Jun 3, 2024 - News

University of the Arts' officials evade town hall questions after abrupt closure

A protester holds a sign that says "Make Art Not Hate" outside of the University of the Arts.

It wasn't really all rainbows and unicorns at the University of the Arts on Monday, where students were protesting the school's abrupt closure. Photos: Isaac Avilucea/Axios

Students, faculty and community members are reeling over the sudden decision to close the University of the Arts after nearly 150 years.

Why it matters: Friday's announcement blindsided more than 1,100 students and hundreds of faculty and staff, upending their educational plans and careers.

Driving the news: The university canceled a virtual town hall meeting 10 minutes before it was scheduled to start Monday afternoon because officials weren't prepared to "adequately answer" questions about the shuttering.

  • School officials asked people to submit questions through an online portal and said they would provide more information on its website within a day.

State of play: Earlier Monday, dozens of students gathered outside the school to protest the decision to close, which takes effect Friday.

  • Students told Axios they were angry with the administration for not being forthcoming. Many learned of the shutdown from news outlets before getting official word from the university.
A protester in a pretzel costume holding up a sign that says, "This shit is twisted."
The university's decision is protested. Photo: Isaac Avilucea

Catch up quick: UArts announced the closure on its website at the outset of the summer session shortly after the Middle States Commission on Higher Education said it was withdrawing the institution's accreditation.

  • The school's president, Kerry Walk, and Board of Trustees chair Judson Aaron blamed a "fragile financial state" and declining enrollment.
  • The board approved the closure over the weekend and released a statement Sunday saying it couldn't "identify a viable path for the institution to remain open."
  • Nearby schools such as Temple and Drexel will absorb transferring students, in the hope of a smooth transition.

By the numbers: The school's enrollment has dropped nearly half over the last decade from more than 2,000 in 2013, per the Inquirer.

  • The university's books for the most recent fiscal year, which ended in June, showed $12 million in operating losses, per the Inquirer.

Zoom in: Many arts schools have struggled to rebound financially from the pandemic, but students told Axios they got no hint of the institution's dire financial straits.

  • They said officials acted normal during a graduation ceremony, and students were still being charged for tuition up until the closure's announcement.

Flashback: Earlier this year, unionized faculty ratified the first contract in the school's history.

What they're saying: "It's weird to say we're the last graduating class. It feels like this big wake, funeral," Izzy Ross, a recent graduate, told Axios.

Outside Hamilton Hall, the school's main building on South Broad Street, a protest resembled more of a rock concert.

  • Students wore zany costumes, held up signs and scrawled messages on pillars and sidewalks, condemning the "twisted" decision.
  • "We're supposed to make art in moments of injustice," says Sarah MacLeod, who would've entered her junior year.

The bottom line: Most institutions notify students and faculty of closures months or more in advance, Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at the University of Tennessee, tells Axios.

  • He called UArts "one of the ugliest closures" since ITT Tech left thousands in the lurch after shuttering in 2016.
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