At Fashion School, Improved Opinions over New Curriculum
On May 5, around 50 members of the adjunct faculty at Parsons School of Fashion gathered in the auditorium of the David M. Schwartz Fashion Education Center in Midtown. New School Provost Tim Marshall had arranged the meeting after hearing that many of the School of Fashion’s part-time faculty were alarmed by changes made to the program’s curriculum.
Parsons Dean Joel Towers and Dean of Fashion Simon Collins joined Marshall at the front of the auditorium, with Marshall telling the faculty that the administration was there to listen. The first person to speak was Parsons printmaking professor Marie Dormuth, The New School’s unit chairperson for the adjunct faculty union ACT-UAW Local 7902.
“We have a situation where the faculty has been forced to teach a curriculum,” Dormuth said. “This wasn’t a curriculum change — it was a curriculum earthquake.”
The meeting progressed as Marshall, Towers, and Collins listened to several faculty members deliver harsh indictments of what they saw as a drastic overhaul of the fashion program. Dormuth’s comments were the most incendiary; she asked that a group be formed to monitor the administration’s changes, which she described as including courses with a broad and generic focus, as well as some established without a written curriculum.
“What we see today reads more like stream of consciousness than a curriculum,” said fashion professor Rob Younkers. “This isn’t an experiment, it’s a school; one that people pay a lot of money to attend, and for good reason.”
Months after the meeting in May, it appears many at the School of Fashion are reconciling themselves to the new curriculum.
According to those in the faculty, the curriculum focuses more on fostering creativity than teaching students technical steps for constructing clothing. Projects focus more on form by having students sculpt on dress forms using materials like paper and fabric, in a model similar to European schools like the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium.
“My initial reaction was, ‘What are they doing?’” said Genevieve Jezick, who teaches design concepts.
Now that the changes have been in effect for several weeks, Jezick described them as “mind-boggling” and “fantastic.”
“It’s pushing students in a creative mode,” she added.
Dean of Fashion Simon Collins told The Free Press that while he understood the the faculty’s initial skepticism, changes to the curriculum should be expected.
“The question should almost be, ‘Why is [the curriculum] not changed every year?’,” Collins said. “Because as a design school, obviously we have to evolve.”
There was initially confusion among many that sewing was no longer being taught at Parsons, prompting petitions to be organized by students in protest.
“I came here not knowing how to sew, and I left knowing how to sew,” said design concepts professor Max Wilson, who graduated from Parsons in 1978, at the meeting in May. “If there are programs being cut back, it gives [students] less opportunity to learn how to make more clothes.”
According to Collins, however, this was only speculation.
“We absolutely teach students how to sew,” he said. “There was [only] the case that one or two professors hadn’t begun sewing demonstrations in the first week.”
Collins added that he saw a positive response to the changes once faculty had an opportunity to fully understand them.
“Actually, the feedback that we got was overwhelmingly positive and in favor of the changes, once they were fully understood,” he said. “The people that were disappointed, I think they were more disappointed with their perception of the changes rather than the reality of them.”
Looking back on the meeting in May, and the part-time faculty’s critical response to the curricular reshuffling, Collins said that he felt it was a positive experience.
“Feedback from the faculty is always a critical part of the process,” Collins said. “While some perhaps characterize the disappointment from some faculty as a negative thing, I saw it as entirely positive. I love to hear what they have to say, and however we can engage with them, I do so.”
Additional reporting by Rey Mashayekhi