Fashion BFA program canceled via email, chair tells students ‘Don’t freak!’

The+cancellation+of+the+Fashion+Studies+BFA+was+attributed+to+changes+in+the+industry+and+low+student+interest%2C+according+to+a+Sept.+9+email+from+Jeff+Schiff%2C+interim+chair+of+the+Fashion+Studies+Department.%C2%A0
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Fashion BFA program canceled via email, chair tells students ‘Don’t freak!’

The cancellation of the Fashion Studies BFA was attributed to changes in the industry and low student interest, according to a Sept. 9 email from Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies Department. 

The cancellation of the Fashion Studies BFA was attributed to changes in the industry and low student interest, according to a Sept. 9 email from Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies Department. 

Maria Cardona

The cancellation of the Fashion Studies BFA was attributed to changes in the industry and low student interest, according to a Sept. 9 email from Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies Department. 

Maria Cardona

Maria Cardona

The cancellation of the Fashion Studies BFA was attributed to changes in the industry and low student interest, according to a Sept. 9 email from Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies Department. 

By Campus Editor

Sophomore fashion studies major Carlos Osuna was sewing a project for a class when he got an unexpected email Sept. 9 announcing the cancellation of the Fashion Studies BFA program.

The program, according to the announcement from Interim Chair of the Fashion Studies Department Jeff Schiff, was eliminated because of a decrease in student interest and dramatic changes happening in the fashion industry. 

“When I opened the email, my heart just dropped,” Osuna said, who was a candidate applying for the program. “All this work I’ve been doing [and] putting in for the BFA is pretty much washed away.” 

The announcement, sent with the subject head  “Exciting Changes Coming,” explained the college is working on new curriculum for the department, including eliminating the BFA and creating a single undergraduate program for the department focused on design and merchandising, which Schiff stated in the email will be better tailored to industry’s demands. 

“We wish to graduate students who have a strong foundational knowledge, transferable skills and a discipline focus,” Schiff stated in the email. “[This is] a combination more employers insist on in their applicants.”

The email said students should not “freak” if they have already started their BFA because the college will provide the classes or alternative courses required to graduate on time. 

Schiff declined to comment as of press time after several attempts made by The Chronicle. College spokeswoman Cara Birch declined to comment on behalf of the college.

Kylee Alexander, a lecturer in the Fashion Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said her school has not had any issues attracting students to its BFA program.

“I don’t think that’s a current trend,” Alexander said. “Enrollment for a BFA has been steady, despite the economy.” 

Alexander added that there will always be corporate jobs and room for more creative design as well. 

“That’s not necessarily always the purpose of why we have schools like SAIC and Columbia,” Alexander said. “We’re supposed to teach design at a higher level. If we don’t have designers creating one-of-a-kind garments, then there is nothing to inspire corporate companies.” 

Several faculty members who were interviewed asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. They all told The Chronicle there was no faculty consultation in the decision to cancel the program.

Virginia Heaven, associate professor and assistant chair of curriculum in the Fashion Studies Department, said she was aware the program would likely be canceled before the email was sent because she was part of the faculty group who met with industry professionals during the summer. Heaven added that industry professionals are looking for students who know how to work in a team.

According to Heaven, the decision does not mean all elements of the BFA program are going away. 

“It means it will be structured in a different way,” Heaven said. “It might be a class, it might be not. We’re still working on it.”

She added that the college will communicate this new decision to fashion students “fairly soon.” 

Junior fashion studies major Courtney Woodard said she found out about the cancellation through a teacher a few days before it was officially announced.

“I got the email after I got off of work, and it just said, ‘Exciting Changes Are Coming,’” Woodard said. “I was pissed, obviously.”

Woodard added that  she is not at Columbia just to complete her studies and leave, making Schiff’s assurance of graduating on time unsettling. 

“I’m here to create a body of work.” Woodard said. “I’m not freaking out about graduating; I’m freaking out that I’m not gonna get to do what I came here to do.” 

Heaven emphasized that the decision to cancel the program did not come from the Fashion Studies Department and acknowledged decisions occur every summer. 

“It’s not the department that makes the decision,” Heaven said. “It’s the higher [college] administration.” 

Woodard said a professor last semester recommended she apply for the BFA program because it would set her up for success in a creative field and involved everything from designing to the production of a fashion line. 

“The most frustrating part about the email [is Schiff] puts it all out there, but he doesn’t say who is it going to affect [and] when is it going to go into effect,” Woodard said.

Osuna, who said he has planned classes since freshman year in order to apply for

the program, said he will transfer if the department cancels its annual launch fashion show for BFA students.

“It’s a waste of time and energy for me to be creating stuff and just have it in my closet for no one to see,” Osuna said. “I’ve lost a lost of interest and momentum.” 

In a Sept. 9 email response to Osuna’s concerns given to The Chronicle,  Schiff said, “If you mean will students who haven’t yet been formally admitted to the BFA be able to

apply and gain entrance now or in the foreseeable future, the answer is no.”

Heaven said students need to stop panicking and personally contact faculty in the department to express their concerns.

“There’s nothing here that is underhanded; there’s no great plan to exclude people,” Heaven said. “Our main focus is that students get the education they need to graduate and be on a viable career path.”

Woodard said the program’s small size it for “the best of the best” and is not a valid excuse for its cancellation. 

“It’s frustrating that only two or three people from the department had a say in this matter because this happened over the summer when everyone was on vacation,” Woodard said. “The rest of the staff and students didn’t have any say.” 

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Correction: 

 In the Sept. 19, 2016 issue story “Fashion BFA program canceled via email, interim chair tells students ‘Don’t freak!’” the statement “Everything was done in secret over the summer, and the design faculty were not included in any of the discussions. Then, [faculty] are chastised for having a reaction to something we knew nothing about. Transparency and good communication do not exist.” should not have been attributed to faculty member  Elizabeth Shorrock, an assistant professor in the Fashion Studies Department. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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