COMMENTARY: High safety standards must be maintained
Student safety is a priority for all of the Rutgers community, and when a curriculum requires hands-on activity with hazardous materials, equipment and techniques, no effort should be spared.
In the sculpture program at Mason Gross School of the Arts, graduate and undergraduate students learn and create in many different media. The Livingston Sculpture Arts Building houses the sculpture studios, including a complete wood shop, welding shop, foundry and ceramics facilities.
For over a year, the URA Health and Safety Committee has brought to the attention of Mason Gross School of the Arts and Rutgers Environmental Health & Safety the need to maintain and improve safety training for our students. Sculpture students may be inexperienced in the use of power tools, high-temperature processes like welding at temperatures up to 6,400 degrees Fahrenheit, metal casting, firing kilns up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit, safe use of toxic glazes and pigments, fit-testing and use of the correct personal protective equipment.
This year, important steps have been taken to reinforce and improve safety training and compliance. All these culminated recently in a positive report by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design — part of a new accreditation which will add to the prestige of the Visual Arts program at Mason Gross.
But shortly after the accrediting committee’s visit, progress was threatened again by the news that the visual arts coordinator who is responsible for operation of this complex group of studios, as well as training of students, record-keeping for OSHA and EPA compliance and equipment safety will be laid off at the end of the school year.
The Visual Arts Department said they will hire a part-timer to replace the full-time visual arts coordinator and delegate training and monitoring of certain safety procedures to students (who themselves are trained by the visual arts coordinator). It is hard to see how a high level of safety can be maintained with reduced resources.
Mason Gross School of the Arts says that declining enrollment in sculpture classes makes it necessary to cut back on staff. URA believes that safety must be a priority at all times. Like science or medicine and even football, sculpture is a discipline with fixed costs. Cutting costs on safety will not produce better results.
We urge Dean George Stauffer and Visual Arts Department Chair Gerry Beegan to restore the full-time visual arts coordinator to the sculpture program.
Lucye Millerand is a Class of 1980 Livingston College alumna who received her master's degree in labor relations from the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. She is the president of the Union of Rutgers Administrators.
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