SIU art school could face collapsing blows if budget tightens


Patrons view an installation during the Cross/Pollination exhibition Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, at Carbondale Community Arts. The exhibition is a project created by masters of fine art students from SIU’s Art & Design and Media Art programs. Priscilla Pimentel, of Carbondale, said she came to the exhibition after reading about it online because she wanted to see work created by students. “I like the collaborative effort,” she said. “There are some really complex ideas here.” The show features various mediums including sculpture, photography, metalwork and performance art. Dimitar Velkov, a masters student in Mass Communication and Media Art who contributed to the show, said the purpose of creating the exhibition was to give students from different areas of study an opportunity to come together. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

By Olivia Spiers

SIU School of Art and Design is preparing to face penetrating cuts if the university is not granted state funding next semester, starting with graduate assistantships, according to university officials.

The art school faced a permanent $40,000 cut this year as the university required all colleges to make budget reductions of 10 percent during the state’s 18-month budget impasse. At the same time, student and faculty numbers have steadily declined. This dip in enrollment could create a domino effect of layoffs in the art department in the face of the state’s budget impasse, said Marie Bukowski, director of the School of Art and Design.

All departments on campus were asked to cut 10 percent of their budget in the face of the financial crisis and decreasing enrollment. Freshman enrollment in the university decreased roughly 4 percent in 2016totaling 600 students yearly.


The budget impasse left legislative leaders without a state budget at the beginning of 2017 and resulted in passing two stopgap budgets as temporary solutions. A newly proposed bill in the Illinois Senate would grant the university $93 million if passed by the other chamber and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“We’ve pretty much reached our limit of cuts here,” Bukowski said. Any more will be devastating.”

Bukowski said graduate assistantships at the art school would be “first on the chopping block” if the impasse is not resolved. Reducing the number of graduate assistantships, she said, could consequently result in cutting required classes for various art majors.

“Everything is intertwined here,” Bukowski said. “Once we lose [assistantships], everything will just collapse in on itself.”

Additionally, six tenure-track employees of the art school’s 31 total faculty have seen reductions in their contracts, which ultimately cuts their salaries in half and reclassifies them as non-tenure track — or part-time — employees, Bukowski said.

During his State of the University address in September, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell said the university has become too dependent on assistantships as a recruitment tool, and suggested trimming graduate assistantships at all the colleges last semester.

Meanwhile, the retiring tenured faculty who teach advanced art classes are being replaced with temporary, or non-tenure track, employees, Bukowski said. This results in graduate assistants teaching all the basic, required courses.


John Witsky, a graduate assistant studying fine arts and painting with an art history certificate, said he came from Columbus, Ohio for the assistantship position because it covered his full tuition.

“Assistantships give us a leg up on the competition and is majority of the reason graduate students come here,” Witsky said. “If they cut those positions, they might as well cut the whole graduate program, too.”

The university’s glass blowing master’s program, one of two offered in the state, inspired Nadine Saylor to move to the region.

“I uprooted my life for the tenure-track position with glass blowing here, then I was reduced to part-time,” said Saylor, a lecturer on glassblowing. “Then my healthcare cost doubled, taking out a third of my paycheck.”

Saylor said running the studios is becoming “close to impossible” with the faculty and budget cuts along with low enrollment.

Kendra Stenger, a graduate assistant studying fine arts and painting from upstate New York, said she has also witnessed class numbers dwindling since she started in 2014.

“When I started, my classes had 20 kids in them,” Stenger said. “Now I’m teaching classes with three or four students.”

Erin Palmer, assistant director at the art school, said she is remaining optimistic about the current enrollment situation despite the cuts. She added that the ability of art professors to build relationships with the students remains the department’s strong point as it faces budget cuts.

“We are all vulnerable, but people remember us here,” Palmer said. “That gives us hope.”

Staff writer Olivia Spiers can be reached at [email protected], 618-536-3325 or on Twitter @_spierso.

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