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UW-Madison explores creation of College of the Arts

February 16, 2012 By Susannah Brooks

For the first time in several decades, the University of Wisconsin–Madison is considering the addition of a new college, the College of the Arts.

Photo: Paper lab

Jim Escalante, professor of art, demonstrates a paper making process during his Artists’ Books class.

Photo: Bryce Richter

The initiative aims to frame a meaningful discussion of the merits, challenges, and opportunities for a more unified approach to research, practice, and performance in the arts.

“A unified College of the Arts would bring great benefit and focused support to the arts at UW–Madison,” says Norma Saldivar, executive director of the Arts Institute and professor of theatre and drama. “The College of the Arts Initiative looks at developing a comprehensive, cohesive plan for reorganizing which keeps in mind advancing faculty needs and interests, student learning outcomes and increasing demands for effectiveness and efficiency.”

The proposed College of the Arts would comprise the existing School of Music and the departments of art history, theatre and drama (all currently part of the College of Letters and Science); the departments of art and dance (currently part of the School of Education) and the department of design studies (currently a part of the School of Human Ecology), as well as several administrative units.

“The College of the Arts Initiative looks at developing a comprehensive, cohesive plan for reorganizing which keeps in mind advancing faculty needs and interests, student learning outcomes and increasing demands for effectiveness and efficiency.”

Norma Saldivar

The new college would rely on existing departmental funding. Assuming involvement at current levels, the college would support 118 faculty members and 1,192 students (843 undergraduate and 349 graduate). This would rank the new college just below the middle of the 11 major schools and colleges on campus, just above the School of Human Ecology and the professional Schools of Law, Nursing, Pharmacy and Veterinary Medicine.

Though the idea itself is not new, this is the first time since the 1976 creation of the UW Arts Consortium that a College of the Arts proposal has advanced to this stage. The formation of the Arts institute in 1998 was “expected to ameliorate the effects of the ‘historic dispersion’ of the arts,” according to then-provost John Wiley.

The current proposal began in earnest in 2008, when the Arts Institute began a strategic planning process assessing its ability to serve its constituency (arts programs and campus presenters).

“In surveying faculty and staff members, many people felt that a more centralized structure could help alleviate issues such as campus visibility and student recruitment and retention,” says Saldivar. “From a faculty perspective, they also supported the idea of a dean who could administrate and advocate new tenure cases with an eye to the nuances of research and creative work in the arts.”

Photo: Dancers at Overture

Dancers and musicians perform an African piece by choreographer Chris Walker during “An Evening of Celebration to Benefit Artists of Future” at Overture Hall.

Photo: Jeff Miller

In November 2011, Interim Chancellor David Ward and School of Education Dean Julie Underwood approved the proposal’s project charter as executive sponsor and sponsor, respectively. Representatives from all art units formed curricular and governance committees to craft the draft proposal, submitting proposed curricular outlines, budgets and governance models.

Working with Darin Harris of the Office of Quality Improvement, members of the proposal’s task force have developed a four-stage process, involving exploration, review and consideration of the question “Should a College of the Arts be created on the UW–Madison campus?”

Currently, the Arts Institute executive committee seeks input from faculty, staff and students at three upcoming Town Hall meetings. Members of the College of the Arts Proposal Task Force will deliver a short presentation and answer questions. All meetings will be held in the Plenary Room, 1310 Grainger Hall, 975 University Ave.

Meetings will take place on Monday, Feb. 20 from 1-3 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 28 from 5-7 p.m.

An additional meeting on Monday, Feb. 27 from 7-9 p.m. will primarily address issues related to the School of Music; however, all are welcome to attend.

Inclusion within the College of the Arts is not a done deal. Following this public review, departments will be asked to consider two questions: whether they approve of the proposal, and whether they would like to be a part of the college. The plan offers flexibility for the wide variety of arts programs on campus, each with its own mission and identity.

The process will culminate in a college and campus review of the taskforce’s recommendations by university governance committees before a proposal to the Board of Regents in July. A transition period is expected to take up to three years.

More information, including frequently asked questions and the proposal itself (available Friday, Feb. 17), may be found electronically here. Updated information will continue to be posted in this location as it becomes available.