What does an academically entrepreneurial university look like?
“DePaul is forward-thinking and open-minded in its commitment to innovation, and we’re the proof,” says Susan Solway, professor and chair of the department of History of Art and Architecture, the newest department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Two years ago, the art history faculty proposed a new department — one that would separate art history from studio art; one that would, in effect, create a rare opportunity to reinvent the program from scratch.
“The separation made perfect sense, since the two fields could not be more different,” says Solway. “Each has its own methodologies and critical approaches. Art history is like other academic disciplines, such as history or philosophy; in fact, modern critical methods in art history draw on those developed in these fields and in the social sciences. Even our terminal degrees are different: a PhD for art history, an MFA for studio art.”
At the same time, the creation of a new department would give the faculty a rare opportunity to build an “ideal” department from the ground up. “In many universities, art history is still taught the way I learned it — in a Western-centric, culturally biased curriculum. We wanted something different, something better — something that fit DePaul’s global perspective.”
Fundamental questions, new answers
When the proposal got the green light, Solway and her colleagues faced an enviable challenge.
“Anything was possible — we had the freedom to develop a better rationale for everything we do,” she recalls. “What would constitute an ideal curriculum? What should a 100-level class achieve and how should that differ from a 200-level class?
We wanted a program that would break away from the traditional perspective, a program that would be right for the 21st century.”
The new curriculum reflects this innovative thinking.
Four 100-level classes cover the principles of art from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas; each class is designed to be as broad as possible chronologically, culturally, and geographically. For example, the “Principles of Arts of the Americas” covers U.S. colonial and Native American art, Spanish colonial and Latin American art, and the art of the ancient Americas (pre-Colombian). The 200-level classes, while still surveys, cover a narrower time, culture, or theme. At the 300-level, the material is highly specialized; for example, “Crossroads in African art and culture” focuses on religious art in African history.
“Our students can’t help but get out of the Western box,” says Solway.
Breaking down traditional academic silos
Also, the connection between the history of art and architecture and other academic disciplines is now being exploited to everyone’s advantage. “Because art history is inherently interdisciplinary, we can cross-list our classes with many other programs — we probably cross-list more than any other department,” says Solway. “An interdisciplinary approach lets us support colleagues in smaller programs, while exposing students to a richer, more varied educational experience.”
For example, classes in medieval art are listed with Catholic Studies, Islamic art with Islamic World Studies, African art with African and Black Diaspora Studies, feminist art with Women and Gender Studies, and so on. A course in Spanish colonial art is triple-listed. And, the program’s 100- and 200-level classes are approved for learning domain credit in the Liberal Studies program. The sharing works in the opposite direction, too, as the department accepts credit from film classes in College of Computing and Digital Medias or from some courses in the geography department.
Among the elite, poised for growth
In just five quarters, the department has grown to more than 130 major and more than 50 minors.
“Now, we’re aligned with most prestigious programs in the world and with the DePaul’s Vision twenty 12 goal of academic excellence,” says Solway.