August 29th, 2011
Kathleen McGrath, Senior Administrative Director of the Photography department, outlines a similar policy: “Most of our Photography graduate students that would like a TA job get one, and there are times when more than one TA is offered.” However, she is quick to add, “We also have a lot of applicants from outside the department that are also assigned TA jobs.”
The Art History department stands in contrast. “For the TA-ships in Art History, it’s an open call,” says Shay DeGrandis, Senior Administrative Director of Art History, Liberal Arts, and Visual and Critical Studies. “Anyone can apply for those TA-ships, and our faculty review every application that comes in. We don’t have any TA-ships in Art History that are solely for Art History students.”
While four students within the department are offered guaranteed TA positions, these posts are structured as part of their financial aid package. “Every year, upon admissions we select one student to receive a ‘merit’-based tuition scholarship,” says Nora Taylor, Alsdorf Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art.
“This award is based on their application materials and the ranking they received in the selection process by the graduate committee. The next four students who ranked highest on our list are offered TA-ships. These TA-ships are guaranteed for the two years that they attend SAIC.” The 40 Art History students left over are welcome to submit their applications alongside those of students belonging to other departments.
For students like DiMeo and Wolak, who belong to a still-nascent department, the matter is complicated further. “A program like NAJ — they aren’t going to have TAs for those classes, because those classes are specifically for the graduate students in that program,” says DeGrandis.
Not Enough Space?
One could argue that these differences have more to do with department size, age and resources than it does the MFA/MA distinction. However, it does give students belonging to the Photography and Painting and Drawing departments a palpable advantage over students whose departments are unable to go to such lengths for them. Among other things, a guaranteed TA position ensures that these graduates will go out into the working world with a more impressive resume than someone who was unable to secure such a position.
But Villamor doesn’t consider this an injustice. “MFA is a terminal degree and an MA is not,” she says. “The expectation — or maybe assumption is more accurate — is that if you opt for the MA degree within a program, rather than an MFA, you want to pursue a PhD. If one were to prioritize, wouldn’t one give a higher priority to people receiving an MFA degree, who are not continuing school and are about to go out in the job market?”
While the administration might frame their decision according to the demands of the job market, they do seem to regard the distinguishing characteristic of the MA program as being an essentially scholarly pursuit. According to Carrie Gundersdorf, Assistant Director of the Graduate Division, “The school spends less on classroom resources for the MFA student, but more on studio space.” She claims that “the MFA experience is more similar to an artist residency, with less class time and more emphasis on individual practice.” On the other hand, “within the MA programs, the students get first choice with classes at school, mainly in the academic area.”
MFA students concur, and worry about their ability to find jobs compared to their more academic-minded counterparts. “I don’t really feel that MA students are slighted at all in terms of resources,” says Leif Sandburg, a second year MFA student. “Some of them will have a definite advantage over MFA students finding jobs after school.”
However, there are some MA students who feel that the importance of their scholarly pursuits go unacknowledged. “Despite the fact that writing a thesis is a degree requirement for all MA students, none of us are given carrels in which to work during the year that we must complete this thesis,” says Kelsey Nelson, a graduate student in the Art Education department. “When I wrote a thesis at the undergraduate level, I was guaranteed a desk in a library carrel suite. Frankly, I interpret this inequality as a statement that the practice and scholarship of MA students is not valued as much as that of MFA students, and I know that many of my fellow MA students would agree.”
Anna Wolak also encountered difficulties when it came to finding study space. “The point of a studio is to have a place to create. I certainly wanted that,” she says. “The areas designated for MA students to create, like the grad lounge, were not quiet or reclusive enough for writing or photo editing. I ended up haunting the photo cage and the library. It would have been nice to have a private, individual space, especially when doing interviews or transcribing them.”
Hanna Yoo, a graduate student in the Art History department, agrees. “I wouldn’t insist on my own studio, since I don’t really need one,” she says. “But the school should extend the library hours. Since I work on weekdays and Saturdays, Monday is basically the only day I can use the library.” As she points out, Art History students often require ready access to specific books and journals. The Flaxman’s limited hours add an unnecessary difficulty to her studies. While she admits that “we have a nice museum, their library has even more limited hours than the Flaxman.”