Fashion students not ‘chill’ after chair discussion


Wesley Herold

Fashion studies students discussed the future of their curriculum at a Sept. 19 “Chill with the Chair” meeting with Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies Department.

By Campus Reporter

Tensions ran high when frustrated students met with Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies Department, to discuss the future of the fashion BFA program and proposed curricular changes at his “Chill with the Chair” event Sept. 19 in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

Hoping to leave the meeting with clarity, some students left feeling defeated instead of heard, said Lindsay Holeso, junior fashion studies major.

“The meeting should’ve gone better,” Holeso said. “[Schiff] knew we were upset, but I don’t think he was expecting as many students to come in as there were. There were [more than] 25 students that came into this tiny little room, and there was a lot of back-and-forth. It didn’t make sense.”

The Chronicle was denied access to the “Chill with the Chair” event but was able to contact Schiff and students who attended after the event. Schiff said he denied access because he thought students would feel more free to talk without a reporter present.

Kathryn Williams, freshman fashion studies student who was not able to stay for the whole meeting, said it went very well.

“[Schiff] gave a lot of insight that [the BFA] will still be offered,” Williams said. “It’s not like he’s taking anything away from the students that are here right now.”

According to junior fashion studies major Natasha Donkoh, the department’s proposed major, which combines design and business, was discussed, but will not be offered until 2018, so older students will not benefit.

Senior fashion studies major Rachel Hentrich said she thought the new curriculum is very business-heavy but weak when it comes to fundamentals such as design and construction.

“I want everyone to get a job when we graduate from here, and how can we do that if our program’s being cannibalized?” Hentrich said. “How can we get a design job if the program’s not there to teach you and to grow you into how to do those jobs?”

According to Hentrich and other students who attended the session, the new curriculum did not offer enough design and construction courses. Those who expressed concern were advised by Schiff to go elsewhere if the proposed curriculum is not what they are looking for, she said.

Hentrich said she was in disbelief when Schiff made the comment that unhappy students seek another college.

“Cutting back a program that people really want and then saying, ‘Well if you want that stuff, we’re not going to offer it,’ [is] not good enough,” Hentrich said.

Donkoh said she was also disheartened by Schiff’s comment.

“I felt hurt by it,” Donkoh said “This is someone who is supposed to be our department chair, who is supposed to have authority, and they’re telling us, ‘If you don’t like it, leave!’ That’s wrong.”

Holeso said the meeting was a good way for students to express their concerns, but she took issue with comments made by Schiff throughout.

“I left the meeting feeling very disrespected,” Holeso said. “I know I wasn’t the only one. A lot of us felt extremely replaceable as students, especially as juniors and seniors. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point. We deserve respect.”

Schiff told The Chronicle he does not remember telling students to go to a different school if they were upset.

“I’m not saying I didn’t, I just don’t recall saying that,” Schiff said.

As reported Sept. 19 by The Chronicle, an email sent to students and faculty by Schiff attributed a decrease in student interest and changes in the fashion industry as reasons for the program’s cancellation.

According to Donkoh, Schiff apologized to the students during the meeting for misinforming them on the “cancellation” of the BFA program.

“[Schiff] said he used the wrong wording,” Donkoh said. “[The BFA is] not going to be available after a certain point. It isn’t all of a sudden effective immediately that it’s gone, and that’s what he [initially] made it seem like.”

Schiff told The Chronicle that he is not apologetic for sending the email, but rather for the confusion it caused students.

“My impulse was to communicate with students because there was already chatter—it was important to send out a calming email, which I vetted around the college before I sent it,” Schiff said. “It’s not about personal interest; it’s not about the feelings of faculty members. This place exists to serve students, and that is what compelled me to send that out and what would compel me in the future if something like that happened [again].”

Diana Vallera, president of the part-time faculty union and adjunct professor in the Photography Department, said it was irresponsible of Schiff to send the email.

“You do not eliminate something without first making sure you want to eliminate it and why, and then you should make sure you have something in place, and none of that happened,” said Vallera, who said she represents adjuncts who may be displaced by the proposed change.

Schiff said he followed proper procedure for curricular changes.

“I followed the processes that were given to me and are listed in the curriculum-planning manual from beginning until the end, and right now we’re in the middle of that,” Schiff said.

If students are in the BFA program, they will be able to complete their degrees, and if they are not in the BFA program, they will get one last chance to apply in the Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 semesters, Schiff said.

He added that the proposed new curriculum will appeal to the needs of employers.

“Our proposal suggests a truly foundational program for a single fashion department that conjoins fashion merchandising and fashion design,” Schiff said. “All of our research has revealed, with great certainty, that our potential employers are looking for a fully integrated program with both merchandising and design.”

He added that fashion studies students will start in this strong foundational program. After taking the foundational courses, the program will split into two concentrations: fashion design product development and fashion merchandising.

According to a Sept. 23 email sent to The Chronicle by college spokeswoman Cara Birch, the Fashion Studies Department curriculum has not undergone changes for this semester.

Birch said once the faculty in the department have provided enough feedback on the proposed curriculum and the chair has approved the revision, the new proposed curriculum, will go to the Curriculum Committee, the Dean’s office, Faculty Senate and, finally, the Provost.

Birch added that if the curriculum were to be approved, there would be a transitional phase for students.

“When a new curriculum is decided on and approved, there is a period when both the old and the new curriculum exist together,” Birch said. “Those who are here during the transition have the opportunity to select classes from both.”

Holeso said she fears for future freshmen who are going into an untested program.

“I kept being told we were in the guinea-pig class, and I didn’t appreciate it,” Holeso said. “I don’t think incoming freshmen should be the test run. They should be given high-quality classes [the department] knows are going to work.”

According to Holeso, in order for current fashion studies students’ concerns to be put at ease, there must be more transparency and respect for students.

“I understand we’re students, but we’re paying a lot to be here, and we’re working really hard to be here,” Holeso said. “We deserve to know what’s going on. We need to know what’s going on in the future, even if they say that it’s minor. It may just be the runway show right now, but what else could they cut later?”