Photo grads walk out

By Charles Ratliff

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The status of the UA's art photography program is not what one would call picture perfect. As a matter of fact, the graduate program is not exactly a graduate program anymore, since most of the students have walked away, deciding instead to attend other colleges.

Six of the eight graduate students said they are not returning this fall even if the photography faculty resolve disputed issues that have plagued the program since last year.

The students complained that members of the photography faculty have gone back on their word to resolve these issues.

These are problems, second-year photography graduate student Erika DeVries said, that they had agreed to change, such as how many faculty members are supposed to be on the students' thesis review committees and the fair and equitable distribution of teaching assistantships and studio space.

And because of that, DeVries said she is moving to Illinois to attend the Art Institute in Chicago for this next year.

"We didn't come here to fight a battle," DeVries said. "We didn't come here to change the department. But instead, all of our efforts went to these power struggles that have gone on."

Last spring, she said the graduate students in the program organized a formal complaint revolving around issues they say the department failed to resolve.

Nelson Santos, who also said he will be attending the Art Institute in Chicago this year, said that the graduate students had all been under the impression that they would receive teaching assistantships, studio space and scholarships if they applied and were accepted to the program at the UA.

"But, when we got here those items didn't occur. It was mostly the way studios and TAships were distributed," Santos said.

"I was led to believe that I would get one or the other," he said. "But with the amount of the people in the program it wasn't possible. The studio assignments were supposed to rotate. The people who did receive the studios and the TAships were told they would keep these things for the whole three years."

Santos said that there are two studios for each full-time faculty member, for a total of six studios in the photo department. With nine students last year (one since graduated) some students ended up sharing space.

"We have had to work on an equitable system in distributing those," Harold Jones, photography professor and program director, said. "We let them know the criteria in November. Ninety percent was quality of work."

"We let them know again in February and one more time in March, two weeks before the April 7 reviews," he said.

"Before that time I have never heard of any problems," Jones said. "We tried to give everyone something but everyone who was doing the best got the teaching assistantships and studios."

Second-year photography graduate student Gary Lim said he was promised TAships, tuition waivers and studio space for the duration of his three years at the UA.

"But, when I got here they told me they didn't have enough scholarships, enough studio space, and that they would be doing reviews every year," he said. "They made the same promises to all the graduate students."

And if that was not enough, Lim said he was then told the department would conduct reviews not every year as previously stated, but every semester.

"As a foreign student," Lim said, "if you take away my scholarship for one semester then give it back to me the next semester, it's impossible for me to work under these conditions. I do not have family in the States I can rely on to help me pay my bills."

Photography students are supposed to have the studios for one year. However, at the end of the fall semester last year, Santos said Jones decided that the studios would rotate every semester.

Santos said he feels that such a situation doesn't produce a safe environment for him to work freely in. So, Santos said he arranged a studio outside of the art department. He said he finally ended up sharing the studio with two other graduate students.

DeVries said the graduate students who had been awarded teaching assistantships received memos, which Jones called "letters of offer," stating that they would have to adhere to Jones' strict syllabus for each of the classes. DeVries said if the graduate students faltered by one day they would then be removed and an adjunct would teach the class.

Jones said the letter is an agreement and was adopted word-for-word from letters of offer written by other departments such as foundations (beginning drawing/color) and ceramics.

"I wanted to make sure everything was clear," he said. "Yes, I'm responsible for the classes and the students. We have the best beginning classes in the country I don't apologize for that."

Scott Hopkins, one of the remaining graduate students said that part of the reason he is staying is that he is doing a lot of work with computers outside of the art department. But, even so, he said he felt there are problems within the program that need to be resolved.

"It's just a simple thing to do to make our lives a little better, but no one is interested in doing anything."

"When the faculty has its problems then our needs as students are not met," Hopkins said.

So, on July 27, the students who have elected to not return this fall went into the office of the interim head of the art department, Andy Polk, and declared they weren't returning.

"They complained to me and to Dennis Jones, the graduate adviser," Polk said. "I thought we had reached a resolution. At that time I had assumed everyone was satisfied."

"I'm very concerned that six members of the grad program were so frustrated that they feel they have to go elsewhere," he said.

Polk said that this will have a negative effect on the way the photography program keeps and recruits students.

"I'm disappointed in the impact that this will have on the program," he said.

For one thing, Polk said the five students who signed letters of offer to fill the five teaching assistantship positions in the program, are not coming back. This puts a strain on Jones' ability to cover the classes in time for the fall semester.

"If I had known sooner that they were not returning, I could have called other graduate students to fill those positions," Jones said. "Now I'm having to scramble to fill these classes with teachers."

"I've been working day and night," he said. "It's not a beautiful situation."

Jones said he had planned on discussing the graduate students' concerns with the other faculty members at the first faculty meeting at the start of the fall semester.

"I'm quite proud of our graduate program and the alumni of our program," he said.

Jones said he feels that much of the information graduate students are acting upon grew out of misunderstanding and, he feels, anger.

"There is a lot of ambient anger among graduate students nationally," he said. "And maybe that has something to do with the job situation. At least, that's what I've been hearing from my colleagues."

Polk said part of the anger UA photography graduate students are experiencing displayed itself when two graduate students were sent to a national conference in New York. He said the students talked about the program in a negative manner.

"That hurts a whole lot and what's ironic is that we paid for their tickets," Polk said.

Jones said he is going to try and make the situation better for this coming year.

"I would have liked to have it work out a little differently," he said.

"We could have ameliorated all this energy and they could have used this energy in their work," Jones said.

Polk said he feels the situation wouldn't have been as bad as the students feel it is, had they decided to say.

"We want the graduate students to feel they are getting an education," he said.

Lim said, however, that is not possible and there is nothing left for him here. He said he will be returning to Singapore .

"It's really sad because the students in the program are among the best," he said. "I really think it is unfortunate that this thing has happened."

"There is no guarantee for me at all," Lim said. "And for me, as a foreign student, that's scary."

"I just wanted to come here, be a good student and do my work," he said. "I never realized graduate school could be so political."

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