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Monday, September 25, 2023

Academics & Research

UH terminating Visual Studies

Class Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Sarah Fishman said UH's decision to discontinue its Visual Studies program was made before the recent mandatory 5 percent budget cut because of a low enrollment rate. | Courtesy of

The UH Visual Studies Program, one of only 12 in the country, will be discontinued after the fall semester because of apparent budget cuts.

“I was very disappointed to learn of the decision to discontinue such an important, timely, and cost effective program, which had developed so much good will and support in the community,” Director of Visual Studies Tracy Karner said.

A stand-alone minor within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the study explores all aspects of the visual experience, from innovate uses of visual technology to the images used in art, photography and film.

Students who have already declared their Visual Studies minor will have the opportunity to complete their coursework with one final class in the fall before the program is officially discontinued.

Sarah Fishman, the associate dean of undergraduate studies for CLASS, said that the decision to cut Visual Studies was made earlier this year and before the recent 5 percent budget reduction plan required of UH.

“All of us loved the idea (of Visual Studies), and intellectually, it’s exciting. But the budget has always been lean and mean, and when we’re told to cut back, it’s painful,” Fishman said. “All programs have to operate on shoe strings. It’s not like we’re rolling in the dough like (the University of Texas at Austin).”

Fishman said the decision primarily came from former interim Dean of CLASS Joe Pratt and that Visual Studies was cut because of its relatively low student enrollment. She said that having Karner teach Visual Studies wasn’t sustainable when “a really small department like Sociology” needed her as an instructor.

Karner said she had “not been informed as to the rationale” behind the cut nor was she included to discuss the discontinuation of the program. She defended the program as economical and efficient.

“Visual Studies was a stand-alone minor within CLASS, so there was no departmental budget to economize with,” Karner said. “In the four years of Visual Studies, approximately 96 percent of our funding came from sources other than CLASS and monies had been pledged from the community for next year’s budget.”

Assistant professor Keith Houk told his Visual Studies students of the cut late last month. He said that the news made for a tough classroom environment.

“It has been a tricky semester keeping enthusiasm in the class going, knowing that this is the final semester for the program,” Houk said. “I’ve got great students in there and they have been extremely engaged, which makes for a good semester, but knowing this is the last one can make things a little melancholy.”

Visual Studies has been offered since 2007 as an interdisciplinary program. Students can choose from a variety of elective classes, such as art, history and philosophy.

Houk emphasized the importance of the program in many fields of study and said that although its relative newness may have been a reason, the decision to discontinue Visual Studies was explained as a budget cut.

“As our culture becomes more global, visual communication becomes increasingly important,” Houk said. “I was disappointed. I think it is a valuable course for students in all fields.”

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