Ashley He / Sun Staff Photographer

Students and staff sit in Mui Ho Fine Arts Library.

April 17, 2020

Barred From Studios, Cornell Fine Arts Students Demand Partial Tuition Refund

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From printmaking presses to darkrooms, woodshop to fabrication shops, Cornell’s fine arts students rely on physical studio spaces for a productive, collaborative environment to create their work.

But with the pandemic barring students from a key cornerstone of their education, some of Cornell’s fine arts majors have joined art students across the country in demanding partial tuition refunds.

Citing the fact that a hands-on arts education cannot be replicated online, students at the Yale School of Art, Columbia University School of Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, School of Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the New York University Tisch School have all asked for partial refunds.

A Cornell petition launched on April 2 demands that students receive “a 50% refund for the things we cannot access virtually, such as studios, exhibition spaces, and essential facilities.” 82 students have signed the petition as of Thursday night.

Margaret Groton ’21, a Bachelor of Fine Arts student in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning, wrote a letter on April 8 to President Martha E. Pollack, Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur, AAP Dean J. Meejin Yoon and college faculty on behalf of BFA undergraduates.

“According to a four-credit class at Cornell costs $5,840, so we are requesting $2,420 reimbursement for each studio enrollment,” the letter explained, noting that students have also “bought expensive materials for classes we now have no use for without access to necessary tools for the production process, like the acid bath … fabrication shops and more.”

Beyond posing a financial burden, Groton also stressed that artwork produced for courses loses quality when students cannot access the right studio environment.

“Studio art is an experiential education,” Groton wrote in her letter to administration officials. “It requires physical presence, it is not fair to translate this education virtually and make us pay for what has been taken away from us. None of your students can afford to pay thousands of dollars for such a drastic compromise to our education.”

Campus closures have exposed the financial disparity often concealed when college students all live in the same place and learn in the same classrooms, according to The New York Times.

For fine art students — who often must purchase pricey materials — this divide is even more apparent.

“There is a disparity between the haves, being able to continue their practice because they have space and money and safety, and the have-nots seriously struggling without the essential support of on-campus space and guidance,” Groton wrote in an email to The Sun.