Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Janson & Janson–Loving Kids Save Art History: Slides at 11

Well, I'm happy to report that the Janson & Janson loving kids I blogged about earlier this year have won their impassioned battle to save McMaster's Art History program.

As reported April 18 in the Hamilton Spectator, the decision to cut the art history program was reversed by the university senate after clearing three levels of bureaucratic approval:

Art history is the smallest freestanding program in the faculty of humanities, with just 37.5 full-time equivalent students in all years of their degrees, giving it about one-tenth the population of larger humanities programs such as history and English.

The possibility of closure had raised broader concerns about the university's commitment to the liberal arts, and specific concerns about the program, since an art history degree is considered a prerequisite for a career in art curation.

The proposal to end the program gave birth to considerable protest from inside and outside the faculty and even from beyond the university. The spectators' seats at the senate meeting were filled with supporters of the program, who clapped after the vote.

Of particular note is this letter a former McMaster professor wrote, which points out that the McMaster Museum of Art may have the art history department to thank for the strength of its collections:

Because of the excellence of its [art history] instructors in the past, and the stimulating quality of courses which he attended, Dr. Herman Levy wished to give to the then-department a bequest which would enrich the art history and art students' experience by allowing them the privilege of having artworks of outstandingly high quality from which to learn.

His bequest of $16 million, an extraordinarily generous gesture of confidence toward the historical and practical study of art at McMaster, incidentally raised the stature of the McMaster Museum of Art, making it recognizably one of the finest university art collections in Canada.

That reputation, also, has encouraged other benefactors to donate private collections to the museum.

The university has benefitted hugely from this generosity, which would not have occurred had it not been for the excellence, and commitment, of the art history faculty in the past.

The artistic reputation of McMaster University has grown in proportion to the financial support given to the art history and art programs which generated that reputation.

Levy's bequest was given on the assumption that his generosity would advance the study of art into the future. As respect to his memory and wishes, and the wishes of others in the future, it is imperative that the Honours Art History Degree Program at McMaster continue, and be given enhanced support.

The university does not seem to appreciate the extraordinary benefit, relative to its modest cost, which art and art history have brought to McMaster, and the wider Hamilton community.

While the challenge at some American universities has been hanging onto art historical collections, it's interesting here that the challenge was hanging onto the art history program. In any case, congrats to the students and supporters for their passionate stand. Let the reading (and rereading) begin!


sally said...

good news! thanks so much for the update.

Paul Rapoport said...

Note that the Hamilton Spectator article reveals clear bias against the students' position that won in the university's Senate. It gives reasons to close the program but none of the students' objections, and it pretends that the only value of Art History is curation.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey guys, thanks for your comments.

Paul, I can understand your irritation with us media types... we tend to generalize a lot for tight word counts and fast writing. Perhaps the fact that art history "won" means that the reporter sought out the "alternate" anti opinions to generate narrative tension.

Alternatively, it might be hard for a "hard news" type to quickly summarize the complex benefits of maintaining the art history program... how would you express those benefits or that value in 50 words or less, no art-hist jargon allowed? (Fun game! Don't think I could win this one : ) )

Paul Rapoport said...

Leah, as you may know, the paper in question has a longstanding basic policy of not criticizing the university administration. And if the students involved in this can summarize their argument in a few lines, which they've done repeatedly, why can't Wade Hemsworth, the reporter in question?

Since your posting, he's done it again several times, taking the administration's side consistently. Sorry, that's unacceptable.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the update.

I know you may have done this already, but if you perceive unfair bias I encourage you to write a concise letter to the editor and cc. the publisher of the newspaper.

For those who want to catch up on some story developments, and the Spectator's coverage, see


Including this latest update:


Personally, I don't see the bias in this particular article, excepting the "it might not last long" part. *But* I haven't studied the coverage indepth like Paul has. Also, I do note on the Spectator site that it has a "community partnership" with McMaster: http://www.thespec.com/aboutus