Arts, sciences collaboration must continue

There has been an ongoing drop in creative arts participation at Vassar and a nationwide increase in students choosing to major in the sciences rather than the humanities and arts.

According to Vassar’s 2013/14 Factbook, biology has seen the most growth as a major, while film, art and classics have seen some of the biggest losses in their respective number of majors. However, with the help of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Vassar is currently attempting to integrate the arts into other fields of study.

At the beginning of this year, a faculty steering committee was created in order to direct the funding. The committee is composed of faculty members from each creative arts department, as well as other departments, including physics, through Professor Cindy Schwarz, and anthropology, through Associate Dean of Strategic Planning and Professor Thomas Porcello. With the $750,000 grant, the committee established The Creative Arts Across Disciplines initiative and hired a consultant to head the program for three years.

This initiative aims to encourage collaboration in art between departments that might not otherwise incorporate this aspect into their curricula. The grant also aims to provide programming, support the development of new curriculum, and visiting residencies of artists and scholars each year, corresponding to a specific theme; this year’s theme is “Vision.”

Despite the good intentions of this initiative, we at The Miscellany News assert that more action is needed in order to truly establish a symbiotic relationship between the arts and the sciences here at Vassar. The College’s push to enhance its science programs, including but not limited to its construction of the new, state-of-the-art Integrated Science Center, will both strengthen the education of existing students of the sciences as well as draw in more applicants with an interest in the sciences.

At the same time, however, many art classes at Vassar are capped at 13 students due to underfunding and understaffing. Due to the prioritization of the enrollment of students with majors or correlates in the arts in these classes, it is difficult for students with interests across disciplines to take an arts class and diversify their academic experiences.

While it is true that space is also currently restricted in many laboratory science courses, the new building is expected to relieve that pressure. Yet, constrictions in the studio arts will remain, unless funds are allocated for new spaces and more staff.

Despite the substantial amount of money provided by donors for the construction of the new science center, there is a pattern of underfunding across many academic departments, including the multidisciplinary programs. These programs already reach across disciplines, and we at the Miscellany News believe that further funding in this area could organically create connections between the more-funded science departments and comparatively less-funded programs, such as some in the arts and humanities.

We suggest that the College take the next step when considering provisions for the various departments and provide funding to bolster departments that do not currently receive adequate funds. This would give students further opportunities to branch their academic interests in directions to which they might not have had access previously.

Beyond funding, real thought and work needs to be done to allow both the sciences and the arts to have a truly communicative relationship—one that embodies the balance of the liberal arts and enriches learning on both sides. The sciences and the arts should both be a part of students’ lives. The developing science quad, or area near the new science “bridge,” isolates students in the sciences from interacting with arts students and reflects the lack of connection between the two disciplines at Vassar.

While programs like The Creative Arts Across Disciplines initiative will particularly contribute to the extracurricular experiences of students at Vassar with events such as lectures by visiting artists, we at the Miscellany News feel that without further efforts and programs, the disciplines will only move farther apart in students’ academic lives.

A liberal arts education is built on a balance, a symbiotic relationship between arts and sciences. Therefore, these sets of ideas should be in conversation with each other. Building spaces for creative arts in addition to sciences on campus would be a start, but not a solution.

In light of The Creative Arts Across Disciplines initiative, we support an attempt to emphasize the creative arts in response to a larger trend of a push for natural sciences. Further, reduction of humanities faculty must cease if the sciences at Vassar will continue to expand; otherwise, the balance of a broad liberal arts education will only continue to be threatened.

We at The Miscellany News advocate greater cooperation between the arts and sciences at Vassar. We urge students to participate in multiple disciplines, and ask the faculty and administration to foster more interdisciplinary programs like The Creative Arts Across Disciplines initiative. It is too easy to separate the disciplines into different buildings and, later, into different spheres of students’ lives; we don’t want this over-specialization to change the Vassar experience.

While this creative arts initiative represents the arts reaching out to the sciences, we would like to see more partnership between all disciplines in order to uphold the Vassar tradition of a holistic education.

 

—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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