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Official Memo: New Opportunities or Empty Promises?


An official memo was issued by the Faculty of Humanities on February 3rd 2010 on McMaster’s
Daily News. A phasing out of the "stand-alone" Art History Program at McMaster University
was proposed. As of today, this proposal is still pending approval from the Senate.

As current students and alumni of the program, we have been “strengthening our
commitment” to fully decipher the vague details of the official memo. However, most of us still
remain unsuccessful.

The Faculty of Humanities wants to demonstrate their commitment to Fine Arts at the
undergraduate and graduate level by proposing a reformatted BFA program and potentially
creating a new MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program. As strong supporters of the arts, we
encourage and fully support McMaster’s new plans to create new opportunities in BFA and
MFA programs but, we insist you keep the Art History Program at McMaster intact and
continue to provide additional support.

A minor in Art History is not a sufficient compromise! A minor in the discipline does not meet
the admission requirements of the majority of graduate and professional programs in Art, Art
History and Design disciplines, and the decision to propose it as an alternative is highly
uninformed. Based on statistics from a recent Art History Program Review in 2008-2009, 62% of
alumni who participated in the survey had pursued post-graduate studies after McMaster (Art
History Review* 2009, p. 80). If the decision to phase the Art History program is finalized,
students will no longer be eligible for acceptance into a Master’s of Art History program (among
MANY others—never mind a PhD!) since they will lack the basic requirements of an Honours
undergraduate degree in Art History. On a side note: this program has a track record of
producing graduates who have attended prestigious international universities and programs
including Harvard, the Courtauld Institute of Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Christie’s to
name a few.

During the extensive Art History Program Review in 2009, the External Review Committee (four
members from diverse concentrations) stated in p. 1 of their report that:

Major strengths of the Art History programme include the quality of the faculty and students
and their commitment to creating and sustaining the best possible environment for learning. In
this, they meet McMaster University’s mission and vision to “inspire and support a passion for
learning” alongside “a commitment to excellence, and to integrity and teamwork.

The panel commended the McMaster Art History Program by stating that:

Indicators of quality for the faculty include their excellent teaching evaluations, high quality
research programmes and productivity and dedication to service. Indicators of quality for the
students include their successful and timely completion of their degrees, number of awards
garnered, success in applying to graduate programmes and success in their chosen employment
fields. In all these categories, the students are very successful. The programme should be lauded
for the fact that overall enrolments in Art History have significantly increased over the past
three years. This, in itself, is evidence of its high quality.
(Art History External Reviewers Report*, 2009, p1)

*Please contact if you would like access to this .pdf report and other recent reports which contain
statistics and testimonials about Mac Art History.

Given this reputation, enrolment statistics and positive comments, the decision to phase out
the Honours and Joint Honours degree in Art History comes as a shock to us and it is very clear
that it is not driven by academic integrity but by financial viability. It is no surprise that the
official memo issued by the University fails to deliver any solid reasoning behind the
termination of this program. This will be a serious loss for the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA)
and the Hamilton Art Gallery (AGH), where an upper-year internship course was being test-run
in 2008 to provide Art History students, who are interested in seriously pursuing gallery and
museum work, with much needed practical experience.

If phasing out Art History is approved by the Senate, McMaster will be the first University in
Ontario, with an established and Fine Art and Art History Department, to reduce the Art History
discipline to a minor. This decision will have severe consequences for prospective and current
Art History students who will most likely to seek an undergraduate degree in Art History from
another University which demonstrates a greater commitment to the arts.

We demand to know how this “transformation of programs” will benefit McMaster’s Art
History students and how this decision is providing “new opportunities in the arts” for future
Art History students. Any quantifiable data that has influenced the administration to put forth
this outrageous proposal to phase out the Art History Program, SHOULD and MUST be publicly
shared with all students and faculty.

On a personal note: we, as Art History students have devoted a lot of time, money and energy
to finance our undergraduate education and we would like more concrete answers as to why
our degree in Art History from McMaster University will no longer be considered reputable. We
can assure you that SOTA and the Faculty of Humanities are slowly, but surely losing our

Yours truly,
Adam Belovari (HBA Art History 2010)
Michael V. Collins (HBA Art History 2013 - Continuing Education)
Laura DiMarco (HBA Art History + Classics minor 2009)
Ashley Gallant (HBA Art History 2009)
Elaine Marion (HBA Art History 2010)
Desirée Valadares (Joint H B.Arts Sc. ArtSci + Art History 2009)