Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Questions for Dean George B. Stauffer ::

The transcripts for Meeting Number 2 will be posted, I will also later post the transcripts for meeting 1,
for the present moment, I'd like to address some questions that I am curious to learn the answers to::

1. "Chair":

If the new chair for Mason Gross' Visual Arts Dept. for the Fall of 2007 has no ability to vote upon faculty matters:-how is she to write evaluations for faculty and administration for the following year?
- at today's meeting (transcripts will be available soon), he has continually referenced that he consults the chair in major decisions made for the "betterment" of staff and education, as well as for decisions about tenure, and so forth. I personally find that close consultation in those matters are of extreme importance, and that is just as good as a so-called "vote".
- my understanding of the "unanimous" decision for the upcoming chair, is that a good majority of the faculty were not even in attendance at the time of the vote. if i am mistaken, please, correct me.
- as an unbias chair, it is also my understanding that this new chair, last year, has acted as dean when Dean George B. Stauffer was away on sabbatical. She was also responsible for denying Jason Francisco tenure, in which he was able to file grievances. While I have been reassured that it is a good decision in mediating the faculty and administration, I continue to feel uneasy.

2. "Fundraising":

- During Meeting 1 (I will later post the transcript), Dean Stauffer has stated that he has raised $17 million dollars in fundraising. The question that was asked was basically, "how much money was raised for fundraising, and how was it divided among the 4 divisions at Mason Gross?" I noted that he never specifically stated how the fundraising money was divided, rather he evaded the question by stating that he was currently working on attaining a $1 million dollar for the visual arts department. He also stated that the sponsor of this fund would not be happy in the type of art created at Mason Gross, which leads me to question: a. how exactly does he expect to attain this sponsor if this sponsor would not necessarily want to donate funds to this type of art? (could it be that he has insinuated that the school will change it's philosophy and motto? - that's just a curiosity of mine)
b. considering the fact that he has not yet attained this fund, i think it is premature to even assume that we have the $1 million dollars, not to mention the fact that $1 million dollars as compared to $17 million dollars is really 'chump change'.- I have learned that as part of having "raised" $17 million dollars, what is also incorporated into that amount includes monetary funds that we have NOT yet attained, but also the funds that're "being worked on."

3. "Saving his own ass through speech and unknown information":
- He appoints ALL faculty, so he really should just stop using that as an excuse.
- His "favor" to Hasan's two semester sabbatical, is not really a favor at all. During Hasan's 8 year career in Florida, he has never taken a sabbatical. According to University Policy, those 8 years prior to his coming to Mason Gross is to be incorporated with his career here at Mason Gross, and every 3 years of work allows for 1 semester of sabbatical.
I believe the equation is: 11 years of work/divided 1 semester sabbatical per 3 years of work (without sabbatical during the time) = 3.67 semesters = about 2 years in which Hasan is legally allowed to be on sabbatical.

4. "His Vision":
-Dean Stauffer's 'vision' of the school is to "build and support students as well as provide excellent training."
:: this is an interesting statement considering the fact that this should not be a 'vision'. This should 1. be mandatory, as those are the main characteristics of a strong and good education and 2. This should already be active.
in stating that it is a 'vision' implies that this is the goal to reach. It shouldn't and wouldn't have to be reached for if this was already a solidified action.

5. "Communication Skills":
- I'd STILL like to ask how he decides what is "in the best interest of students" when he has little to no contact with students, OR faculty. I know I've asked this aloud to a few people, but I find that the only person who can answer this is George Stauffer.
- I've noticed that his opening statement in response to most questions begins with "Clearly we've heard your concerns" and "I hear you". In that case, I'm glad he "hears" us now because his isolation tank of an office was clearly sound proof for the past 5 years.

And on that note, I hope he hears me when I say, "RESIGN."

Thanks for not "preserving" my education DEAN GEORGE STAUFFER !!!

Budget cuts bear down on Mason Gross

from The Daily Targum

While meeting with deans, students vocalize their frustration with class cuts
Michelle Walbaum / University Editor
Issue date: 4/30/07 Section: University

During a meeting with school deans Friday, some Mason Gross School of the Arts students angrily responded to what they said were unfair class reductions - classes snipped from the curriculum due to the budget cuts instigated by the state last year.

Elizabeth Lynch, a Mason Gross junior majoring in video, said fulfilling the required classes for her concentration is almost impossible. To graduate, a video major must take six classes, but the video department now only offers five courses.

"In order to be able to fulfill the sixth requirement, they're offering the alternative of taking a films studies class in the English department, which is completely different from a studio class," Lynch said. "It's not a production class, and our opportunities are extremely limited. We need to jump through loopholes to find our sixth course, and I feel like, even though I transferred here, it seems transferring somewhere else may be my only alternative, and it feels a little late right now."

Lynch said she chose to transfer to Mason Gross because of Assistant Professor of video Hasan Elahi, and an outstanding video program. As soon as her transfer to Mason Gross was official, however, the video program was hit by budget cuts.

"It puts students who have already started on a video track in a near impossible situation," she said.

Natalie Mckeever, a Mason Gross junior majoring in video, said both scriptwriting and digital audio were cut from the video department, and the remaining classes include Video 1, a class taught by a teacher's assistant; two intermediate courses and the advanced media class, which video majors must take twice.

Lynch said she does not feel limiting video to one type of studio class is fair. Scriptwriting and digital audio offered another dimension to the major, a dimension which she said is shared among the arts.

"You have different mediums and forms of learning about your concentration," she said. "Painting, for example, has drawing, figure drawing and all that."

Last year, $66 million of the University budget was cut by the state, and the state government will restore $12.3 million of the funds next semester.

"We hope that budgets improve," said Dean George Stauffer. "If they do, our first priority at Mason Gross will be to restore classes that are needed to fulfill requirements within the programs. The school suffered a cut of approximately $750,000. That is a significant reduction in funding, and it will take some time to recoup the loss."

Doug Storeken, a Mason Gross junior majoring in photography, said photography was also hit by the cuts.

"We can't have as many classes, and photography has the most amount of students in a concentration," Storeken said. "Most visual arts classes have 10 students in a studio class, and photography has double that because there's no teachers to teach the class."

Classes in which students already were signed up for in the beginning of this year were canceled, Storeken said, and the school had to let go of part-time and adjunct instructors who taught upper-level classes such as digital photography, audio classes and upper-level video classes.

"Being that I'll be a senior next semester, I'm doubtful that most of the dropped classes will be restored before I graduate," Storeken said. "But I think if the students keep at it in the years to come, they will definitely benefit from their work."

"Meeting provides George B. Stauffer with student feedback"

by: Michael Huang / Associate News Editor
Issue date: 4/30/07 Section: Page One

While the fate of two professors in the visual arts department of the Mason Gross School of Arts remains to be determined, students had the opportunity to voice their concerns directly to their deans last Friday.

Mason Gross Dean George Stauffer, Mason Gross Associate Dean Dennis Benson and Mason Gross Dean of Students Casey Coakley sat down with over 50 students from the visual arts department, as well as several from the music department, to discuss student concerns.

Among several topics of concern is the school's decision to deny tenure to Mason Gross photography professor Jason Francisco and the decision to give video media technology professor Hasan Elahi a one-year contract.

Elahi said the one-year contract is a message from the University to improve his teaching ability and then after the year is over, he is reevaluated. But he was granted sabbatical leave for that time period, and therefore will not have a chance to prove himself.

"We did receive some good news, as Associate Dean Benson revealed to us that Jason Francisco's case is 'going well,'" Mason Gross junior Jacqulyn Sullivan said. "Benson assured us that there is an 80 percent chance Jason will be reevaluated for tenure. We still demand answers regarding Hasan Elahi's case, as even the non-confidential related questions were evaded."

Students said they did not think this was a good enough explanation.

"An attempt is being made to force Hasan Elahi out of Rutgers," Mason Gross graduate student Charlotte C. Whalen said. "Given Elahi's teaching and exhibition record, his students find this virtually incomprehensible, and today's answers from Dean Stauffer did not provide us with a framework for comprehending his situation."

Stauffer said Elahi's situation of being put on a one-year contract for reevaluation and then being granted one full year of sabbatical may not be as grim as students think it is.

"A one-year reappointment on a tenure-track line at the three-year mark means that we have full confidence in the professor and want her or him to stay at Rutgers," Stauffer said. "At the same time, it signifies that we are concerned that an adjustment be made in one area or another. … We do this to support the candidate and improve her or his chances."

Stauffer said being put on sabbatical is something positive.

"We have awarded Hasan Elahi two semesters of sabbatical. This is extremely rare," Stauffer said at the meeting.

He explained that placing a professor on one semester of sabbatical, much less two, means placing a lot of trust in that professor financially. "I would not invest that much in him if I did not think he would come back."

Some students weren't pleased with this response.

"In the case of Hasan Elahi there's no real process he can do, because you're offering him a positive offer," Mason Gross senior Justin Heim said to Stauffer at the meeting. "I don't know why it's looked at as a positive offer. Supposedly it's a positive offer, but everybody knows it's not a positive offer. You can stop the game on that."

Although the deans could not comment on the individual circumstances of Elahi's case, Stauffer reminded the students of Elahi's background.

"Do keep in mind that Hasan Elahi is my appointment," Stauffer said. "He was the one I felt could cover an area that no one else could cover. I appointed Hasan Elahi with full confidence, and that confidence remains."

Students in the visual arts department have also begun discussions with the administration to create a student government in the hopes that the student voice will influence similar decisions in the future.

But University officials said it is unlikely students would ever have a say in the job status of professors.

"I think students voice should be heard. But if you were to ask me should students have a formal vote or seat at the table? My honest answer would have to be no," said University President Richard L. McCormick at a press conference with The Daily Targum. Although, he emphasized, he was for the most part unfamiliar with the situation at Mason Gross.

"I do think that student teacher evaluations matter and should matter," he said. "To open up the decision to students who stays and who goes, I think would be a mistake."

Reaction to the meeting at Mason Gross was mixed.

"The most important point is that I hear you, and we will do our best. … I will do my best," Stauffer said to those in attendance. "I want your council, I want your political punch, but at the same time I would like this kind of meeting where you pose to me a slate of questions."

Students weren't as optimistic.

"All the students who attended brought articulate and probing questions. Unfortunately, the dialog we established with Dean Stauffer was hampered somewhat by his disinclination to give concrete responses to our questions," Whalen said. "Most students left with the impression that his tone throughout was patronizing or condescending, particularly because he refused to provide substantive answers."

Other students agreed.

"Yes they responded. However, they definitely responded in the typical way that authority or political higher ups respond." Heim said. "They evaded some questions, gave limited responses - which I understand that by legalities they should - and danced around some topics to a point where answers weren't readily clear."

Overall, both sides agreed this meeting opened up a dialogue that has not gone on between students and administration in many years.

"Perhaps the most important result of the meeting was that we, as students, built substantial momentum in expressing our commitment to change," Whalen said. "The administration is beginning to recognize the seriousness of that commitment. They have to acknowledge that we will not be going away any time soon."

Because George Stauffer does not make snowflakes.

Unique or part of a larger pattern?

from The Daily Targum

Commentary
Charlotte Whalen
Issue date: 4/30/07 Section: Opinions

Last week, University President Richard L. McCormick wrote a letter to The Daily Targum's editor. "One of the great ironies in American higher education," he began, "is that undergraduate students at many of the nation's best-known universities often feel slighted." His letter, "Focusing on undergraduates," went on to describe the University's initiative to revamp undergraduate education at Rutgers in order to ensure that the student body does not suffer from the school's prioritization of faculty and graduate student research.

This fraught attempt to balance the mandate to teach with the demand to produce new knowledge is the perennial dilemma of the modern research university - a conflict that, in fact, dates back to the latter part of the 19th century, when universities first took on the scale and level of institutional complexity that marks them today. The initiatives that McCormick describes - the creation of a new system of first-year seminars with senior faculty and the founding of the Aresty Research Center - will both doubtless be effective in helping redress imbalance.

But unfortunately, neither of these initiatives is likely to help the students of visual arts at Mason Gross, who are currently taking collective action to protest marginalization of the undergraduate student body within their department.

Instead of the "virtually limitless educational opportunities" that McCormick's Rutgers ought to offer its undergraduates, these students have found a department of decimated course offerings, a faculty split by internal divisions and a budget shortage so dire that often the most basic course materials are lacking - down to the paper towels. Some students struggle to graduate because the department no longer offers enough courses in their concentration for them to complete their requirements. Others have found that the strong concentration they entered four years ago has been slashed so severely that, within their chosen field, their degree is left nearly worthless.

But students have responded to the lack of leadership in a department sliding further into disarray not with apathy or cynicism. Instead, they are demanding that their superiors - those who are supposed to be directing their education - listen to the students' vision of what the future of the department could and should hold.

Students initially rose up in response to a string of controversial personnel decisions. Most recently this year, two popular and gifted professors, Jason Francisco and Hasan Elahi, were respectively denied tenure and denied three-year reappointment (Elahi was offered a one-year reappointment). But in a unique twist on an apparently old story, these tenure and reappointment debates do not center on the perennial question of whether to reward professors who are excellent teachers or excellent scholars. Rather, the department has been letting go of artists who excel in both of these areas. Elahi, for example, is one of the department's most popular and effective teachers, and was recently invited to participate in the upcoming Venice Biennale.

This leads some to speculate that decisions are being made on the basis of internal departmental politics rather than according to the criteria of merit outlined in the university's tenure guidelines - particularly at the level of Dean George B. Stauffer, where inconsistent application of authority has fostered this perception. Otherwise inexplicable decisions lead students to despair that their department is a revolving door, where they will never have sufficient time with professors to establish adequate mentoring relationships.

But in addition to these particular cases, students are addressing larger patterns of dysfunction. At the heart of the conflict at Mason Gross lies a set of issues that are flash points of current debate over the future of higher education, both within the greater community at Rutgers and throughout the country. These include the place of interdisciplinary in contemporary education, the effectiveness of student evaluations as a measure of teaching merit, the replacement of tenured faculty with short-term or part-time teaching staff, faculty diversity and, of course, the lack of student involvement in decisions that affect the department's future. Last Friday, students held Stauffer captive for four hours of intense interrogation, demanding solid answers to tough questions on these topics. More meetings are planned for this week, and students are initiating a long-term dialogue with faculty and administration in the hopes of encouraging all parties to transcend the factional divisions that have so far prevented them from effectively leading for the school.

The spontaneous, genuine engagement of these students and their passionate commitment to safeguarding the future of their department should serve as a model for all of us. In this case, the department's youngest members have shown themselves to be its most effective and responsible citizens.

Charlotte Whalen is a graduate student in the visual arts department of Mason Gross School of the Arts.

The Daily Targum + George B. Stauffer = receives dart

APRIL 28th 2007

Dean George B. Stauffer recieves a dart

from The Daily Targum

Controversy reared its ugly head over administrative decisions in the Mason Gross School of the Arts recently, as the choices made may result in the loss of two professors held in high regard by students. When students began to protest the decision by creating petitions for submission to Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Philip Furmanski, they came across a letter from Dean George B. Stauffer indicating that he did not believe that students should be involved in such affairs. He said such involvement "only serves to divert them from their work" and that students have told him that they do not want to be involved as "political pawns" in faculty matters. Unfortunately, such a stance is disingenuous at best, as his reply fails to take into account the fact that decisions affecting faculty ultimately affects students' education, and the fact of the matter is that the students took to protesting on their own accord, not on the urging of any faculty member. For taking a hypocritical stance towards the students of Mason Gross, Stauffer receives a dart.

Contact GEORGE B. STAUFFER with your comments, as his were quite motivating.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM STUDENT BODY MEETING WITH THE DEANS, FRIDAY, APRIL 27TH, 2007:

DEAN GEORGE B. STAUFFER
George B. Stauffer, Dean
Phone: 732-932-9360 x507
Email: stauffer@masongross.rutgers.edu

Dean George B. Stauffer’s disposition remained coy and condescending throughout the meeting. Below are quoted statements and their context, which the student body finds both inappropriate, unprofessional, and insulting, as well as a diversion from addressing the real issues students are concerned with:

When addressed about the legitimacy of art education after 1990:
“Doesn’t Michael Rees teach work after 1990? If he doesn’t, I’ll fire him”

When addressed about decision-making:
“I’d like to say that like the pope, I’m infallible. But I’m not the pope, I’m not catholic either.”

When asked about obligations to students:
“I will fight like mad for you.”

When addressed about the decision by acting dean Pat Meyer to deny Jason Francisco tenure:
“I was on sabbatical. I needed a break.”

When asked about his decision making process:
“I make the calls that I make.”

When asked about funding distribution:
“Visual arts is a tough row to hoe. People naturally give to music, it’s been like that for hundreds of years.”

When asked about the validity of student input and representation of voices:
“Put your vote in the form of evaluation forms.”

When asked about his obligations to interact with students, Dean Stauffer remarked that “interaction with students is the responsibility of Dean of Students Casey Coakley.”

The Dean further referred to the “avant-garde/cutting edge” department(s) (video, new media, graphic design, etc) as “Digital Design,” a department which does not exist within the school.

ASSOC. DEAN DENNIS BENSON
Phone: 732-932-9360 x510
Email: dbenson@masongross.rutgers.edu

Assoc. Dean Dennis Benson remarked that he “didn’t get to it” when addressed about the recognition of and/or replying to the 35 letters of concern delivered to the Dean’s office by Justin Heim.

Associate Dean Benson also said, “My life is miserable because of those things.” regarding the actions and involvement of AAUP (Amnerican Assoc. of University Professors.

When asked about the future of Elahi’s position at MGSA, Assoc. Dean Benson remarked, “We have confidence in him, and like his work and stuff.”

DEAN OF STUDENTS CASEY COAKLEY
Phone: 732-932-9360 x508
Email: ccoakley@masongross.rutgers.edu

Dean of Students Casey Coakley admitted that she “certainly needs to send out emails informing students of their rights,” when asked why no students were informed in any way of an opening for a Mason Gross representative in Rutgers University Student Association.

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF ALL!

Students question absence of famed prof
High profile faculty member banned from teaching undergrads, participating in staff meetings

by Michelle Walbaum / University Editor
Issue date: 4/27/07 Section: University


Martha Rosler, an artist and tenured professor of the Mason Gross School of the Arts, has amassed a 90 page resume.

Working in contemporary art mediums such as video and photography, she was invited to The Documenta, a renowned art exhibition so exclusive that it is almost impossible for artists to receive an invitation, and has published fourteen books. But at Mason Gross, she has been banned from teaching undergraduate students and attending faculty meetings, and is only allowed to teach one graduate course per year.

An undisclosed source said Rosler brought a case upon the department due to extreme harassment by some members of the bureaucracy of Mason Gross, including former Faculty Chairperson Gary Kuehn and Dean George Stauffer.

Stauffer said it was not appropriate to comment on Rosler's dispute because the matter was confidential.

"With regard to Professor Rosler, I can only say that she is a highly respected member of our Visual Arts faculty," he said. "I admire her work as an artist, and I have followed her career with great interest."

Mason Gross visual arts students who run the Web site manderinorange.com, an online resource expressing frustration with the bureaucracy of Mason Gross, have recently questioned Rosler's minimization within the faculty, especially Rosler's restriction from teaching undergraduates.

"This affects us deeply," said Justin Heim, a Mason Gross visual arts senior. "We are missing an education from one of the art world's top minds. She is a photographer, a published author, an activist and a leader."

Rosler was given an extra workload by the department - teaching four classes a semester instead of three - and the workload was designed to punish her for her lack of attendance at faculty meetings, the undisclosed source said.

Rosler did not go to faculty meetings because she was harassed Kuehn. During the meetings, she was constantly charged with violations and was also sidelined in faculty discussions, the undisclosed source said.

Kuehn accused her of not attending classes regularly and leaving class early, an accusation proven untrue when surveillance was carried out in Rosler's classes.

The undisclosed source said Rosler's office was right across from the lab room in which she taught, and sometimes, she would be sitting in her office with the door open, rather than in her lab.

The anonymous source claimed the repeated charges against Rosler, as well as the extra workload, were designed to get her to leave the department.

After Sept. 11, Rosler, who lived in New York City and suffered the loss of a student on account of the destruction of the World Trade Center, had post-traumatic stress disorder. During this time, Rosler was teaching four classes, and she asked to be relieved of some of her duties.

An undisclosed source said the department took the entire semester to evaluate her situation and treated it as though it was a joke and fake, although Rosler had letters from several doctors. She signed a settlement, which was the result of a dispute between herself and the Mason Gross visual arts department, prohibiting her from revealing certain information about the case she brought against the department, as well as banning her from faculty meetings and teaching undergraduates.

The settlement did, however, retain her right to have the benefits of a full-time professor, and the settlement was reached by mediation and then arbitration outside of court.

The undisclosed source claimed Stauffer created and is maintaining a minority rule in the faculty department, allowing the minority to choose whom to hire, fire and promote and minimize.

Kuehn endorsed painting and sculpting, but was not particular to the contemporary mediums in which Rosler works, the undisclosed source said.

Departments within the visuals arts - such as graphic design, photography and video - always had to struggle with resources at Mason Gross, said Paul Bruner, an associate professor.

"Photography and video have always had a very insecure hold," the undisclosed source said. "They're always under funded, having to fight like crazy to get needed resources and adequate staffing."

"[Some members of the bureaucracy] are attempting to create a success machine out of the department," the undisclosed source said. "They want students producing paintings and sculptures, who will become famous immediately so the dean will look good. Their model is Columbia University in New York City, as they have often said."

But Stauffer disagrees with this assessment.

"The suggestion that Columbia or Juilliard is my model for Mason Gross is baseless," Stauffer said. "We have discussed the issue of models for Mason Gross at some length over the past few years at faculty meetings, in the school Executive Committee and in the school Leadership Council. There is a wide consensus that we do not wish to pattern Mason Gross after any other school. Rather, we want to preserve its proud tradition of individuality and the vibrancy that is engendered from that individuality. The model for Mason Gross is Mason Gross. It is unique, and that's how we want to keep it."

But when University President Richard L. McCormick commented on Mason Gross at a separate press conference, he mentioned the school's proximity to the city.

"Mason Gross is a very special place," he said. "It capitalizes on being close to New York, which is the art capital of the world."

The reasoning behind the minimization of Rosler may have to do with money, which the school constantly needs, Bruner said. Labeling the school as a prestigious conservatory, instead of newer mediums in which Rosler is qualified, brings in alumni funds, he said.

In addition, the University itself has always had an image problem.

In the Old Queen's campus, there are red flags hanging with a symbol of a crown Q and a crown with an R over the date 1766, the date the University was founded, even though the original school was not founded by the English, but by the Dutch, Bruner said.

The University is in the same geographical area as Princeton University, Columbia University, New York University and other prestigious schools, and the University is not part of that exclusive club, he said.

In addition, the University maintains campuses in Camden and Newark, two of the nation's poorest cities.

"We are undoubtedly from the get-go a poor cousin here," he said. "We feel second-class, quite honestly."

This image problem may have caused the University to struggle with the desire to be similar to its neighbors.

But the University itself has always been radical, especially in its art programs.

"We're always oriented towards the radical because we're not in the center of New York, we're at the edge of New York," Bruner said. "That's our purpose."

GEORGE B. STAUFFER

APRIL 23rd 2007

from The Daily Targum
Students push for stronger voice in administration
Visual arts majors at Mason Gross say student government is needed to influence deans' decisions
by Michael Huang / Associate News Editor

In reaction to what they say are poor administrative decisions, some students in Mason Gross School of the Arts hope to form a student government to have a say in such decisions - but some are having more success than others.

More specifically, some students feel administrative choices resulting in the potential loss of two professors have sparked the visual arts branch of the school to feel a student government is needed.

Some students are concerned about the fates of Hasan Elahi, a video media technology professor at Mason Gross, and Jason Francisco, a photography Mason Gross professor.

Elahi's contract is being renewed as a one-year contract for him to prove his teaching ability and then be reevaluated, but he will be on sabbatical leave, and therefore not have a chance to prove himself, Elahi said.

"[Elahi] was invited into the next Venice Biennale, arguably the most prestigious art show in the world," said Justin Heim, a Mason Gross visual arts senior. He also has lectured at the Tate Modern - a museum of modern art in London, Heim said.

Francisco was denied tenure last year, and is currently repealing the decision, Francisco said.

"He is without a doubt one of the top professors in the visual arts department, and I have had quite a few," said Amanda Barrett, a Mason Gross visual arts senior who created several Facebook groups urging students to take action by contacting deans. "I felt awful being powerless in a decision that had such impacting repercussions on all the students in the photography department as well as a professor we all care very much for. This made me very aware that something in the power structure was wrong."

Students initially began protesting the administrative decisions, but say the dean reacted negatively.

"We created petitions in support of both professors Jason Francisco and Hasan Elahi," Barrett said. "The number was approaching 100 when they were going to be submitted to Dr. Philip Furmanski, [vice president for Academic Affairs], for review. This was around the time when we came upon a letter from Dean [George B.] Stauffer to the Faculty in reply to our efforts, which more or less said to keep us out of the whole affair."

Visual arts students say the dean of Mason Gross has ignored their efforts to speak out against the administration.

"The dean of Mason Gross has voiced that he does not believe the students should be involved in such personnel affairs, that it 'only serves to divert them from their work' to quote from a letter from the dean to faculty," Barrett said. "The fact of the matter is these decisions being handed down by the dean are already interfering with our education. To believe that they don't and the quality of our education has nothing to do with the quality of our professors is as ridiculous as it sounds."

A Facebook group dedicated to the cause called "ExCommunicationalists" links to a Web page that shows a letter that says it is from Stauffer to the faculty at Mason Gross.

The letter reads, "Students have told both outside evaluators and me that they do not wish to be used as 'political pawns' in faculty matters. Let's keep personnel matters to ourselves and handle faculty reappointment and promotion proceedings in a professional way - as issues to be debated and resolved by faculty and administrators, not students."

"We know and care a lot more than the administration may care to believe," Barrett said. "By being involved, we are not political pawns - we are choosing to fight for what we believe in and have our voices heard of our own volition. … We wish to give the voice of the students the weight it deserves."

Other students shared the same sentiments about the dean.

"In my direct interactions with Dean Stauffer, every moment was filled with a condescending and pompous attitude as he spoke to me and my fellow students, not paying any attention to the answers of the ingenuine questions he asked us," said Anthony Dominiczak, a Mason Gross visual arts junior.

To make sure their voices would have more influence in the future, visual arts students hope to create a student government that would hopefully better influence administrative decisions, but they say the deans have been unreceptive.

"We feel that we need a government organization so that we actually have a voice and feel like our wants and concerns can be heard before faculty proceeds with their decision making process," Heim said. "Without taking a direct interest in student concerns, we feel that our dean is either apathetic to our thoughts and emotions or thinks of us as children that don't know what we need for our own good."

Mason Gross administration on the other hand says it has been supportive of student efforts to create a student government.

"During the spring semester 2007, Mason Gross has hosted the several opportunities for students to meet with and get to know the administration," said Casey Coakley, dean of students at Mason Gross.

Dining with the Deans, an informal pizza lunch, is held twice each semester, at both the Douglass and Civic Square campuses for the convenience of students.

The deans held two lunch meetings with Mason Gross students at Old Man Rafferty's in February, graduate teaching assistants were invited to a cocktail reception with Coakley and Stauffer to discuss their teaching experiences, and Coakley holds open office hours in Walters Hall where she is available to students who may choose to walk in, Coakley said.

"Student feedback is vitally important to a dean," Stauffer said. "We are here to educate students, and the best gauge of our work is the success of our students and whether or not we are providing them with the best arts training available."

To get student feedback, Stauffer said he meets regularly with students.

"For this reason, I talk with students almost daily - from informal chats at events to lunches with small groups of students to Dining with the Deans, to which all students are invited, to meetings in my office," he said. "I am surprised that the present students did not meet with me directly to discuss the matters at hand. My door is always open."

In fact, some students at Mason Gross have had success in dealing with the deans.

"I have in fact drawn up a draft constitution - but, after conversations with both Dean Coakley and Dean O'Connell-Ganges, the former Interim Dean of Students for MGSA, we decided that the constitution does not fit our needs for the time being," said Nicholas Schumacher, a Mason Gross music department junior. "I cannot anticipate any problems working with the administration. So far, they have been very supportive of my efforts. I'm sure we will be able to solve any issues in a positive, productive manner."

Schumacher worked with Coakley to send out a mass e-mail inviting all Mason Gross students to meet and discuss the formation of a united student government, where only one student attended.

But even with the formation of a student government, students can only remain hopeful the administration will take their voice into account.

"I don't think that we will ever get to vote on the issues of hiring and firing faculty," Hein said. "However, I do think that if our professors are going to be let go or ushered out the door, we should easily be able to voice our opinions on that matter and have them be heard."

from The Daily Targum
Visual arts students upset over faculty rift
Professors share discontent with dean's actions toward faculty
by Michelle Walbaum / University Editor

Hasan Elahi, an instructor of video media technology at Mason Gross School of the Arts, said he did not think the negative teaching evaluation - an evaluation bumping him down from a three-year contract renewal to a job-in-jeopardy one-year contract - he received from the dean was accurate, and students seems to agree.

Elahi took the course evaluation data from the Center of the Advancement of Teaching at the University and compared it to the faculty voting on his reappointment and found that, in fact, the numbers didn't add up.

He was ranked a four out of five in overall effectiveness in his courses, and five out of five in overall instructor effectiveness.

A faculty rift is occurring in the visual arts department of the Mason Gross School of the Arts - a majority of the faculty finds Dean George Stauffer as the cause of much of the political strife, while a minority is looking to the dean's leadership as the solution, said Jason Francisco, a Mason Gross photography teacher.

Students say it is because of this rift that some faculty members are being negatively impacted, but because of personal politics, instead of as a result of bad academic merit.

The rift began to gain momentum in 2004 and 2005, Francisco said, when the visual arts department formed a boycott committee to protest Dean Stauffer's undemocratic handling of the department. He ruled over the majority of the department with his appointed Chairman Gary Kuehn who had been there for seven years, even though the department regulations restricted the position to five years.

When voted to recall Kuehn elect Professor Lauren Ewing as the chairwoman, Stauffer would not recognize their decision.

Associate Professor of graphic design Paul Bruner said he believes Dean Stauffer, who is a musician, wants to make over Mason Gross as a respected conservatory - something like the Juilliard School or Columbia University rather than what radical and political Rutgers art programs have been over the years - and that may be part of the reason why he possibly could be pushing out the media and photography programs in which Elahi and Francisco are involved.

Bruner also said he believes Stauffer may want to package the school to alumni as an impressive conservatory-type school to collect more funds, which are always needed in a school such as Rutgers, which relies on state funding and student financial aid.

But Stauffer disagrees. He said he consults with others at the University, and aims to uplift students.

"As dean, I try to achieve consensus to the greatest extent possible on key issues. To do that, I consult regularly with faculty and students, both formally and informally," Stauffer said. "My goal at Mason Gross is to create a school of excellence, one that supports our students and allows them to grow as individual artists and realize their greatest potential."

Visual arts students feel the dean's words do not reflect that goal, as seen from his actions taken toward Elahi.

Elahi said he had completed a three-year contract and expected to receive an additional three-year contract at the University. But Elahi said his teaching received an "uneven to poor" rating from the dean, and therefore a one-year contract in which he is expected to improve his teaching or lose his job, despite his effectiveness ratings.

On top of that, the dean approved a sabbatical leave for Elahi, which means he will be absent from teaching during the entire period of his contract, Elahi said.

"I'm basically in an impossible situation," he said.

Other faculty could not understand the low rating Elahi received either.

"I have not met one student with something negative to say about him," Morgan Page said, a Mason Gross teaching assistant. "He is by far the most actively involved in helping students achieve their goals to my knowledge. He provides several methods of contacting him for help outside school hours. He shows in very important exhibitions all over the world."

But Dean Stauffer said he uses objective measures to give out promotions, reappointments and tenure.

"I weigh the qualifications of these candidates carefully and objectively, with the best interests of our students, the department, the school and the University in mind," he said. "I can assure you that appointments are made solely on the merits of candidates."

Dean Stauffer also said he represents only one level of the process for reappointment, promotion and tenure procedures - the process is a complex one, with as many as three to six levels of review.

He said it would not be appropriate to comment on the proceedings of specific faculty, because they are confidential.

The actions taken against Elahi aren't the only ones with which students disagree.

Francisco also said he was denied tenure last year because of the faculty rift, which allowed the minority vote to rule over the majority. The tenure process, negotiated at several different levels, must have a 66 percent majority vote at each department level. Francisco received a 64 percent majority out of 11 members, two points shy - and still a two-thirds majority.

"Because of the way the rules are written, the dean and minority members have power to block tenure," Francisco said.

Francisco said a majority of the department faculty recommended promotion with tenure, as well as 100 percent of the outside evaluators.

"[Francisco] is easily the best photo professor that we have, and it angered almost all of the photography students in the school," said Justin Heim, a Mason Gross School of the Arts senior.

"Altogether, of 28 opinions registered in the evaluation process up to and including the Dean's office, 23 unambiguously recommended promotion with tenure," he said. "The strength of that majority - and the diversity of expertise it represents - would seem to speak for itself."

Heim was struck by what he said was the unfairness of Elahi's teaching evaluation. Elahi is Heim's mentor and a professor from whom he learned a great deal, he said. But Elahi is now constantly searching for new jobs, constantly interviewing, he said. The interviewing, takes up a great deal of Elahi's time, he said, and he is not around the school as much due to the job insecurity.

Heim began a petition and managed to compile 80 student signatures to send to the administration - all of whom signed because they did not agree with the decision of the Dean, along with numerous letters from different student stating how great of a teacher Elahi is, Heim said.

Heim said he started out with 25 letters and now has 35 letters, but he still has not heard any acknowledgement of anything he sent.

"I handed them all in and waited," he said. "No response."

Heim said students found a letter from the dean a few days after he sent in the petition - a letter addressed to the faculty, stating the dean did not support student involvement in faculty affairs.

"He said that students came to him in the past and did not want to be used as political pawns in faculty affairs. This spread throughout the undergraduate class, and feelings escalated," Heim said.

Mason Gross senior Amanda Barrett, along with other students, created a Facebook group titled "ExCommunicationalists," which, exhibiting a membership of 240, protests the decisions made surrounding Elahi and Fransisico. She also created a Web site madarinorange.com/mgsa, an online resource she dubbed "The Story You Aren't Supposed to Know," which contains information and rumors involving the student unrest about Francisco, Elahi and other marginalized professors.