University of the Arts President Resigns After School Announces Closure

The University of the Arts president, Kerry Walk, has resigned only a few days after her administration said that the nearly 150-year-old institution in Philadelphia would close because of declining revenue and enrollment, union officials representing school employees told The New York Times on Tuesday.

News of the resignation, which earlier appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, broke as students were protesting the closure on campus, holding signs with messages including “It’s not noble for artists to suffer” and “We are not trash don’t throw us away.” Union officials told The New York Times that a meeting to start layoff negotiations on behalf of some 450 employees was abruptly canceled Tuesday by the school’s outside legal counsel as faculty learned that Walk was stepping down.

“We are appalled,” United Academics of Philadelphia, one of the unions representing employees, wrote in a statement. “This sudden resignation, announced via the media, continues the pattern of disregard and cruelty to which the University of Arts has subjected employees and students.”

On Sunday, the University of the Arts posted a statement to its website saying that “despite our best efforts, we could not ultimately identify a viable path for the institution to remain open and in the service of its mission.” It has not commented on Walk’s resignation; she served as university president for less than a year. Before she joined the University of the Arts, Walk was the president of Marymount Manhattan College for eight years.

On Tuesday afternoon, the university sent an email to students confirming refunds for the summer and fall semesters.

The school was created by the 1985 merger of the Philadelphia College of Art and the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts. It offered about 40 majors, such as dance, theater and visual art. Notable alumni included Charles Sheeler, Dotty Attie, Louise Fishman, Stephen Powers, Neil Welliver and Deborah Willis.

Hundreds of incoming freshmen learned about their dashed college dreams after submitting their tuition deposits; some said they had not received any personal outreach from University of the Arts about next steps.

Sam McCarty was one of those unlucky teenagers who learned over the weekend about the school’s closure after committing to its musical theater program. “I found out through an Instagram post that I opened while at my University of the Arts-themed graduation party,” he said. “My stomach dropped.”

“I remember running upstairs and telling my parents,” McCarty added. “We thought it was fake.”

The fallout was immediate and painfully familiar to instructors in the struggling world of arts education, where dozens of respected schools have closed over the last decade. The University of the Arts closure would affect 1,149 students and nearly 700 employees total, but it was also the second major Philadelphia arts institution this year to end its programs. In January, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts said it would stop granting degrees after its 2025 graduating class.

According to its own website, the University of the Arts had agreed to host a number of transfer students from that institution. Now it appears that those young artists will have to transfer to yet another program. For recent graduates of UArts, questions also remain about what value their institution might have with future employers.

“It’s a very hard situation,” said Ariana González, who recently graduated with a dance major. “I still haven’t received my diploma. And when I’m looking for a job, will the diploma still be validated?”

The university said in an email to students on Tuesday that diplomas would be shipped out on June 24. “We are committed to ensuring everyone receives their diploma and will provide support as quickly as we can,” the email said.

McCarty said there was help for incoming freshmen like him who were scrambling to find a new university. Through an application portal for art students, nearly 70 universities across the United States have reopened their admissions process for University of Arts students.

“We hope that you feel the love and support from the arts community,” a statement within the application portal reads. “Remember, these schools would be LUCKY to have YOU!”

McCarty said within the last couple days that he has already received offers from the Greensboro College School of the Arts and Plymouth State University. But he remained puzzled over the University of Arts’s abrupt closure.

“It’s still definitely a blow,” McCarty said. “I am going to be mourning this for a while.”

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