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Management Design Education page 3

 
 

Policies and Practices at Public Universities
The quality of graphic design education is often shaped by institutional policies and practices. In this respect, state universities are the category of schools most in need of review and reform. Even within state university Graphic Design programs there is a range of performance. Some Graphic Design programs rank among the best in the country. In other instances, a few effective programs operate because faculty have learned to circumvent the more restrictive university policies. They do so with the tacit approval of immediate administrators. Even fewer universities go through the process of actually changing policies, curriculum and requirements to provide students with a professional education in Graphic Design. The majority of state university Graphic Design programs are woefully deficient in staff. It is amazing how many try to provide an education in Graphic Design with only one or two full-time faculty members. This is even more surprising because currently, Graphic Design has the largest enrollment of majors of any program in art departments at most universities. Seldom or ever is the number of Graphic Design majors limited by the number of faculty members. Understaffing reduces the scope of programs and number of credits in the major required for graduation. Most two-person faculties provide less than thirty credits in Graphic Design.

In liberal arts programs, it is not only the number of Graphic Design faculty, but also, the criteria for hiring. This is best revealed by position descriptions for openings in Graphic Design. It is not unusual when scanning announcements in the Journal of College Art or the Chronicle of Higher Education to find advertisements for a Graphic Designer to teach design and typography. However, they also are expected to teach one or more of the following, life drawing, watercolor, printmaking, art history or other similar courses. This sends a clear signal that Graphic Design program is not professional at that institution.

These conditions have occurred because of serious misjudgments by state university administrators a number of years ago based on expediency, fiscal efficiency or well intentioned but uninformed decision-making. These decisions now are formidable barriers to rectifying unfortunate actions of the past. For example, over-reliance on graduate students as teachers occurred during the 1950s and 1960s when there was a shortage of qualified instructors. It was believed economically feasible to extend the capacity of the art faculty with minimal outlay of funds, while at the same time, subsidizing the graduate program. With financial conditions in public universities being what they are today, it is difficult if not impossible to replace graduate teaching assistants with the faculty lines which should have been established in the first place. Graduate students should work as teaching assistants but not as teachers. The use of graduate assistants has been badly abused at the expense of both students and educational quality.
Another questionable decision was putting Graphic Design into a liberal arts program. With the liberal arts context, one or two Graphic Design instructors suffice for students to fulfill degree requirements in Graphic Design. There are fewer courses in the major supplemented by a variety of Fine Art and Art History courses leading to a BFA in Art. Now when there is genuine need to upgrade professional programs in Graphic Design, it is extremely difficult to obtain the additional faculty lines and resources.

A third failure is based on the notion that what is good for Fine Arts is good for Graphic Design. While Fine Art courses might enrich and expand education in design, Fine Art courses for Graphic Design majors should be elective rather than required. Administrators tend to equate Fine Arts and Graphic Design, failing to recognize that they have very different educational objectives, requirements and student expectations.
Changes have occurred in both Fine Arts and Graphic Design since the 1950s. The gap between Fine Art and Graphic Design has steadily widened to a point where now they should be considered as two totally separate programs. When it is feasible, design programs would fare better in a College of Architecture. The prevailing view among many art administrators is that there is no reason to change present policies or practices regarding Graphic Design and Fine Arts. Even Fine Art faculty do not want to change the present situation requiring Graphic Design majors to take Fine Art courses. When the majority of students elect to major in Graphic Design, if it were a separate program, there would be less enrollment for Fine Art courses. This could threaten job security for Fine Art teachers. Until there is greater recognition among university administrators that Graphic Design is different from Fine Art, there will be little change in Graphic Design education at many state campuses.

At most public universities, the arts are not well-funded in comparison to other colleges. Universities appear to be more concerned with an image of the arts on campus rather than with instruction in the arts. This is clearly demonstrated by the number of performing arts centers and museums constructed on campuses in recent years. These public facilities require considerable staff and operating budgets which detract from instructional budgets for the arts. At the trustee or regent and presidential decisionmaking levels, image of the arts and public involvement with cultural activities seemingly have priority over instruction in the arts.

An unfortunate attitude exists among many administrators regarding the quality of educational programs. Administrative concern appears to be that courses or programs are listed in the catalog, and especially so, if they are offered at other universities. There is little regard shown for the quality of courses or programs, only that they are made available. It is not obvious whether this reflects a lack of educational integrity among Department Heads, Deans and the Provost, or merely a classic case of administrators being more involved with management than with what they are managing. It is extremely demoralizing to faculty and students who wish to excel.

The lack of funds to properly staff, house and equip a credible Graphic Design program puts administrators into a difficult position even though they might be supportive of change. The prevailing attitude among administrators at public universities is that they must do the best they can with whatever funds are allocated. It is rare for Department Heads, and especially Deans, to actively and persistently seek additional funds, space or faculty lines in order to implement change or improve educational programs.

Some part of administrative reluctance is the bureaucratic nature of public institutions. The tedium of required paperwork, meetings and presentations to petition upper administration for change is a problem that many administrators do not wish to address. The pressure required to bring about change is often interpreted as rocking the boat, and it is carefully avoided by administrators because of possible retaliatory or other negative reactions by higher administration. Consequently, status quo is still the dominant policy in most art departments at state universities.

In a similar vein and perhaps to a greater extent on state campuses than elsewhere, administrators are strangely tolerant of poor teaching or inept leadership. With the current emphasis on management rather educational leadership, Deans and Department Heads are either incapable or unwilling to remove individuals who cannot or do not perform.

Bureaucracy in itself is stultifying to educational goals. It reduces flexibility in educational matters and discourages change. It is the nature of academic bureaucracy to resist change, while educational programs must continuously evolve to stay current with expanding knowledge, new technology, national interests and shifting social values. Adding courses or changing degree requirements normally takes three to five years to move through channels and be approved. In most cases, it takes even longer. Exceptions are colleges with outside accreditation such as Architecture, Medicine or Law. Another exception is programs generating significant grant income for the university. In both instances, changes might occur within one year. Industrial and government research at universities has become a significant factor in disbursement of institutional funds. The pattern has been to make larger allocations to colleges and departments that generate the greatest amount of income. Faculty salaries are higher and there is more generous assignment of space and technical facilities. This disproportionate allocation of resources usually is at the expense of the humanities which include art and design.


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