In the spring of 2019, Greenville University discreetly removed the Art Major from the academics website. This cut came as a surprise for many, including professors in the department and the students within the major. In an interview with Brian Hartley, the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Community Life, as well as Jacob Amundson, the Chair of the Art Department, they were able to answer some burning questions that have come up from professors and students about the recent removal of the Art Major.
There was a wave of events that led to the removal of the program. Dr. Hartley discussed several reasons for the decision to cut the Art major. His main reasoning was this. “Two things happened last spring that precipitated this move. The first was that, after about 3 years, even though there was market demand for Computer Information Systems, we had not been able to find a really quality instructor to carry that program, so we [including Deloy Cole] decided to delete the CIS program over time and to focus on Digital Media. The second piece that really pushed this issue forward was I received on the 3rd of April, a written piece from professor Lisa Sharpe indicating she would not be returning to campus, a professor who taught in the Digital Media program.”
Due to these changes in late spring, Dr. Hartley pointed out that it was a timing issue in terms of getting ready for the following year. He knew we would need a new professor in the Digital Media program, and to resolve this issue he “knew that we [currently] had a faculty member in Art, [Jacob Amundson], who was also professionally qualified to teach in Digital Media.” Dr. Hartley said, “I didn’t feel comfortable going out and hiring someone that I might not be able [to] renew their contract for the next year.” This is why Amundson transitioned from teaching Art to Digital Media. Hartley personally emphasized that many people were included prior to the final decision. “In May, I had [a] series of 5 meetings in which I was either with the Art professor, [Amundson], or the dean over the area or sometimes with both of them.”
When interviewed, Professor Amundson expressed his disappointment with the elimination of the Art program. “It was one of the original majors when the university opened, [it has] at least a 127-year history. It’s frustrating and disappointing and played a big part in my formation and who I am today.” Not all hope is lost though; the Art Minor is still currently being offered and any students who have declared an Art Major has the ability to finish it.
“I know that the art department is not drawing in a lot of money, so I know there are decisions that have to be made about the financial viability of programs here and Art fell outside of those parameters.”
Amundson went on to express his frustrations with the communication process that led to cutting the Art program and how he was not included in the processes or discussions with Dr. Hartley until after the cuts were made. According to Amundson, “There wasn’t really a process to the elimination, at least not the process prescribed for this situation.” He went on to say, “Maggie [Tarr] is an alum who is highly qualified and has been able to step in the past couple years to fill a number of voids in the department and so we had come up with a solution as Deloy [Cole] would continue with the reduction of CIS, [and I] fortunately have the skills and knowledge to be able to slide in and fill a couple of those [Digital Media] classes.” Amundson feels that the university had the ability to continue the Art Major with the leadership of Professor Tarr. The changes coming to course offerings in the future are still unknown, but it will depend on how things work out.
While Dr. Hartley stated, “Jake Amundson was included in communication prior to the final decision to end the Art Major,” it seems there was a disagreement in how things really went down in those meetings before or after the elimination of the Art Major.
When asked how Amundson thought alumni would react, he said, “It will come as a shock to a lot of them and I am anticipating they will be upset and they are going to want answers and that we will process this together.” It’s clear that this situation is personal for Professor Amundson. “Greenville University [is] very important to me and I think it has impacted a lot of people. The mentorship I received through the department transformed my life in the way that our mission statement says it should. I experienced that through the lens of Art as did a number of our alumni so they will feel the same loss.”
There is one main thing Amundson wants students to understand. “We deeply care about them and their future. I am looking for ways to support them and the program. GU historically cares deeply about our artists and really wants to support them. I want to amend for any way [we] failed them and decipher whatever was missing from the equation to figure out what it looks like for creatives after these changes.”