For the first time in its 18-year history, the Digital Media Center for the Arts is undergoing a large-scale restructuring of its leadership and function — a transition that has been met with both anticipation and condemnation.
On July 8, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway announced in an email to arts directors and administrators that Johannes DeYoung, the Director of Digital Technology at the Yale School of Art, would be the first-ever faculty member to lead the center, starting on Aug. 10. DeYoung, who has been a Film, Video, and Interdisciplinary Studies faculty member since 2008, is also a lecturer in design at the Yale School of Drama.
Holloway wrote in his announcement that the appointment followed the recommendation of an ad hoc committee that he had called in November 2014. He wrote that he had tasked the group with strengthening the DMCA’s connections to the academic offerings of Yale College and the graduate art schools. Members of the committee included faculty and administrative representatives from Yale College, the Schools of Art and Drama, the Film and Media Studies program and Information Technology Services.
But while the center’s transformation will usher in new technological capabilities and arts programs for students across the University, the restructuring has also resulted in changes to the center’s staff that have prompted outrage from a number of current students and alumni.
A CONTROVERSIAL TRANSITION
With DeYoung’s appointment came the elimination of the digital media specialist positions, and therefore the layoffs of Lee Faulkner and Ken Lovell, the center’s founders and former associate directors. Shortly after news of the layoffs spread through the Yale community, many students and alumni decided to express their dissatisfaction through email and social media. Dozens wrote to the Yale College Dean’s Office, and as of last night, 530 individuals had signed on to a change.org petition that was started by a group of current students and Yale School of Art alumni calling for a reversal of the University’s decision to remove Faulkner and Lovell.
Ben Boult ’14, who now works full-time in film and video production, said he learned more from Faulkner than from anyone else at Yale. Boult noted that he has not met a single person with Faulkner’s level of technical expertise, adding that he does not think it makes sense for the University to remove a staff member who is deeply familiar with the DMCA’s history and function.
“This is like saying, ‘We’re going to restructure you by taking out your brain and replacing it with a new one,’” Boult said.
Faulkner said that while he was aware that a review of the DMCA was in progress prior to being laid off, he has never seen the contents of the report. He added that he was not expecting to be laid off, and that he was told the decision was not performance-related.
Holloway noted in his announcement that the appointment of a faculty director will help to sync the center’s mission and programs with recently established curricular programs, such as the Computing and the Arts major and the film concentration within the Art major last year. Committee members interviewed echoed Holloway’s sentiment.
“As a University, our programs need to be driven by our faculty,” said Associate Dean for the Arts Susan Cahan.
DeYoung, who specializes in animation and digital video, stressed that the DMCA must serve the community “broadly and equitably,” adding that his role will help the center actively respond to curricular developments across campus. Pointing to his past collaborations with Yale Dance Theatre faculty director Emily Coates, Theater Studies and YSD professor Joan MacIntosh, and Yale School of Music Deputy Dean Melvin Chen, DeYoung noted that one of his major goals for the DMCA is to continue the spirit of interdisciplinary partnerships.
SUPPORTING A CHANGING ARTS COMMUNITY
Before the 2014–15 academic year, access to the DMCA had been restricted to students of the graduate art schools, majors in Film Studies, Art, Theater Studies, Music or Architecture, and any students enrolled in courses offered by these programs. But starting last fall, the YCDO opened the DMCA to the entirety of Yale College.
Cahan said the expanded access was informed by a survey that the YCDO had sent out in spring 2014 to all students in Yale College and the four graduate art schools. She explained that the survey’s purpose was to give administrators data about the center’s activities, and which of the resources were generating the most and least amounts of activity.
“That assessment was really the foundation of the decision to convene a strategic planning committee, because we realized that some functions were being very highly utilized, and others barely at all,” Cahan said.
The survey yielded roughly 850 responses, including 350 responses from the 650 students who regularly used the DMCA. Cahan noted that a majority of undergraduate respondents without access to the center reported that they would use it if allowed, adding that the DMCA will now expand its hours to include the weekend.
DeYoung said that since he has assumed his new post, he has launched initiatives to follow the committee’s recommendations for the future. The restructuring plan calls for the establishment of a faculty advisory board as well as several student forums to receive community feedback on the DMCA’s performance.
The restructuring plan also includes the creation of a post-graduate associate position. Cahan said the post-graduate associate will both serve the students and conduct independent research.
DeYoung said the center’s new initiatives include a series of six workshops for this fall that will be taught by visiting professional artists from a variety of disciplines. Film Studies Programming Director and Senior Lecturer Ron Gregg, who served on the ad hoc committee, said his “Films at the Whitney” program will be enhanced through workshops and masterclasses held this term through the DMCA.
Director of Campus IT Partner Relationship and Development Randy Rode, who also served on the ad hoc advisory committee, said in an email that ITS plans to help build relationships between the DMCA and other tech-related establishments on campus, such as the CEID. ITS, he explained, will be able to provide the DMCA with core IT services, which allows the center’s staff members to focus on its discipline-specific needs.
Several faculty members said that the CEID might serve as a model for the collaborative potential of the DMCA.
FRUSTRATION, THEN ACQUIESCENCE
But while faculty and administrators remain confident in the survey responses and committee recommendations, all but one of the 10 students interviewed said that news of the restructuring surprised them.
Moreover, several students said they were not aware of any initiative to investigate or restructure the DMCA and questioned why the administration did not directly consult the center’s most frequent users in making such decisions.
Many of the students and alumni expressed concern that the full-time support Faulkner and Lovell were able to provide will no longer be possible under the center’s restructuring.
“There needs to be some person, or multiple people, running the entire ship all the time, and they’re replacing two professionally experienced directors who spent all their time in the DMCA with a professor who’s working part-time to direct it,” said student filmmaker and computing assistant John Chirikjian ’17. “As great as [DeYoung] may be, there just won’t be enough time in his life to dedicate to leading this massive institution.”
All of the student filmmakers, computing assistants and several alumni interviewed — as well as dozens of petition signers — reported that their digital projects or senior thesis projects were made possible only with the help of Faulkner and Lovell.
But in late August, several students who had expressed frustration at the original news of the restructuring said they have reluctantly accepted the committee’s decision and have turned their gaze towards the future.
“At the end of the day, the administration is going to do what is best for the University at large, which is not necessarily what’s best for currently enrolled students,” said Daniel Matyas ’16, a student filmmaker and DMCA computing assistant. “As a currently enrolled student, I like to think it’s all about me, but it isn’t. And that’s been important to recognize.”
Others said they remained optimistic that the administration would respond to cries to rehire Faulkner and Lovell. One of the creators of the change.org petition, Mariya Vlasova ART ’16, said she hopes for a resurgence in activity online and in the community as the academic year begins.
Chirikjian recalled how the administration has listened and responded to past petitions from the Yale community. A computer science major, he pointed out that the University made the decision to hire seven new CS professors after a widely circulated petition in April that called for expansion of the department.