ARTICLE: The Death of University Arts Programs, Part 5: Why Columbia Art Students Demanded Tuition Refunds

Money Well Spent?

From Columbia Alumnus Julia Phillip’s Exhibit Failure Detection

I’m Detecting Some Failure, All Right 


An important dispatch from Columbia University, the most expensive college in the United States:

COLUMBIA SPECTATOR: With decrepit facilities and missing faculty, MFA Visual Arts students demand tuition refund

“On April 5, the students in the program met with Provost John Coatsworth and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences David Madigan to discuss their concerns with the program and demand a full tuition refund from the University. Although Coatsworth acknowledged that the state of the program is a ‘disgrace,’ he told the students that Columbia would not be able to provide them with a tuition refund.”

Never mind the fact New York City has some of the highest costs of living in the world. What’s the annual pricetag for Columbia MFA students? Merely  $63,961 for the 2017–18 school year. The university had an endowment of over $10 billion dollars in 2017. Yet none of those funds seem to be directed towards basics like building maintenance or adequate staff. I wonder if their Office of Academic Diversity faces similar challenges.

As an artist myself, I view the complaints about their facilities with skepticism. I lived for two years in a warehouse space in Arizona with no air conditioning or heat. Back when I didn’t have a studio, I used to paint in my kitchen. I had to drag all the furniture around to make space, and be mindful that I didn’t set my cans of paint thinner too near the pilot lights on the gas stove. No one would have known the primitive conditions I had to work in by looking at my finished pieces. An artist must take control of their presentation, and not make excuses about the difficulties involved in production.

But reading this article about some offended privileged kids, there is another quote which reveals what really irks them:

“[The faculty] have gone above and beyond what their role is as a faculty member. They’re in the same boat as us, they’re trying to do the best they can with the restrictions that have been placed from the institution,” Travis Fairclough, a Columbia MFA student expected to graduate in 2019, told the Spectator. “[But] half of the faculty that are listed on the website is actually here, which is a huge blow, because the program is largely based on the connections that you have with your faculty members.” (emphasis mine)

A work by unhappy student Travis Fairclough. 

Connections with faculty members. Really, how much could a professor do for someone who produces paintings like this in an advanced degree program? But artistic achievement isn’t the real concern. In the Postmodern world, it’s not what you do, it’s who you know.

What the students are really protesting is the fact the school isn’t delivering enough chances to suck up to powerful folks who can act as gateways into the corrupt establishment art world.

In my upcoming book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization, I discuss at length the tainted practices of elitist power games:

An additional tool of Postmodern phoniness is brown-nosing.  When quality and accomplishment are no longer factors, life is reduced to a scramble to be noticed and elevated by the powerful. It’s a matter of who can most offend the disdained outsiders, make the most noise, and kiss the most rings, or asses. Our cultural institutions have degenerated into hierarchies of sycophants; the Postmodern establishment makes it clear that throne-sniffing is mandatory for advancement.

Why would students face massive expenses to study fine art at an Ivy League school? They expect it will pay off for them in the form of nepotism. They expected the chance to play courtiers to some mighty art world players, which would give striving students a shot at joining the ranks of the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected. Without being able to count on favoritism from cronies, Columbia students would have to try to earn an art career based on the merits of their art. Looking at the works above from a couple of Columbia trained artists, it is evident why they desperately need someone to grease the skids on their behalf.

It’s ironic that at least one of the missing professors, Thomas Roma, “retired” due to #metoo concerns. Guess he wanted to connect a little too much. Why are elitist institutions always such cesspits of harassment?

A Photo by the Inappropriate Thomas Roma 

The Columbia MFA students aren’t getting a refund. The administration calls their own program a disgrace, but there’s no money back guarantee. Caveat Emptor. The students feel violated because they thought they could buy their way into prestige. They expected take personal advantage of the Neotribal benefits Postmodernists offer up as the reward for conformity. Instead, their situation can be best summed up by Jon Kessler,one of the Columbia art professors who actually is there:

“’It’s almost criminal to endebt a student $100,000 to be a painter or a performance artist… and if this program was a third of the price, I don’t think we’d have quite the intensity around the tuition reimbursement,’ Kessler said.”

The Art of Jon Kessler, the who calls Columbia’s MFA program “Almost Criminal” 

Earlier entries in the “Death of University Art Programs” series

Part 1: Eric Fischl

Part 2: The Corcoran Collapse 

Part 3: Ignorance as a Method of Critique 

Part 4: The Subsidized Sedition of Establishment Art Schools

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

19 thoughts on “ARTICLE: The Death of University Arts Programs, Part 5: Why Columbia Art Students Demanded Tuition Refunds

  1. You touched on an interesting point, that socialist systems – non merit based systems – are a return to aristocracy. There is an aristocratic class who decide who gets access and who gets noticed and who succeeds. You live or die by your political connections, your place in the feudal hierarchy. Everyone else remain serfs.

  2. Technically, if a particular item / issue costs a sum, and doesn’t meet to the promised quality, a refund can be requested. That can be read in law-books. The place of production: if primitive, speaks more to the imagination than if produced in a well-furnished studio. Think of Francis Bacon. But the production facility bears no direct relation to the quality of the art. (here, I do not refer to the use of ready-mades).
    As a former teacher, my vision is, that at every phase of the study, students may demand sufficient guidance. Not telling how to produce good art, but helping to decipher a proper path. By applying resistance. Yet, being teached, being in an art institute, also carries the risk of becoming corrupt. The risk not necessarily related to the amount paid for tuition. But having an inverse relation to intuition.
    At such moment, the telephone (always) rings (Raymond Chandler). Regards, Drager

  3. I call it rampant dilettantism in my criticisms of graduate level music composition programs. Nobody has any technique, much less talent. It’s all about who can ingratiate themselves into the cool kids club as viewed by the professors. No individualism is allowed.

  4. “In the Postmodern world, it’s not what you do, it’s who you know.” Rather -see Bob Mapplethorpe- it’s not what you do, it’s who you do.

  5. Some years ago a speaker at the university art museum in our city presented a talk addressing issues of controversy at that time (the Mapplethorpe thing) and actually said that true creativity in the arts has “always” involved challenging the conventions and accepted ideas of society. That a major museum could sponsor a speaker with this degree of ignorance was a bit astonishing, but he was promoting a widespread superstition that is, unfortunately, communicated to students who accept it (ironically) on authority.

  6. The students in question were well aware of the cost of the institution when enrolling. They can hardly come back now and ask for a refund because they weren’t given the right connections. Finding a job after college is their responsibility, not that of the institution. There’s obviously some grey area here with lack of staffing, but I would still say they only have a case if they were not able to meet their degree requirements because of staffing issues.
    Like you, I lived in some nasty conditions during and after college in order to get by. I also worked a lot of long hours to pay for as much of my degree as I earned it as possible to offset the amount of debt I was incurring. Not having a proper studio was the least of my worries. I have only really had the luxury of enough space in the last year, but I have managed to get by and expand my art and public exposure a little more every day.
    One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to young artists is to avoid the high cost of a prestigious school. If they’re serious about art, they can learn what they need at a local or community college for a fraction of the cost. Even better, I recommend finding an artist to apprentice under and use real studio experience as a way to cultivate skills and connections.

    When is your book due to be published Richard? I would be interested in getting a copy.

  7. Richard,
    I didn’t realize you posted humor. All of these people at Columbia are funny, all of them, and they have no idea that they are. I wonder if any of these students really believe they will see any of that money back?

  8. Heh. I think we are seeing the result of about 40yrs of hiding “activists” in the administrations of US university’s. It used to be that a faculty position was a favorite place but that became too obvious so they allowed them to charge anything they wanted and they packed the admint with created positions and people. Of course your particular area has always been a favorite for these people in that how do you critique a person in a field (art) in which there are supposedly no guidelines? Well I’m blathering now.

  9. The ambiguity let them create their own twisted guidelines. The administrators have found the perfect Postmodern parasitic ecosystem for their lack of talent.

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