If you came to Kansas University to study art, music, theater, film or industrial design, there’s also a good chance lately you’ll be learning how to play musical chairs.
As of July 1, all the departments within those fields are experiencing a significant shift in academic organization.
Two new schools have been created to replace the defunct School of Fine Arts. From now on, a School of the Arts and School of Music will comprise the lion’s share of the previous fine arts program.
“We have tried to reassure the students that their education will not immediately change,” said Liz Kowalchuk, associate dean in the new School of the Arts.
Kowalchuk said the impetus for such a sea of change came during a quest last year to fill the vacated position of the dean of the School of Fine Arts.
“We made a recommendation to not hire any of the candidates,” said Kowalchuk, who was part of the search committee. “Then the provost asked us to stay on as a committee and look at if there was anything about the structure of the School of Fine Arts that may have contributed to the difficulty of finding someone to be the dean. Although the committee felt there wasn’t a relationship necessarily between the structure and the failed search, there were structural areas that needed to be addressed.”
After talking with students, faculty, alumni and outside professionals, the consensus was that reorganization was needed for all the artistic disciplines to thrive.
“There were some areas, like music, that were very vocal and united,” Kowalchuk said. “Some of the areas expressed interest in being in one configuration instead of another. An example of that was industrial design, which was very interested in being more strongly connected to architecture.”
As part of the plan, the old School of Fine Arts becomes the School of Music. The department of theatre and film, department of art and a freshly created department of dance comprise the School of the Arts.
The department of design will join the School of Architecture and Urban Planning. (Several programs within the old design setup transfer to the art department, including ceramics, metalsmithing and jewelry, scenography, textile design, theatre design and visual arts education.)
The new format offers several advantages, said Danny Anderson, interim provost and executive vice chancellor.
“The School of Music will enable students and faculty to focus on their field of study and will give it a stand-alone identity similar to comparable programs at peer institutions,” Anderson said. “By creating a School of the Arts in the largest academic unit at KU, more students will have an opportunity to take fine arts classes as part of their education, and there will be greater collaboration with other academic fields.
“Finally, the incorporation of the department of design into the School of Architecture ... recognizes the close working relationship these fields have in the work force.”
Kowalchuk added that the School of the Arts now offers more opportunity for students to interact with other majors within the college in a way they didn’t before. It also provides greater access to the arts for students all across campus, she said.
The reorganization requires no additional funding, and it doesn’t presage any reductions in staffing.
The administration claims that, so far, it has received virtually no complaints from students about the fresh structure.
“The main question we got from students was how this would impact their degree programs,” Anderson said. “For current students, there will be no impact — their degree programs will continue as planned. For new students, they’ll have the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits that will result from this reorganization, regardless of which artistic field of study they pursue.”
It’s hardly uncommon for universities the size of KU to feature a School of the Arts. However, Texas Tech is the only other Big 12 school that currently has a comparable college.
“In these economic times, with the challenges universities face, we’re going to see some more consolidation like this,” Kowalchuk said. “But we need to look at it as a real opportunity. ... We’re really lucky to be able to think about what the arts mean at the beginning of the 21st century, and to have the opportunity to make changes.”