Artists Resist Neoliberalism at UNC

unc artists protest

Today I was lucky to participate in a rally organized by undergraduate students in the Art and Art History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This was the first step in what students assure me will be a sustained campaign to protest the lack of facilities, resources, and faculty in the Department of Art and Art History. Led by students carrying protest signs, we marched in the rain from the Department of Art and Art History directly to South Building where the offices of the Deans’, Provosts’, and Chancellor’s offices are located.

As a faculty member I am impressed that the students mobilized for our department. I am acutely aware of the budget cuts that always seem to affect the humanities departments more than any other department on campus. I see how retiring faculty are not replaced, how our facilities are not updated (or even maintained), and how faculty are doing more administrative work rather than their own research because we cannot hire staff. This has been going on for years. It turns out that all these things end up affecting students too.

Our students are embarrassed by our facilities and while they want to major in art, they realize that at “Carolina” —as this campus is affectionately called— majoring in Art means being in a building with a leaky roof, overflowing sinks, or a sculpture and ceramics facility that is off-campus and a health hazard by OSHA standards.  They also look at the course offerings and wonder why there are so few faculty teaching courses.

At some point the situation reached a critical stage. It began with a leaky roof that damaged student artwork as well as a large part of the Art Library book holdings.  This became a metaphor for how little the Department of Art and Art History matters to the administration. At the same time there was a campus wide event promoted by the Chancellor called “Arts Everywhere”:

Needless to say, this was an example of bad optics. Students and faculty in the Department of Art and Art History were particularly upset that the “Arts Everywhere” initiative did not include their voices or participation at the highest level. Instead,  “Arts Everywhere” paid for outside artists to come to campus to do public art. This would not seem so egregious if the Department of Art and Art History was well-funded. At the end of the day, students believe the university’s main mission should be about teaching, not public relations. Students at the rally cited the incongruity between the words on the university website and the actual status of the visual arts on campus.

Undergraduate students in our department have researched the chancellor’s funding priorities and have seen how small the numbers are for arts funding. Our chancellor used “Arts Everywhere” in publicity photos for the funding campaign. In a photograph, she is seen painting flower pots. This particular action was mentioned many times in the rally today. Students complained that the arts are used to raise money but not given enough funds to truly flourish.

Here are the demands of students:

1) We demand more faculty. We demand faculty retention. We demand 7 new Art and Art History faculty by the start of the 2022 fall semester, the ma- jority of whom must be Tenure Track. We demand all external offers to current faculty be competitively matched.

2) We demand more classes so that our majors and minors can finish their requirements. We demand that art classes in every medium or discipline of- fered by the department be taught every semester so that both undergraduates and graduate students can take classes in their field. This is a direct issue of lack of faculty and administrative support and puts detrimental pressure on the faculty while also producing conditions of impossibility for students to meet requirements in an effective and well-or- dered process.

3) We demand that the Art Lab be repaired and updated to be in code compliance with Chapel Hill building ordinances and OSHA for the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.

4) We demand that the roof of the Hanes Art Cen- ter be completely fixed before the start of the 2018 fall semester.

5) We demand all Art Department facilities be fully improved for the physical and personal safety for students and faculty. We demand the maintenance and repair of buildings in pronounced deterioration and increased security infrastructure (cameras, doorbells) for the safety of students, staff, and facul- ty working in these spaces.

6) We demand the replacement of all books dam- aged in the Sloane Art Library as a result of the Uni- versity’s egregious failure to maintain the integrity of the roof.

7) We demand the replacement or repair of all equipment and infrastructure damaged in the John C Henry Print Studio due to the University’s per- sistent failure to maintain the integrity of the roof.

8) We demand that our current facilities are updated with basic equipment needs such as Graphic Tablets for the digital lab, more lighting studio equipment, and cameras for the darkroom. We recognize that a recent monetary gift to the Art Department will allow for the purchasing of new equipment; we demand that these equipment needs are met by Fall 2018 for the start of the new academic year.

9) We demand that the University vigorously pur- sue the recruitment of the only Black Studio faculty member, Jina Valentine, who we lost through a failed and pathetic retention offer despite the University’s claim that they are committed to supporting and retaining faculty of color. Prof. Valentine had been the only Black Studio faculty member for the past five years.

10) We demand fully-funded graduate programs with living wage stipends for each student.

11) We demand that the University raise the pay of the Art Department staff because budget freezes in the Art Department have limited the ability of the depart- ment to fairly compensate them for their labor.

12) We demand that the University give part-time staff benefits and health insurance.

13) We demand that the University hire staff to main- tain the Alcott Gallery, Art Lab, Print Studio, Digital Lab, and Darkroom to increase accessibility to these resources students desperately need to complete their work and to ease the burden on faculty and graduate students to oversee these facilities. We de- mand that the University retain Brian Garner.

14) We demand that a need-based scholarship fund, established by the Chancellor’s office, be created to offset material costs for students from low-income and minority backgrounds.

15) We demand Art and Art History Department students and faculty be included in leadership roles whenever the University promotes the Arts, and that future Arts Everywhere campaigns should have at least one studio Art Faculty represented at meetings and in committees. We realize that past meetings have included some representation, and that one major positive outcome has emerged from a more in depth collaboration in the form of a MFA Graduate Fellowship. However, we demand that Art and Art His- tory students and faculty are given leadership in the decision-making process overall and that our disci- pline is integrated into the campus more broadly.

16) We demand that the University remove Silent Sam, a form of white supremacist intimidation and a symbol still functioning in tacit defense of slavery and a racist social order. As artists and scholars, we understand the agency of artists and the power of art and visual culture to solidify dominant ideologies or to transform them entirely.





In the Art Department, since 2011, there have been 13 faculty losses (11 Tenure Track, 2 Non-Tenure Track) and only 6 hires, of which only 3 have been Tenure Track.


There have been no upgrades to The Art Lab infrastructure or mechanicals since it was opened in 1977; it was intended as a temporary building. According to an OSHA report con- ducted in 2015, there are a number of major health and safety hazards that require immedi- ate attention, including major air quality concerns and temperature control.


MFA Teaching Assistants (TA) and Teaching Fellows (TF) in the Art Department are paid $6,000 per semester, an average of $2000 less than other TAs and TFs across the Human- ities & Social Sciences, and an average of $10,000 less than stipends in the Sciences like Chemistry.


The Hanes Art Center roof has been leaking steadily for over 10 years. Other longtime dete- riorated infrastructure in Hanes includes plumbing in the Photography Darkroom and the Painting studios. Currently, stacks in the Sloane Art Library are covered in plastic sheeting to protect books. Art has been damaged and classes interrupted throughout the building as a result of the University’s failure to maintain the roof.


“Arts Everywhere” is the public face of the current Carolina Giving Capital Campaign. Out of the “Campaign for Carolina,” the Chancellor’s newest $4.25 billion fundraiser, the De- partment of Art and Art History will only see .08% of it. This $3.3 million is approximately the amount of funds it would take to replace the roof of Hanes Art Center and bring the Art Lab up to OSHA standards. Though the campaign uses the “arts” as a majoring marketing tool, and 8.2% of the fundraiser ($350 million) goes to very broad “arts” initiatives, these ini- tiatives fail to create the necessary infrastructure and support art students need for their academic pursuits, and work to further legitimize the continued divestment from the Art Department and the Arts as a scholarly discipline over the last 20 years.


Carol Folt Chancellor

(919) 962-1365 Annual Salary: $632,810

Margaret Spellings President, UNC System (919) 962-6983

Annual Salary: $775,000

Kevin Guskiewicz

Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

(919) 962-3082

Annual Salary: $356,249

Further readings:

Sabine Gruffat is a filmmaker and associate professor of Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.