The Problem with Few Solutions: The Struggle to Get Into Art Classes at Stern

By: Emily Goldberg  |  December 18, 2023

By Emily Goldberg, Publication Manager and Layout Editor 

Art majors at Stern are having a difficult time getting into their required courses. This has a major impact on their schedules and can make it even more difficult to graduate on time than it already is. Students and faculty have tried countless times to navigate these difficulties, but every solution comes with its own setbacks.  

In order to graduate with a Studio Art degree at Stern, students need to take three foundational classes as part of their curriculum: Principles of Design, Principles of Drawing, and Beginning Painting. Currently, these classes are offered once a year, the first two in the fall semester and the last in the spring semester. Studio Art majors are also required to take 21+ credits in Studio Art Electives for their major. 

A document obtained from the Office of Academic Advisement at Yeshiva University advises that “foundation courses should be taken early in the sequence (preferably the first 3 semesters on campus), and are intended as pre-requisites for both [Stern College for Women] and [Fashion Institute of Technology] intermediate and advanced level electives.” 

An issue arises due to the fact that a majority of Yeshiva University students are only on YU’s New York campus for three academic years. “The idea is that the foundational courses are foundation[al] and then your elective courses build on top of that, but, we are not a four-year BFA degree where we can require everybody to take a year of these classes and then go into the areas of specialization, so we’ve tried to make the curriculum flexible considering these circumstances,” said Professor Traci Tullius, Department Chair of the Studio Art Department at Stern College for Women. 

One afternoon, while students gathered in an art studio drafting drawings for their 3D Design course, a student majoring in Studio Art stormed into the classroom, clearly frustrated. As she sat down to work on her project, she exclaimed that getting into her required classes “was a complete mess,” explaining, “I couldn’t even get into those classes in my junior year which is problematic to begin with.” Now, she is a senior with no other option but to take the foundation classes in the upcoming two semesters before she graduates at the end of the year. 

Unfortunately, this scene is not uncommon on the art floor at Yeshiva University. Many art students not only struggle to get into their required classes, but are ultimately forced to jump unprepared into the elective courses without having taken the foundational classes first. This art student, who wishes to remain anonymous, described such an experience, stating that it was “stress provoking and caused a little bit of nervousness,” because when one is “unsure about the unknown,” they question themselves and may not even have the skills required to complete the projects in the higher level classes. “It was kind of like a self-taught process,” said the student. “I was holding a paintbrush for the first time in a really long time in an advanced painting class, and I was like, where do I start, what do I do?” 

Professor Tullius emphasized that these classes are not prerequisites for most of the art electives, except for intermediate computer design, drawing, and painting classes, precisely because students commonly struggle to get into them in their first years on campus. “If you get closed out of drawing or painting…you are not at a disadvantage.” 

Many art students feel disregarded as they are constantly told by numerous offices at Yeshiva University that they are not considered a priority for getting into these classes. “It’s a little confusing,” explained the art student. “In any other major, there is no such thing,” as not getting precedence for your required classes. “If you need to take bio, you’re gonna be in bio,” she exclaimed. “That’s just how it is.” Although she tries her best to avoid doing so, Prof. Tullius noted that first time on campus students inevitably sometimes have to be told, “if you will be able to take the class the following fall, then just wait.” 

Prof. Tullius appears to have exhausted every possible option to try and combat this issue. “There’s two limitations that we struggle with: time and space.” The Studio Art Department at Stern used to comprise the entirety of the eighth floor in Yeshiva University’s 215 Lexington Avenue building. However, right before COVID-19, in the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters, a significant portion of that floor was taken from the Art Department and renovated, and now belongs to the Katz School of Science and Health’s Masters Program in Cybersecurity. 

That space used to include a media lab, space for the Broadcast Journalism class, a studio for electives, and senior project workspace. The Art Department “fought that in every way that [they] possibly could” to keep the space but were unsuccessful. “It definitely makes an already existing problem have fewer solutions because we don’t have anywhere to expand physically,” continued Prof. Tullius.  

Multiple requests have been made for the department to offer the foundation classes every semester. However, according to Prof. Tullius, even when the Art Department had the space, the classes “did not fill,” and now, with the decrease in size, the department does not physically have a space to put these classes every semester. 

In addition, many of the already limited spots are being taken up by other students not majoring in art who want to take these courses simply out of interest. “What they don’t realize is that they are taking the spots of people that actually need to graduate with these requirements,” related the art student. Registration at Yeshiva University is based on a seniority system, and students register for classes based on how many credits they have. “I have been told by Academic Advising and the Dean’s office that basically there is no way to limit registration to just majors or let the majors register first because of the way that registration works here,” explained Prof. Tullius.  

Some have also proposed offering these classes twice in their respective semesters, one section for art majors and minors and one for other students. But, because of the studio reduction, “we physically don’t have enough space to offer more than one section,” said Prof. Tullius.  

The student majoring in studio art is not a proponent of this solution. “I don’t know how much I would advocate for that idea, just because I think it is interesting to have people of different levels and different backgrounds all in one class” who “will motivate one another.” She continued, “I think that’s one thing that the Art Department really does have down pat where it’s not competitive here, and in other majors it’s very competitive…In the Art Department, everyone just wants you to succeed and everyone just wants to do well.”

Expanding the number of spots in these classes is also off the table for Prof. Tullius. “If we crammed more students into the studio, which again, causes its own safety issues, there is also just not enough instructional time, and then students are struggling because they are not getting the hands-on guidance from the instructor.” 

The Art Department faculty has worked creatively to try to address these obstacles, including at one point requiring a lab for drawing and painting classes to deter non-majors from taking the courses. However, this solution caused more scheduling problems than it solved. At the end of the day, Prof. Tullius reassured that “no one is going to not graduate because they didn’t get into” one of their required classes. 

Ultimately, each solution also comes with its challenges. “It’s not that we aren’t aware of the issue, and it’s not that I am diminishing the frustration of the students,” stressed Prof. Tullius. “The best I can do to help remedy the situation is to on a case by case basis help the students who are having problems getting into those classes and make sure that they understand that it’s gonna be okay.” She continued, “We do a lot with what we have. I wish we could do more.”