Major terminated: taking the art out of liberal arts


by Kaitlyn Louk, Special to the Simpsonian

On Thursday, Nov. 5, the art department announced that all art students will need to reevaluate the path to completing their major. There are several paths from which students may choose, but it is clear that one path will have a “road closed” sign in front of it.

Art education is being terminated as a major by the end of the school year. In order to graduate as an art education major, all current students wishing to join the program will have to declare this major by the 2016 spring semester. As a junior at Simpson College, this decision does not technically affect me. What the art department fails to understand, however, is that this decision does affect me.

All art majors – not just art education majors – have been given the message that Simpson College does not care about furthering art instruction at the college (aside from the graphic design program). Two art instructors, professors Bob Kling and Richard Kazmerzak, will no longer be teaching art classes at Simpson because the school is hiring a full-time graphic design professor instead.

How can the art department nix two of their key educators but still say that they value art on Simpson’s campus? I have to question Simpson’s decision to cut an education program. What kind of message does this give to our future educators?

“I think that cutting any education program is a mistake,” Holly West, an art student at Simpson College, said, “because whatever your content area, you need educators to teach those content areas.”

This decision, which was made solely by a portion of the art department, contributes to a much larger issue. As a liberal arts college, it is imperative for us to offer these classes. Art is consistently seen as a “lesser” subject in schools today, and by removing the art education major at Simpson, our community is just speeding up the process of getting rid of art (and art teachers) altogether.

People need art. Getting rid of art means getting rid of the very outlet that allows students to use their imagination and exercise creativity. Creativity helps students in every aspect of their learning, not just in the arts.

A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation called “A Portrait of the Visual Arts” argues that art education does more than just give students a creative outlet. It can actually help connect them to the larger world, ultimately improving community cohesion. Getting rid of the art education program means less students are becoming art educators, which means art classes will soon be a rarity in America, causing students everywhere to become less creative and less connected.

“North Dakota State University added art education to their program because they realized not only did it draw students, but it actually drew students to their studio programs. It costs very little to have the art education degree and if we don’t have it, those students will go elsewhere,” Kling said. “Something does need to be done about graphic design, it’s our weakest link in the program, but there are so many schools around that offer graphic design. I don’t see how we can compete with the programs that are already there.

So, I think what we’re doing is competing where we shouldn’t be competing and we’re getting rid of something that is a moneymaker for the college.”

I can say with certainty that if I had never met Bob Kling I would have left Simpson to find a better art education program. He has taught me invaluable skills as a future educator, and many will miss him.

Unfortunately, the art department decided to make this decision without consulting Simpson art students or Bob Kling. There are several ways funding could have increased for the art department. Many schools have painting and pottery students donate work to sell in order to raise money for the department. Silent auctions are also a huge hit when it comes to fundraising.

But these ideas will never be heard by the art department because they did not ask their own students to participate in this conversation. Instead, they asked outside consultants to come in and help make the decision.

“The outside [consultants] are here to figure out the bottom dollar. Simpson is not a conglomerate. Simpson is the heart of a small town community!” West exclaimed.

I am saddened that a decision has already been made and that it was made without wider input. We’re often told to not remain silent, to share our passion. I raise my voice for art.