Responding to the vigorous protests of students and faculty of the College of Fine Arts, UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young has backed off from a proposal announced six weeks ago to disband the college and eliminate undergraduate degree programs in studio and performing arts.
In a letter released late Monday, Young said that after reviewing the concerns voiced by faculty and students of the 25-year-old college, he has concluded that "the case for discontinuing those programs is not persuasive." He said he has withdrawn the proposal, although he stated a number of reservations about the undergraduate programs.
He also announced the creation of a faculty and student task force to determine "how a division of the arts might ideally be organized," a reference to the second half of his proposal that called for disbanding the college and merging it with the College of Letters and Science.
The chancellor left open the question of the future of the College of Fine Arts as a separate institution, however, saying that the fate of the college would be determined by the administration later.
Young had proposed in April a "radical change" in the organization of the university's arts programs that included phasing out undergraduate degree programs in performing and studio arts by next year and merging the College of Fine Arts into a reconstituted College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Under the original proposal, greater emphasis would have been placed on academic courses in theory, criticism and historical studies, while performing arts studies would have been expanded through a new Graduate School of Performance Arts.
At the time, Young explained that the proposal reflected a growing trend in higher education to concentrate professional education at the graduate level. The university now offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in the performing and studio arts.
He also said the reorganization would help the university take advantage of new developments in the local arts scene of benefit to the university, such as industrialist Norton Simon's plan to donate his world-renowned art collections to UCLA.
Young could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But Vice Chancellor William D. Schaefer said the decision to retain the undergraduate programs in performing and studio arts was the result of the "overwhelmingly strong feeling on the part of the faculty" that the programs were vital.
Soon after the chancellor unveiled the proposals in April, fine arts students organized demonstrations on campus to protest them. About 100 faculty members held a meeting with Young and other top administrators to air their concerns.
According to Schaefer, one of the strongest arguments made by the faculty was that eliminating the programs would particularly hurt talented low-income students, for whom expensive programs at local private institutions, such as USC or California Institute for the Arts in Valencia, are not an option.
In addition, Schaefer said, faculty members argued that the quality of the graduate programs would suffer if the lower-division programs were phased out because many of their most talented graduate students come from the university's undergraduate ranks.
Art department Chairman Jim Bassler, who described Young's initial proposal as "a bombshell that shook everyone up," said faculty members are relieved that the chancellor has changed his mind about phasing out the undergraduate programs.
The suggestion to eliminate the lower-level programs "showed a lack of understanding of the process of art," Bassler said. "Everyone has to start somewhere, including artists. . . . But that has been a big problem--trying to convince the powers that be that there are students here who are dedicated to making art."
Joanne McMaster, a theater professor who chairs the college's executive committee, said the proposed elimination of undergraduate programs would have made it very difficult for students to gain admission to top graduate programs, whether at UCLA or at other institutions.
The chancellor's task force is expected to be formed before the end of the school year in June and will work through the summer, Schaefer said. A final decision on the fate of the College of Fine Arts probably will not be made for several months.