SMFA seeks accreditation, strengthens relations with Tufts

The SMFA seeks to become an accredited institution by 2020. Courtesy The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) is seeking accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), according to SMFA Dean and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Sarah McKinnon.

The SMFA began to approach the process of becoming independently accredited in 2010, when the Museum of Fine Arts Board of Trustees hired Christopher Bratton to be president of the SMFA that JulyNancy Bauer, dean of academic affairs for Arts and Sciences at Tufts, said.

The SMFA, Tufts’ partner in visual and studio arts, is currently unable to grant degrees independently because of its unaccredited status. In order to issue bachelors and masters degrees, the SMFA must go through Tufts, Bauer said.

“A degree that is not accredited by an accrediting body is not worth very much,” Bauer said. “Because the SMFA has never had its degrees accredited independently, all of its degrees are accredited through Tufts. We actually grant the degrees to SMFA students on behalf of Tufts.”

The SMFA will likely achieve full accreditation around 2020, Bauer said. In the meantime, she said, Tufts and the SMFA are working out the details of their future relationship.

“What we have been in conversation about with SMFA during this whole process is how we can strengthen education on both of our campuses,” Bauer said. Part of that process involves making changes on both campuses, she said.

In the past, liberal arts professors teaching at the SMFA were contracted by Tufts, Bauer explained. As part of its effort to become independent, however, the SMFA decided to hire its own faculty.

According to Bauer, Tufts gave its employees teaching at the SMFA a year’s notice that they would no longer be employed by Tufts after September 2014. The SMFA then immediately offered the same professors contracts to teach at the Museum School, she explained.

Despite the changes, students will continue to be able to pursue a dual degree from both schools, McKinnon said.  Currently,  Tufts issues both the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees to students in the program; after the SMFA is fully accredited, they will issue the BFA degrees and Tufts will grant the BA degrees, McKinnon explained.

Bauer and McKinnon have been working closely to keep the relationship between the two schools strong and coordinate efforts, Bauer said. She emphasized that it was the SMFA who began the initiative to receive accreditation and that Tufts responded positively to the opportunity to improve its connection to the arts.

“What this has done, in effect, is to take what was a relationship between the two schools, that had just been kind of drifting and floating along, and caused everybody to take a close look at it,” Bauer said. “So I think what students are going to experience is a redoubled commitment to the arts as something we want our students to be able to have, the best possible studio art education.”

Furthermore, the SMFA is hoping to pursue methods to improve transportation for students traveling between the SMFA and the Tufts campus, Bauer said. It can be difficult for students to travel between Medford and downtown Boston, so Tufts is examining how to transport students back and forth more efficiently, she said.

Tufts is also working to improve options for aspiring artists on its own Medford/Somerville campus, including adding a film and media studies program and providing better studios.

“One thing we are doing is actively looking for better studio art space on our campus,” Bauer said. “Those poor studio artists are stuck in the back of Lane Hall, and they desperately need more space.”