The state’s core curriculum policy harms arts students

James Treuthardt

At Texas universities, the majority of visual and performing arts classes do not count for the Visual and Performing Arts requirement. If you are a radio-television-film major, your production classes do not count for your VAPA. In theatre and dance, intensive dance classes do not count for VAPA. In the music department, music performance classes do not count for VAPA. But, this is not UT’s fault.

According to Larry Abraham, associate dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, by the legislature, has very specific outlines for what constitutes a core curriculum class. The board, which was created by the Texas Legislature, guides the Texas higher education system. It designed the core curriculum policy so that certain classes at Texas colleges could be transferred from any Texas university to another, easing the transfer process.

To qualify for the core curriculum, a Texas university’s classes must fulfill some core objectives, such as teamwork or critical thinking skills. While there are obvious benefits to making course credits easily transferable between universities, the board’s faulty definition for VAPA, or Creative Arts, leads to classes not qualifying as a VAPA core despite obvious warrant.

The board defines VAPA as courses that focus on the “appreciation and analysis of creative artifacts of the human imagination” that allow students to communicate and synthesize ideas about art. The definition does not consider participating in art such as music, studio art or video production as within the Creative Arts category. In the past, VAPA courses that taught students performance art did qualify for the core. But the state changed the rules for core qualification in 2014. So these classes might fulfill core objectives like teamwork, but they do not qualify unless they involve the appreciation of their respective arts.

While Abraham does mention that many professors manage to qualify for VAPA by creating classes that combine appreciation for and practice of art, that is not always the case. Tom Schatz, professor and radio-television-film interim department chair, said he was surprised when the RTF course Narrative Strategies did not qualify as a VAPA core. The class combined film analysis and strategies to successfully write a film narrative.

“The classes that they decide apply for VAPA … (strike) me as a tad arbitrary at times,” Schatz said.

Schatz acknowledges that he appreciates that RTF majors need to take VAPA core classes outside of their major, and has since created non-major RTF courses that do carry a VAPA core, but Narrative Strategies’ rejection highlights a problem with the state’s requirements. Students in Visual and Performing Arts majors are hurt by their requirements.

In RTF, for instance, none of their required RTF courses carry a VAPA credit. Therefore, in order to receive a VAPA credit they either need to take a non-major RTF course or something outside of the Moody College of Communication. In other majors, students receive their VAPA largely from courses like theatre or art history. Students have to take more, often unnecessary, courses to fulfill a requirement their major should cover.

The state needs to move back to allowing courses like film production and orchestra to count as VAPA credit. Appreciation classes should still qualify, since not everyone has an interest or talent in art, but it is ridiculous to suggest performance should not qualify.

Treuthardt is a Journalism and Marketing major from Allen. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamestreuthardt