By Deborah Rosenthal
Since I retired in 2016 (in the wake of the rescinded firings of tenured full professors), I have been following news from Rider from off-campus. I remain, always, interested in the fate of the university where I spent 26 years of rich experiences teaching the full panoply of painting, drawing and graphics courses; and I am saddened and angered by what I see. In 2015-16, “academic prioritization” was set in motion by the university’s administration. This bland phrase put a neutral face on a process that in fact trashed essential disciplines—firing tenured faculty, whittling down course offerings, eliminating majors and minors in basic disciplines of the arts and humanities– and is steering the university still toward a future as a vocational school. It is fairly obvious that the recent hiring of an expensive outside consulting firm is a mandate to continue, rationalize and perhaps accelerate the implementation of a “business” model—the president of the University speaks of higher education as an “industry,” after all—a vision of the university based, not on universal intellectual and cultural values, but instead on manipulable statistics alone. Shut the library one day a week. Cut its budget. Sacrifice learning, bar the storehouse of books and knowledge—all to pay businessmen to starve (prioritize) the arts and humanities right out of Rider. Example from my corner of the institution: the small but intensive((and in fact well-known in art circles in New York) painting major has been abolished; Westminster College, the prestigious music school, displaced from its campus, crushed down to practically zero resources and students.
The Rider I knew and was proud to teach at comprised a faculty and students who experienced the transformational power of learning. In painting, drawing, printmaking, design and upper-level special-topics courses, I engaged with education majors, business-administration majors, English majors, biology majors, etc., etc., etc. The studio facilities were always under-supported, and inadequate—but the work together, professor and students, was often brilliant and even profound. I have encountered former students of mine—from all sorts of majors—in the galleries of museums, who approach me to tell me they are there because of what happened in our studio courses; because of the intrinsic value of the arts as a companion to the liberal arts, at the core of the university. I fear that the Rider administration’s faith in statistics and misplaced priorities (instead, keep the library open and recognize it as a crucial priority!)—endangers the whole endeavor of the university. I urge students to support the faculty in resisting a plan and planners who would trade away the truth and beauty that can be found at Rider University.
Deborah Rosenthal, Professor Emerita of Fine Arts