Photo aides cut out of the picture

By Lisa Schulz

A “large number” of student workers in Columbia’s Photography Department were dismissed for the fall 2011 semester because of budget constraints. The department’s annual budget was reduced by 30 percent. The Photo I academic course and the darkroom lab experienced the largest number of layoffs throughout the department.

The majority of the cuts were in classroom aides who offered assistance to students with questions and helped faculty members with demonstrations and classroom setup. Even though most are gone, a few classroom aides remain in the darkroom.

The cuts were decided upon during the spring 2010 semester, according to Kelli Connell, associate Photography Department chair.

“We had to make difficult decisions that we didn’t want to make,” Connell said. “It’s really important for us that staff, faculty and students get the support that they need with the resources that we do have.”

When asked, Connell said she didn’t know how many aides were cut.

“I know there’s a lot and I hope you can get the numbers,” said Diana Vallera, adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department. “I believe that all of the [aides were cut] in our Photo I courses which is, I want to say, at least 12 sections—a large number.”

The School of Fine and Performing Arts budget team for the Photography Department consists of Laura Bauknecht, director of administration; Jessica Davenport, assistant dean of budget and planning; Connell and four area lab managers.

Faculty and area lab managers were assigned to analyze the student workers’ performance. Staff and faculty completed a “comprehensive inquiry” and the cuts were decided upon, Connell said.

There are three labs in the Photography Department: the darkroom, the studio and the digital labs. Lab workers couldn’t be cut because they assist throughout the photography floor, Connell said. In-classroom aides were removed because it doesn’t affect the lab, she said.

Alan Cohen, an adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department who teaches the Darkroom III course, said he couldn’t speak about of the budget or the meetings, but rather the effect that the cuts had on the student workers.

“Truly, in a human sense, the teaching assistants are shown this really vivid, live, profoundly constructive experience,” Cohen said. “If you talked to any of the [aides] that worked with me, I think they may well cite the authority that they were given to teach. And it’s gone.”

According to Vallera, the small number of student aides that do remain offer assistance in processes that contain potentially dangerous chemicals.

Vallera said the information regarding worker cuts was presented at a faculty meeting shortly before the fall 2011 semester began, and the department failed to explain the budget cuts. At the meeting, it was stated that the Photography Department was one of the last departments to be cut, Vallera said.

“That really bothered me,” she said. “Just because it’s one of the last ones doesn’t mean its OK. [When] one person jumps [off] the bridge, [it] doesn’t mean they all should jump [off] the bridge.”

In 2009, the digital lab dropped in-classroom student workers entirely because of the lacking budget, Connell said. Without the support, faculty members had a larger workload. In the end, the loss contributed to improvement in their performance as teachers, she said.

“It’s unfortunate for students and faculty and staff to have this crunch,” Connell said. “I think it’s hard because any change is hard. But we’re really resilient and we’ll be just fine. I’m sure in 10 years we’ll forget what it was like without the aides.”