 

“The future of art is taking more of a turn towards digital and graphic design,” said art student Rocky Pincus, SCW ‘20. In order to be competitive in the job market, she explained, students need to have access to technologies. “They’re planning on taking all of the technology away from the art department, which is counterproductive if they want to have an art department, because once you get rid of these technology mediums, I don’t think we’re going to be able to compete with bigger art schools; I don’t see why anybody who’s serious about art would want to come here without these labs.” 

On Wednesday, February 26, Traci Tullius, chair of the SCW art department, met with 12 undergraduate students for an informative meeting. Tullius began by sharing how “convoluted” and “not straightforward” the process has been. 

Many of these students are part of a WhatsApp group titled “Save the art department.” The group was started by art major Basya Goldstein, SCW ‘21, on Thursday, February 20, after Tullius informed art student Tamar Ciment, SCW ‘20, of the floor allocation that same day. The WhatsApp group is an effort by Goldstein to rally and consolidate student efforts in light of the decision to split the floor. 

Fall 2019 

Administrative figures, including Dean Karen Bacon, Provost Selma Botman, and Randy Apfelbaum, YU’s Chief Facilities and Administrative Officer, have been considering this decision since the start of the Fall 2019 semester. 

Tullius’ understanding is that the Katz School requested a computer lab, classroom, and ancillary space (a lounge area) for their cybersecurity program and that YU Facilities decided to allocate art floor space to fulfill the Katz School’s request. 

Tullius first discovered that there might be changes to the art floor on November 5, 2019, when she received questions via email from administrative figures about the importance of the art department’s computer lab, because cybersecurity wanted that space. “They originally asked us if the computer lab can be moved off the eighth floor.” In addition to being a classroom and a working lab, she explained, “all the other classes [for the most part] use that lab somehow on a daily basis.” 

Before the initial computer lab inquiry, Tullius discovered Apfelbaum leading individuals around the art floor with clipboards and measuring tape, and they did not disclose what they were there for when asked directly. Art students confirmed seeing them peruse the floor. Sophie Gordon, SCW ‘20, recalled being interrupted from her senior project by “bangings on the door.” The group that came in were looking at the room’s facilities. “They just came in, speaking amongst themselves – it was very strange.” Another student, Chavy Bluman, SCW ‘20, corroborated seeing them, emphasizing that they did not offer an explanation as to why they were there. 

“No art floor? No art.” Art students cover artwork throughout Beren Campus to protest the art floor reallocation.

Photo Credit: YU Observer

In response to the administrative request, Mary Creede, the art department’s second full-time professor, and Tullius, tried to steer the administration toward room 810, in an effort to keep their computer lab – which was now in jeopardy. Room 810 holds a greenscreen backdrop, serves as a studio space for large projects, and is also used for storage and supplies. “Losing that room would’ve been a preferable alternative,” said Tullius. “Classes are not normally held there, so it wouldn’t have been as big a deal to lose it. The loss of 810 would drastically reduce our work and storage space, but it would not disrupt everyday instructional functionality as drastically as the loss of the graphics lab.” 

This counter-plan was suggested to Dean Bacon, who – according to Tullius –  was supportive of it. Tullius and Creede set up a meeting with Botman, Bacon, and Apfelbaum, which was eventually cancelled and rescheduled for the day before Thanksgiving. Since Tullius and Creede could not make it, Bacon argued their case for them during the meeting. 

Tullius claimed that she did not hear any updates for the rest of the semester. At the start of the Spring 2020 semester, she noticed Apfelbaum on the eighth floor again, this time taking a detailed look at the entirety of the art department. As of the time of publication, Apfelbaum did not respond to the YU Observer’s request for comment. 

Spring 2020 

After discovering that YU Facilities was going ahead with the renovations, Tullius was in contact with Apfelbaum, who allegedly did not provide her with information, but told her he’ll have floor plans to her by the end of the week. “When they sent the drawings to Mary and I, it was my worst nightmare,” said Tullius. “They’re not taking one room, they’re taking half of the floor.” 

According to the newly drawn floor plans, the computer room, video and photography lab, room 810, and Tullius’ office, which comprises most of the left wing of the eighth floor, will go to the cybersecurity department. The space will be divided into a classroom, lab, lounge, and pantry. The plan is to sequester the floor to separate the graduate cybersecurity space from the undergraduate art space. 

The floor plan drawings also include changes to the art space that remains. An area that is now used as a collaborative space for critiques, projects, and sinks for washing brushes, will be turned into a computer lab for the art department. This lab would be smaller than the current one and would not fit the 12 desks it currently holds. 

Additionally, a video and photography lab will be fashioned from the current storage area. Tullius stated that this area will be too small to conduct classes for the same amount of students she does now. 

According to Tullius, at some point in the 1990s, the floor was renovated and designed to house the art department. “If we lose space, it can’t be recreated elsewhere. I’ve been here since 2005,” shared Tullius. “Our capabilities and group of students have grown every year due to the flexibility of the eighth floor. We are developing into the digital areas, such as graphic design and video. I would love to keep expanding that. But once we lose that space, I doubt we could ever get it back.” Provost Botman, who is involved in the decision-making, commented: “Universities are collective enterprises where spaces are shared and used for a variety of purposes. We are working with both the Art Department and the Katz School to provide sites that accommodate both programs.” 

Tullius told the YU Observer that the entire process has “lacked transparency,” leading her and Creede to strategize based on reactions to administrative decisions — instead of collaborating with them. 

As of the time of publication, Tullius and Creede have countered the floor plan with suggestions of their own. They are requesting that the computer lab be left for the art department and the rest of the space go to cybersecurity. The suggestion was positively received, but they have yet to receive changes to the original floor plan. Tullius informed her students that she’s done as much as she can and that renovations will begin this summer. Tullius shared, “We’ve come up with an alternative plan that is flexible and collaborative and helps soften the blow compared to what was originally proposed, but it’s not a vacant apartment they’re taking over. This is constantly used instructional space. At this stage, I’ve done as much as I can. I’ve voiced my objections.”

Student Response

Students have begun voicing objections of their own. “I’ve never been part of a program where the professors were so personally invested in the success of their students,” shared Atara Sragow, SCW ‘21. “We already utilized every inch of the space that has been allotted to us and stretched every penny of the limited funds we’re given. Our teachers put their everything into what we have, and to take it away — any of that would be devastating.” 

On Thursday, February 27, approximately 20 art students in the “Save the art department” group sent a letter to Senior Vice President Josh Joseph about their concerns, and a request to meet with him in person. “Collectively, we believe in the [art] department, and its faculty have done everything in their power to give the art students a beneficial experience to help prepare us for the competitive field we are entering,” they wrote. “[…] It would be irresponsible and dishonest to market a full time art program for incoming students if you are not going to provide the proper facilities.” They stressed how upsetting this remodeling is for them — how they feel “cheated as students who pay an exorbitant amount of money to attend this university.”

“It’s not a vacant apartment they’re taking over.” Flyers put up by art students throughout the Beren Campus buildings.

Photo credit: Chanie Tropper, SCW ‘21

Aside from working with the administration, these students are advocating on behalf of the art department by covering up art throughout Beren Campus buildings, and placing signs that read, “No art floor? No art” on top of the covered art works, along with flyers describing the floor allocation. 

“This was not thought through,” said Pincus. “If they’d consulted with the art department — spoken with any of the students — they would’ve known how ridiculous, impractical and impossible those changes are. Any one of us could’ve told them that it’s a bad idea.” Added Shayna Weiss, SCW ‘20, “We’re not going down without a fight.” 

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Header Photo: Artwork covered up by students to protest the art floor reallocation. 

Photo Source: YU Observer

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