ATEC split from A&H planned for fall’15

Emily Grams

UTD President David Daniel proposes new School of Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication

The Arts and Technology and Emerging Media and Communication programs might soon spin out from Arts and Humanities into a separate school as early as Sept. 1, UTD President David Daniel said on Jan. 20 at the Student Government meeting.

The split awaits approval from the UT System Board of Regents who will review the proposal in February.

“From the university’s standpoint, we feel that this is the best administrative structure to really give the (ATEC and EMAC) programs full empowerment to continue to grow, to attract more faculty, to attract more students and even to attract more private fundraising,” Daniel said.

Other universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Southern Methodist University have similar standalone labs or programs.

However, if the Board of Regents approves the proposal, the school of Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication, or ATEC as it will be called, will be one of a kind in the country.

“We actually hope that no one else has a standalone school because we’d like to be able to tell people we are the only school in the country, although others have similar programs,” Daniel said.

The BA, MA, MFA and Ph.D. degrees in ATEC as well as the BA and MA degrees in EMAC will migrate to the new school, while the School of Arts and Humanities will retain the other degree plans, he said.

Apart from changes in administrative structure, students will not see any changes in their transcripts, Daniel said. If the regents accept the proposal, a new dean for ATEC will be appointed after a nationwide, comprehensive search.

However, upon approval, most endowments for Arts and Humanities will stay with the school unless specifically designated for ATEC or EMAC. Some faculty members might be awarded joint lectureship with both schools, Daniel said.

Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, and Todd Fechter, interim director for ATEC, both declined to comment on future plans for both schools, citing it premature to speculate before the regents’ approval.

Positive feedback from ATEC and EMAC students

The news came as a shock to some students because they weren’t aware of what it will really mean to them, said Katie Truesdale, EMAC junior and SG Student Affairs Committee chair.

However, once aware, ATEC and EMAC students have reacted positively to the news for the most part, said SG President Brooke Knudtson.

Since the new ATEC building opened in fall 2013, ATEC and EMAC students already think they are in their own school, she said. They have very little interaction with administrative staff in the School of Arts and Humanities.

“When you break it down, especially with arts and technology and emerging media becoming such a popular field, I think that it would be quite beneficial to the entering students, the alumni and the school to actually give it its own school in its own right,” said Cameron Gallucci, an 2013 EMAC graduate.

During her first few years at UTD, the faculty, while good, were few in number, and several classes were taught by teaching assistants who weren’t good instructors, she said. With a dedicated dean, the school will hopefully be able to bring in more funding and more full-time faculty members to improve the quality of instruction, Gallucci said.

“If it goes through and they can get the additional state funding, hopefully they won’t have to raise tuition too much,” she said.

If the segregation of the two schools is approved, classes in ATEC should be structured better, particularly in terms of pre-requisites, said ATEC senior Morgan Dedmon. ATEC is conceptually closer to the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science than Arts and Humanities, she said.

“I think there’s a lot that ATEC does that really isn’t appropriate for the title “Arts and Humanities,”” Dedmon said.

In classes such as computer graphics that rely heavily on programming and mathematical principles, a majority of students don’t have the required math skills, unlike students in similar classes in the engineering school, she said.

“Some ATEC Ph.D. students have had trouble getting their doctoral theses approved through administration just because when you put an ATEC student in front of a humanities board, it’s just a very different group of people, combining the typical humanities and art students with game design and all of the different things in technology that ATEC students do,” Truesdale said.

Separating out as its own school will allow ATEC to develop the necessary technical infrastructure required for advanced classes and hopefully help the varied fields of ATEC to develop as independent tracks within the new school, Dedmon said. Right now, the ATEC major is designed to make students a jack of all trades, she said.

“I hope the ATEC major gets broken off into more specific majors and less a hybrid of everything,” Dedmon said. “I think everyone would be better off in the long run, and I think as a separate school, it would be more possible.”

While EMAC has always been a branch off of ATEC, Truesdale said she hopes after the split, the new dean will prioritize both programs equally.

If the separation of ATEC from A&H goes through as proposed, it would be a good opportunity for the EMAC program to expand to multiple tracks, including an entire track around interactive design and user experience, Gallucci said.

It would also help if ATEC and EMAC courses overlapped with each other a little more than they do now, pushing digital writing into animation and integrating sound design deeper with the EMAC program, she said.

“In my experience over at UTD, especially when we moved over to the nicer building and moved out of (the old building) the two programs were very divided,” Gallucci said. “I don’t think it was done intentionally, it was just an unintended ‘I am EMAC; you are ATEC. I’ll talk to my group, you talk to your group and maybe we’ll say hi in the halls.’”

Gallucci, Dedmon and Truesdale also hope career guidance and advising will improve with the creation of a new school.

Improved A&H facilities on the way?

The verdict for Arts and Humanities was a mixed bag.

The proposal to separate ATEC and EMAC did not seem like a good idea when so much of what ATEC and EMAC majors do is interdisciplinary and requires the humanities, said Jennifer Crumley, doctoral student in studies in literature.

“I think the marriage of technology and science and arts and humanities is something that people have been trying to split up for a long time, and I think it continually seems to not work,” she said. “We seem to hear arguments like, ‘We should hire a philosopher on staff in a technology company’ like Google has done.”

However, Knudtson said she thinks the change will allow the university to focus more on fundraising for the arts and build new facilities such as a gallery space for sculptors, performance halls for music and a theater space with a proper backstage setup.

“It’ll be almost like they would be able to shine all by themselves in their own school without ATEC being the main priority,” she said.

However, most of the Erik Jonsson Academic Center, which is where the humanities lectures are held, is still not up to date and it seems that if ATEC and EMAC separate out of the school, Arts and Humanities might become a back-burner item again, Crumley said.

“One always has to be concerned a bit about the shoving under the rug of Arts and Humanities,” she said. “Being combined with ATEC and EMAC, while ATEC/EMAC certainly got the bulk of funding and the bulk of recognition, A&H was able to be in the auxiliary realm of those schools even though we existed prior to them. But the segregation as far as negative impacts might be that we just get forgotten again, which tends to be a recurring theme, not just at this school, but in our culture in general.”

Daniel spoke to the contrary at the SG meeting, citing Arts and Humanities as being vital to the university as a whole and hoping to see improvements in infrastructure in post-ATEC arts and humanities.

“There are some obvious decisions, especially in facilities,” he said. “The music facilities are not what they should be; the performance facilities are not what they should be. I really want the Arts and Humanities programs to look forward and for them to think about what they need and where they’re going to grow and invest, and we want to support that.”

However, in the little more than seven years that Crumley has attended UTD, renovations in the Jonsson building have started only in the past two. Yet, she doesn’t rule out that the proposed separation could be made to work toward the benefit of both schools.

“I can see the benefit in segregating the two if there is a plan already in place after the split to focus more energy, money and time on traditional arts and humanities,” Crumley said. “Then of course, that’s the better thing to do so that you don’t have plans in all these different paths and you can focus on your daily work and do it correctly. But if it’s just a split so that there doesn’t have to be the baggage of arts and humanities for ATEC and EMAC, then I think that’s the wrong approach.”

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