May 28, 2020

California Art Schools Consider Hybrid Instruction Models for Fall Semester


The main building of the San Francisco campus of the California College of Arts. Photo: Wikipedia.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—The coronavirus pandemic has forced colleges and universities across the United States to rethink how to fulfill their missions as places of higher learning. As the fall semester fast approaches, many institutions must rethink how they will operate if campuses remain shut. Art schools, which promise their enrollees studio instruction, in-person critiques, and thesis exhibitions, face an even bigger challenge when contemplating how to present their academic offerings to students if classes can only be held online.

Allan deSouza, the chair of the Department of Art Practice at the University of California Berkeley, told Hyperallergic that the school is discussing several teaching approaches for the fall semester and may focus on developing a new “hybrid model” of education, which would consist of a mix of online courses and limited access to labs and studios. “If we are able to follow a hybrid model, then we would have to meet a lot of practicalities regarding safeguarding staff, maintaining clean spaces, scheduling small groups of students to have time-allotted access, etc.”

A hybrid approach to instruction is also being embraced by the California College of the Arts (CCA). For Tammy Rae Carland, the provost for CCA, returning to campus is crucial: “We believe for an art and design school, what students are investing in is access to materials and studios. Hands-on and material-making is such a profound historical and ongoing commitment of CCA, which was founded by a cabinet maker.” In order to host students in the fall, the school must now figure out how to do so safely and has formed two task forces to come up with protocols and safety measures that can be implemented campus-wide.

Other schools including Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB) and the Otis College of Art and Design have also expressed the need to make changes to preserve the integrity of their programs and are working to come up with solutions that follow the CDC’s guidelines for reopening, which were released on May 20, and allow for a more flexible approach to arts education. Otis has enlisted the help of local architecture firms Frederick Fisher and Partners and Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects to analyze its classrooms and public spaces and help it decide on the appropriate social distancing measures to enforce.

In addition to reimagining the students’ pathway to earning a degree, schools must also grapple with the economic fallout from the global health crisis. According to New York Magazine, California’s universities reported a $558 million loss in March. The university system will also be confronted with falling admission numbers and a further drop in revenue if they can’t reopen their campuses. For Kat Cohen, the founder of the admissions counseling service IvyWise, hybrid models of teaching seem to be the “most popular scenario” right now, with large classes being held virtually and smaller classes being held in larger spaces, and many schools are currently floating ideas on how to successfully make the transition.

As schools reimagine what campus will look like come September and strategize on how to lure in new students as well as retain their current student bodies, they also face the growing demand for tuition reimbursement from students who don’t believe they received what their money paid for this spring. Students from the Yale School of Art (SoA), the University of Chicago, New York University, and the Rhode Island School of Design, among others, have approached their administrations about concessions ranging from tuition refunds to emergency subsidies to an extension of health coverage to ease financial burdens.

In a letter sent to SoA on March 31, students wrote: “Since COVID-19 first made its presence felt in our community, we have been actively communicating with our peers across the country and around the world. All of us are trying our best to hold our institutions accountable to their students, faculty, and staff—as well as their surrounding communities—in these trying times. . . .The more care a university evinces toward its surrounding community, the more likely it is that both will succeed and thrive.”

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