External Evaluation of the Art History Major at Towson University

External Evaluation of the Art History Major at Towson University, 2010
Roberta K. Tarbell, Ph.D.
The new Art History Major is enormously successful in the quality of its faculty,
curriculum, and service to the department, the university, the profession, and
the community. Provost Marcia Welsh, Dean Christopher Spicer and Acting
Chair Stuart Stein demonstrate a clear understanding of the quality of the major
and a willingness to solve problems and create opportunities for its ongoing
growth and success. Art History is a significant and integral part of the B.A./B.F.A.
and M.F.A. studio art programs of the growing Art + Design Department. Art
History professors have been dynamic not only in establishing and anchoring the
major and minor, but in devising three additional, excellent programs—Museum
Studies Minor; Professional Studies (M.A.)—Art History, and the pending
Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies.
1. Too few full-time professors to teach the courses in modern and
contemporary art necessary to meet graduation requirements of studio
art undergraduate and graduate students, to be part of the faculty
committees formed for each MFA student, and to participate in or lead
the curatorial process of two galleries in the Center for the Arts
2. Inadequate access to basic art history electronic databases for
student/faculty research in Cook Library and in the Center for the Arts
3. Inadequate budget for art history and for technical support, purchase,
and maintenance of LCD projectors in the classrooms
4. Inadequate facilitation for transfer students entering Towson several of
whom described the process as horrible
5. Inadequate recompense for adjunct faculty with Ph.D.s and extensive
experience and inequity between studio and art history part-time faculty
for compensation for teaching the same credit hour course and
Authorization of the Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies Program
1. To relieve the course burden on art history faculty, hire a full-time tenuretrack professor of electronic and new media, that, perhaps, could be
shared with Electronic Media and Film Department, and a full-time
instructor who will teach about eight courses [sections] per year. Fund a
graduate Teaching Assistant for art history.
2. Purchase licenses for art history-specific resources like Oxford University
Press’s Grove on Art and the Grove Encyclopedia of American Art
[expected 2011] for access in Cook Library and the Center for Art.
3. Allocate resources for predictable replacement of A-V equipment [LCD
projectors and bulbs] essential to teaching Art History.
4. Improve process at the university, college, department, major, and
classroom levels for students transferring to Towson.
5. Phase in changes over time to create an equal pay per course for studio
and art history faculty teaching the same course.
6. Procure state approval for Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies
External Evaluation of the Art History Major at Towson University, 2010
Roberta K. Tarbell, Ph.D.; Professor Emerita, Rutgers University, Camden NJ;
Visiting Scholar, Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art; and
Adjunct Professor, Art Conservation Masters and Preservation Studies Ph.D.
Programs, Winterthur Museum/ University of Delaware
Table of Contents
Most sections include analysis followed by recommendations.
Learning Goals and Assessment
Building Facilities
Museum Studies Minor Program
Professional Studies (M.A.)—Art History
Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies
The new Art History Major, fully in place in 2007, is enormously successful in the
quality of its faculty, curriculum, and service to the department, the university,
and the profession. Goals set in 2003 for art history have been met. This External
Reviewer’s Report should be read in conjunction with the thorough and
excellent 6000-word internal “Art History Major Program Review” and pertinent
A good and pragmatic team collaborates on common goals. Rarely, in my
thirty years of experience within two major state universities, have I seen
educators in charge at the university, college, department and major levels who
demonstrate such a clear understanding of the quality of a major/program and
their willingness to co-ordinate solutions to problems. Provost Marcia Welsh,
Dean Christopher Spicer, Acting Chair Stuart Stein, and Program Coordinator J.
Susan Isaacs share desired outcomes and are innovative in creating
opportunities for the ongoing growth and success of the Art History major and
the many other degree programs in which art history is embedded.
Art History, which had been created in the past to serve the studio program, has
gained status as a separate discipline, but the coordinator needs even greater
autonomy in determining the needs and integrity of the art history program.
Currently the teamwork between studio art and art history is commendable, but
the needs of the studio programs overwhelm the art history faculty which is
overworked in meeting them.
Increase autonomy of Art History. Perhaps if a Professor of Contemporary Art is
added, the burden shouldered by art history will decrease.
Chairman Stein correctly described the faculty as “over achievers” who are
“stars on campus” and praised their high productivity. These Art History
professors excel in the tripod of academic careers—teaching, research, and
service. They have been dynamic and visionary not only in establishing and
anchoring the Art History major and minor, but in devising three additional,
excellent programs—Museum Studies Minor; Professional Studies (M.A.)—Art
History, and the pending Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies.
What an impressive improvement in quantity and quality of full-time tenured or
tenure-track Art History faculty and the major since I reviewed the Art
Department at Towson about fifteen years ago. Now four full-time and several
part-time faculty averaged twenty sections per semester. They produced 4551
credit hours last year which will increase with the new programs in place or
All tenure-track and tenured Art History Professors have Ph.D.s and are actively
researching, publishing and involved with a national network of peers.
Medievalist Karl Fugelso (tenured) is recognized internationally for his important
work as Editor-in Chief of both the journal Studies in Medievalism and the book
series Medievalism (published by Boydell & Brewer) and Assoc. Editor of the online review journal Medievally Speaking, all three of which are recognized
leaders in their field. He has initiated some innovative new art outreach
programs for students to interact with the public. Americanist Nancy Siegel
(tenure-track) regularly publishes books and exhibition catalogues in the fields of
19th-century American landscape, print culture, and culinary history. She is also
routinely involved in curatorial projects with institutions such as the Art Institute of
Chicago, Yale University, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Classicist
Amy Sowder (tenure track) is an emerging scholar in the field of classical studies
and archaeology. Her archaeological excavations in Greece result in the
publication of new and ongoing discoveries. The courses she teaches serve art
history students as well as foster interdepartmental communication with all of the
programs involved in the Classical Studies Minor (English, History, Women's
Studies, Philosophy, Foreign Languages, etc.).
J. Susan Isaacs, Ph.D., Professor, Coordinator of Art History, is the dynamic engine
propelling the establishment of the Art History Major, Museum Studies Minor, the
Professional Program M.A. in Art History and the proposed graduate Certificate
in Museum Studies. She is ably assisted in these endeavors by the three Assistant
and Associate Professors whom she was instrumental in hiring. She is the most
qualified art history faculty member to participate in the graduate committees
of the twenty-seven MFA students and the one who mentors all of them in their
progress and expectations for their exhibitions which are required for
graduation. She teaches the upper-level courses in contemporary art so
important to studio art majors and is the Curator of the Center for the Arts
Gallery. She cannot maintain this level of involvement with administration,
teaching in several programs, program development, curatorial responsibilities,
teaching and research. In order to meet the needs of students—to complete
the rotation of courses in contemporary art required or needed by students
majoring in studio art, Isaacs assumes an overload. She has significant insights to
write and publish and needs time to do this.
Students acknowledged they these young, vibrant professors are
knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They are fully accessible to their students in
class, during expanded office-hours and off-site visits to regional museums and
occasionally during extended trips to Chicago, New York, and Europe. All are
electronically savvy, communicate often via Blackboard, teach with power
point and enable their students to achieve a high degree of capability with
using new search engines for research and ease in presentation of images and
text for oral, digital, and hard-copy presentations. Art history is word intensive
and with no graduate assistants, professors personally grade several essay
examinations and at least one [usually more] essay papers for every student in
every class. They have devised exemplary writing courses and collaborate with
faculty in many other departments. They teach the nine required graduate
credits in art history in the MFA program (27 students), and the required four
undergraduate art history courses in the studio major (another 700 students);
credit hour production in art history last year was approximately 4700. Balancing
their commitment to art history majors and to studio art majors is difficult. Stein
said that credit hour production for his department had increased over the past
two to three years which required hiring more part-time lecturers changing the
important ratio of full-time to part-time faculty.
Adjunct faculty in art history are excellent but exploited by inadequate pay.
Ph.D.s with extensive experience receive only $2500/course compared to $35004500 at other regional institutions. I agree with the arguments set forth in
“Funding, Resources, and Needs” in the internal Art History Major Program
Review. The inequity between studio and art history part-time faculty for
compensation for teaching the same credit hour course creates resentment.
Studio faculty are paid by contact hour and their courses usually are four hours
long. Art History professors are paid by credit hours for each course—usually
Professionals with impressive credentials teach nonwestern art history-- annually,
one course each is taught by Walters Art Museum staff--Robert Mintz, Assoc.
Curator of Asian Art and Jackie Copeland, Director of Education who teaches
African American.
Recommendations [See “Of key concern in terms of faculty positions” in the
internal Art History Major Program Review]:
Hire an additional professor of contemporary art, especially one expert in new
media and electronic art to serve on MFA committees for graduate students.
Full-time faculty teach three classes per semester which is too heavy a teaching
load for faculty who also are so active in research and service. Explore creating
this as a new line shared with Electronic Media and Film Department.
In addition, hire a full-time instructor for art history to decrease dependence on
PTLs, a cost-effective compromise between creating another new tenure-track
line and increasing the number of courses taught by adjunct faculty. The
increased continuity will benefit students and the decrease in the need to hire
so many PTLs will help the Coordinator of Art History.
Fund one graduate teaching assistantship to alleviate the inordinate time
required of art history professors to grade essay examinations and term papers.
The large group of undergraduate and students in art history, art, and museum
studies who met with me for two hours represented many different career goals
–Curator, Art Education, Museum Educator, Art Therapy, Business, Printmaker,
and Philosophy scholar. The rich curriculum offerings in Art History and Museum
Studies support these objectives.
Students agreed that required courses were offered in a timely manner and
that they did not have to delay graduation because required courses were not
available. Extended college years result from personal issues. The use of
“Blackboard” as an electronic resource for all classes is excellent and appears
to work well for students and faculty.
Recent graduates with an art history major include a paper conservator
(graduate of the Winterthur Master’s program) and an assistant in paper
conservation at the National Gallery of Art and several who work in art galleries
in New York City or Maryland. Students have gone on to graduate work in
Museum Studies, Museum Education, and Art History.
One area of concern universally acknowledged by the students was the horrible
experience of entering Towson as a transfer. They felt lost and abandoned with
inadequate mentoring, orientation, and facilitation of transfer credits and timely
placement in classes at the beginning of a semester. When I met with them on
February 2, some new transfers did not know for sure what courses they should
take that term and none had completed the process of transferring credits.
Art History Professors and Coordinator should be proactive in seeking out
students in the process of transferring into their major and minor subject areas to
mentor the transfer of credit and course selection. Someone at the college or
university level needs to track and assess the whole process and determine
student satisfaction at each step of the way. In addition, members of the new
Art History club can host several informal social events the first week of classes
and in each class seek out and befriend transfer students. Professors can
implement a simple exercise of having students talk with another student in class
for five minutes and then introduce each other to the class.
Ask any student in an art history class about the difficulty of art history courses
relative to other areas and most will cite art history’s rigorous [high] standards for
critical thinking, research, writing, and interpretation skills. All art history courses
are writing intensive and develop students’ skills in arguing a point of view based
on evidence. Every art history faculty member is passionate about raising the
level of communication skills of every student in their classes. The department
has devised model writing skills courses. Art history courses require knowledge of
geography, philosophy, religion, literature, history, politics and ethnicity as the
cultural context for the creation of individual objects of art. Because cogent
articulation of the visual differences between two images is the core
methodology of the discipline, many medical schools offer art history courses.
Succeeding in art history courses indicate student mastery of the Learning Goals
1-6 for the Art History Program.
The 2008 Data from Course-based Assessment reveal that majors are very
satisfied with their achievement of learning goals and that beginners and
nonmajors find Art History challenging and that students prefer writing papers to
examinations. In my experience students unhappy with art history courses
correlated with those who cut class, were unwilling to read texts, turned in
assignments late and/or had questionable excuses for missing exams. Art history
is difficult. Art history examinations require a set of skills new to most people—
recognizing a significant set of images and a critical assessment of their
differences, not just visually, but also of many historical, symbolic, and cultural
criteria all of which they have to articulate in a very short amount of time.
The renovations of the Center for the Arts completed in 2005 have provided art
history students and faculty with good offices and two smart classrooms amidst
dynamic art studios, theaters, rehearsal rooms, recital hall and three galleries.
The University should rethink its policy of assigning the lecture hall and seminar
room in the Center for the Arts to any department on campus while still requiring
art history to pay for projectors, bulbs and technical troubleshooting for those
smart classrooms.
Find the cause of the recent flood and eliminate it.
Transform Slide Room to a Visual Resources Center [See section on Library].
Plan for repairs of LCD projectors and replacement for bulbs paid for outside of
the Art History limited and strained budget.
One of the most profound paradigm shifts in research methodology for students
at universities is the explosive rise in primary and secondary resources available
to scholars electronically and often off-site. Few current and future students will
understand the richness and sense of physically discovering appropriate books
and journal essays in campus libraries. On the other hand, having amazing
research materials already digitized available to students extends their exposure
to primary and secondary documents. Rather than trying to develop an art
history book library, providing increased access to excellent existing art history
libraries would be more cost effective. Students have access to ten regional
institutions, including the University of Maryland, College Park [which has a Ph.D.
program in Art History], Johns Hopkins University, the Decker Library at the
Maryland Institute College of Art, and the Baltimore Museum of Art which have
well-established libraries of art history books.
Because students will use electronic resources far more often than they will
procure books and periodicals in the Cook Library on campus, Towson should
allocate scarce monies to increasing availability of indispensible art history
reference databases accessible in Cook and in the Center for the Arts. For
example, although Towson has the hardcopy 26-volume Dictionary of Art [1996]
at Cook Library, students do not have access to the perpetually updated
electronic version, Oxford University Press’s Grove Art [except for the section on
Classical art]. Continuing full access to ArtStor and JSTOR is extremely important.
I recommend a three-pronged approach:
a. Cook Library: Increase the number and quality of indispensible art
history reference databases and the librarians’ ease in using and
teaching them to students.
b. Center for the Arts: Transform the former slide room into a Visual
Resource Study Center convenient to the 100s of students who have
classes in the building. This would involve complete cleanup after the
flood, remedial measures to prevent future floods, and the sorting of
slides to select and digitize unique images. Add about two scanners,
printers, and five or more computer stations with intranet capability to
access the databases purchased by the library. Retain Venetia
Zachary or some other person with degrees in art history, library
science who can teach students how to research art history and how
to create Power Point Presentations. Perhaps add a library of DVDs
and videos of artists and the like and a core reference library of art
history books. As I downsize my own library, I will be happy to donate
several 100s.
c. Enhance consortium agreements with two or three institutions with
superb art history book resources and increase shuttle service between
them and Towson to facilitate the needs of students.
Professors Nancy Siegel and J. Susan Isaacs have jumpstarted this new
interdisciplinary undergraduate minor program with eleven different courses for
which impressive syllabi are fully-developed. The program began this year with
at least seven students in place. In contrast, the undergraduate Museum
Studies Program minor at Rutgers University, Camden, which I directed for
thirteen years, has only five courses. Undergraduate minor programs in Museum
Studies are rare but extremely valuable especially for the students at Towson-few art history majors will pursue a Ph.D. in Art History, but most will work at a
museum or nonprofit agency. Meeting the practical and professional needs, as
well as the conceptual/philosophical development of your specific
undergraduate cohort is important. Siegel (who has a graduate certificate in
Museum Studies) and Isaacs have extensive and exemplary experience in
museums and galleries. Students accompany Isaacs to artists’ studios
preliminary to selecting works for exhibitions at Towson or at the Delaware
Center for Contemporary Art where Isaacs has curated over 100 exhibitions.
Minor Program directors have procured excellent professionals in the field to
teach courses, and, because of their extensive network, will continue to do so.
Museum Studies professors have established a good network with many regional
Museums which provide internship opportunities for students. Towson University
needs to balance this good will offering of significant off-site teaching
[internships] by increasing funds for staff for the Center for the Arts Gallery and
the Holtzman MFA Gallery. Museum Studies Minor students participate in every
aspect of the fascinating process [from conception to de-installation] in the
changing exhibitions in these galleries and the quality of program and
exhibitions there enhances the quality of the education of all students on
campus. The university, not the Art History Major and Museum Study Minor
programs should pay for staffing for these institutional entities.
This new program, a pragmatic recognition of the students who will seek this
degree, plans to prepare graduates for jobs in public and private museums,
galleries, community arts centers and other nonprofit arts agencies. The high
level of scholarship and research of the Art History faculty support the initiation
of a graduate degree in their discipline. With additional and appropriate
requirements for graduate students, current undergraduate courses can be dual
pitched to more than one level of student. Already Art History and Museum
Studies classes attract students from a wide range of disciplines and the faculty
is adept at meeting needs of individuals.
This impressive fifteen-credit graduate certificate program is an ingenious and
unique answer to a real need. I received dozens of requests from students with
undergraduate and graduate degrees in art history or studio art who needed
exposure to and education and credentials in professional work in museums
and/or nonprofit arts agencies. Students, otherwise, are forced to complete
either undergraduate minor requirements or a more-expensive master’s degree.
This program can stand alone or be adjunctive to existing graduate programs in
theater, music, fine arts, professional studies (which includes Art History), and
women’s studies, marketing and public relations, business, etc. Towson University
can offer a premier post-baccalaureate certificate program because of the
unusual strength and breadth of the Museum Studies/Art History faculty and
curriculum already in place and willingness of area museum curators to
cooperate. Towson’s Certificate Programs are its fastest growing component.
Towson will be on the cutting edge and will attract students with this timely,
appropriate and excellent program which few institutions could offer at such a
high level. See “Competition and Demand” of the internal Art History Major
Program Review.
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