Administrative transition at SMFA brings changes, confusion

The dual-degree program between Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (SMFA) may soon undergo changes to address various difficulties and a high dropout rate.

The combined-degree program, founded in the mid-1970s, gives students the opportunity to obtain a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Sciences along with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Tufts. Dual-degree students must apply and get accepted into both schools separately, making admissions highly selective.

Sophomore Andie Eisen said she transferred into this five-year program during her freshman year, choosing to stay at Tufts an extra year to obtain both degrees.

“I realized partway through my freshman year that I’d be taking art classes every semester anyway, and I might as well get credit for it,” she said. “The big decision is whether or not to do the extra year.”

Despite the selectivity of this specialized program, there is about a 50 percent dropout rate, according to SMFA Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Susan Lush. This is largely due to financial reasons and students’ desire to graduate with the rest of their class at Tufts. Lush discussed these issues with the Daily in November 2010.

“Typically, it’s a money issue,” Lush said. “Combined-degree students have to pay for an additional year of tuition. Students see their friends graduating and get burned out.”

Junior Lauren Giglio, who recently opted out of the dual-degree track, cited the inconvenience of traveling between Tufts and the SMFA as one of her reasons for withdrawing from the program. The commute often takes at least an hour round-trip, she said.

“It’s very common to decide to drop the program,” Giglio said. “A lot of people are done with the whole combined-degree thing.”

Many SMFA students, however, believe that scheduling classes and balancing credits present the biggest issues, Giglio said.

“[Scheduling] is horrific. You can either choose to have SMFA classes from nine to 12, or two to five,” she said. “So, trying to plan Tufts classes in that is practically impossible because they’re completely different block schedules.”

Eisen agreed, adding that the separate registration processes for each school make it so that students must keep track of all credits on their own, without relying on any one system.

“We have iSIS with Tufts, and the SMFA has their own Web site, so nothing I register for at the SMFA registers on iSIS, and it’s a lot to keep in the air,” Eisen said.

Giglio said that these types of complications deter students from completing the program.

“You can do it, but it’s really hard to plan and it’s hard to get everything done in four years, so they give you the fifth year,” she said. “But by that time, people are just kind of annoyed so they just don’t do it anymore.”

Given these difficulties, Giglio said she has heard rumors circulating among students that the SMFA might cancel the dual-degree program in favor of emphasizing a similar program that would earn students a BFA from Tufts — not a BA or BS.

“It’s been confusing — I’ve heard rumors from both sides, not in detail at all, that the combined-degree program was not going to … happen anymore, but there’s a BFA program that can happen,” Giglio said. “With the BFA, you take classes over at the museum, but you get a degree from Tufts. It’s kind of like the combined-degree, but it’s just a couple less classes.”

Despite these rumors, the SMFA has announced plans to improve the dual-degree program rather than call it off altogether. Administrators hope to expand the program’s offerings, according to SMFA Director of Marketing and Communications Amanda Karr.

“The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is not cutting ties with Tufts. We will continue with the current dual-degree program and eventually plan to enhance it by offering additional, targeted dual-degrees in areas of mutual interest,” Karr told the Daily in an email.

The SMFA is currently undergoing administrative changes as well. The popular graduate program, Master of Arts in Teaching – Art Education , recently received a new interim director, according to Giglio. Susan Barahal now directs the art education program, according to the MAT website.

“It’s administratively in flux,” Giglio said. “But the communication through this transitional period hasn’t been great, and I think that’s where this confusion is coming in.”

In light of upcoming changes in the dual-degree program, there are concerns about the impact on already enrolled students.

According to Karr, the museum school is negotiating plans for whatever transitions may occur, but the program will continue for its current dual-degree students.

“SMFA is in the process of becoming independently accredited for its BFAs and MFAs [Master of Fine Arts], but plans to continue with a reciprocity arrangement between the two schools into the future,” Karr said. “There will be provisions for students to take courses at both institutions as part of their degree programs. This has been agreed to by the administrations as well.”

While the SMFA claims it has plans to maintain its connection with Tufts, Giglio argued that it is hard for students to know for sure.

“The communication between the two schools isn’t very good,” Giglio said. “So if you’re trying to get information, you have to kind of ping-pong between them, which is difficult.”