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VES Would House Doctoral Program With Proposed Merger

By Luca F. Schroeder, Crimson Staff Writer

The undergraduate-only Department of Visual and Environmental Studies could formally house its own graduate program for the first time in 50 years, should the Faculty of Arts and Sciences approve a proposed merger between VES and the Standing Committee on the Ph.D. in Film and Visual Studies.

Under the proposed merger, which was presented at last week’s faculty meeting, the standing committee would be dissolved and VES would offer a doctoral program in Film and Visual Studies. Non-VES faculty on the committee would be offered affiliate status in the department, allowing them to advise graduate students and teach classes in the program, sit on a new Film and Visual Studies Graduate Committee, and serve on exam and dissertation committees. A new Director of Graduate Studies position would take the place of the FVS chair.

The doctoral program was created in 2008 and focuses on the “study of the art and culture of the moving image,” according to a document outlining the guidelines for the merger. Since its inception, the program and its intellectual mission has enjoyed close ties the VES department, with, for example, its doctoral candidates serving as teaching fellows in VES courses.

“The program was essentially housed in VES, the program was administered by VES staff, and the program’s budget ran through VES,” said FVS standing committee chair Eric Rentschler, a professor in the Germanic Languages and Literatures department. “And so at the administrative level there really was a way in which FVS and VES were of a piece.”

Both Rentschler and VES department chair Robb Moss viewed the merger as a simple, uncontroversial clarification of an existing arrangement, but nonetheless highlighted some of the concrete administrative benefits and intellectual opportunities it could create.

“It just extends our intellectual reach,” Moss said on the introduction of graduate students into the department. “It takes the interests of the faculty, and expands it into new territory for us, [so] that we can think about the relationship between theory and practice in a different way—we can think about the ways in which our practice as artists, for example, intersects their deep interest in the visual world.”

Rentschler, on the other hand, pointed out that the proposed arrangement would perhaps make the search and appointment process for new faculty members in film studies easier. He recalled one instance when a senior faculty member that FVS had been courting—who Rentschler said would have been a “perfect” match—expressed concern that the program seemed like a tentative arrangement.

“We had run a search that had taken up to two years, and essentially this was just about to happen, but I think one of the sticking points for her was that simply Film and Visual Studies was in this liminal kind of situation,” Rentschler said. “If Film and Visual Studies had been in VES at the time we tried to make an appointment, I think we would have had a much easier time of it.”

The proposal was unanimously approved by the Faculty Council at its last meeting, and is expected to come before the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for further discussion next month.

“It really is just something that makes good administrative sense, good structural sense, and very good intellectual and programmatic sense,” Rentschler said.

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at luca.schroeder@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.

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