Art history major to be removed from curricula

After the 2018 spring semester, the art history major will cease to exist at Allegheny College.

In preparation for the decrease of high school graduates nationally, the college has decided to cut art history from the college’s catalogue. As the major disappears, the college will also be losing two professors of art history, Amelia Carr and Richard Schindler.

“The idea was the college should be smaller, and a lot was paired down so I’m not surprised we’re losing art history,” Carr said. “The school could have decided to replace professors and they did not.”

Over the summer, Allegheny hosted a study group that created a strategic plan of action which explained the best path the college should set itself on for success in the future. Part of the study was deciding what majors would be useful going forward and what would not be, according to Carr.  Along with a campus wide study, the art history department did a study of their own where they discovered that for the past 30 years they have consistently had four to five majors.

Not only at Allegheny, but nationally, humanities majors are being reduced because it is not seen as a direct line to a job, according to Carr. Why the United States no longer seems interested in humanities is a big issue for her, Carr said. Art history helps with critical thinking, creates a major global awareness and helps people understand other cultures, according to Carr. As the U.S. starts to shift towards a more business focus, Carr sees the nation missing a big opportunity and the loss of a common language.

“If you travel in the world, what people are proud of is what their cultures have done, have made, the architectures they have built, the beauty of their art, the creativity of their people,” Carr said. “The literature, the music, that’s what connects you to people and that’s what has a common language, but somehow that’s not seen as important as learning how to read a budget sheet so you can interact with people economically.”

Students at Allegheny have never favored the art history major and Carr does not think they will in the future. The art history department is incredibly small compared to others which has created difficulties for the students who are interested in it. Art history does not cover the variety of topics a student needs because the professors have a Eurocentric focus, Carr said. However, they do lecture on African, Indian and Chinese art, according to Carr. Professors who specialize in non-Western areas were never brought in.

As small as the major may be, all art students are required to take certain art history classes in order to graduate, according to Schindler.  With both professors retiring, there will no longer be any art history classes offered.

“It’s a ridiculous concept to have an art department without an art history major especially in an art environment,” Schindler said. “When I announced I was going to retire two years ago, I thought there would be a search for a new art historian and that didn’t happen.”

Along with Schindler’s plan to retire, Professor Carr decided to take the retirement package offered by the college.

“I’m taking it as an early retirement,” Carr said. “It carries through two years which is almost to the date that I was planning on retiring.”

Carr saw the loss of the art history major as a natural time to call it quits. As a retired professor, she still plans on helping the juniors who have declared art history as a major and will be teaching Art 110 and 111 next semester.

Travis Turner, ’19, is one of the last art history majors at Allegheny and said he feels this decision minimizes the importance of art history in the modern world.

“Art historians are needed across the U.S. because it’s still being run by old heads,” Turner said. “A lot of young kids are coming in to be museum curators, but art history as a major might die.”

When he graduates, Turner said he wants to be able to donate to the areas of the college that have had an impact on him. Without an art history major, he does not feel this will be possible.

“I want to support Allegheny students, but I feel like I lost what would be an ancestry or a posterity,” Turner said. “I won’t have an opportunity to donate to the students who are walking in my footsteps.”

For his senior project, Turner plans on doing preservation work in Reis Hall to talk about, discuss and record the building to get a general understanding of the spaces. There is a history of the building and a lot of ways to preserve its original state, according to Turner. By preserving it, Turner hopes to have Reis added on to the National Register of Historical Places.

A new art curriculum is currently being worked out by faculty, but they are unsure how the curriculum will be handled with fewer professors. Classes offering courses concerning art will still be available, and students can continue to use art as a creative outlet. Due to the small amount of students attending Allegheny, and the small amount who are interested in art, Schindler does not see the classes lost being replaced.

“Someone once said to me that it’s true, art is the icing on the cake, but who eats cake without icing and who wants to live a life without art in it,” Carr said. “Most of my students have not gone on to art history careers, but they have never not used the art history. They have to put together a life they want, and I’m sorry we can no longer provide that.”