Art University’s sudden decision to close brings heartbreak, anger and many questions

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryant Fleming is looking forward to the fall semester at the University of the Arts, where the rising senior will choreograph a “Sister Act” — —It was this musical comedy that made him fall in love with theater.

Instead, the musical theater major is heartbroken and angry about the Philadelphia school’s actions. sudden announcement On Friday, the company planned to close in just seven days. this Decide It shocked students, parents and staff and raised questions about the governance of this venerable city institution. University officials have not disclosed how or why they suddenly ran out of money to pay their bills.

“You all know what’s going on, so why don’t you tell us and be honest with us so we can prepare ourselves?” Fleming said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’re all angry. … It just hurts.

Fleming, who plans to attend nearby Temple University, was one of hundreds who gathered outside the university’s administrative building this week to protest the school’s closure, which is set to close on Friday.

The history of the Art University can be traced back nearly 150 years, and it has trained many Grammy Award-winning and Tony Award-winning artists. It is one of a long list of small private colleges that have closed in recent years due to demographic changes and the upheaval of the pandemic.

Summer classes were canceled and a new class of first-year students, many of whom had just paid their deposits, had to scramble to find somewhere else to enroll. Temple University and Drexel University in Philadelphia, along with several other schools across the country, announced they would offer spots to unemployed art college students.

Meanwhile, school employees said they were kept in the dark about when they would receive final paychecks and how soon they would have access to university email accounts and campus studios to retrieve work-in-progress art.

Such a swift closure is “truly unprecedented.” I am not happy to say that I think this reflects a complete failure of leadership at the School of Art. ) explain. The plaintiffs seeking a class action claim that UArts violated federal law by failing to give them 60 days’ notice of termination.

Lechchin questioned Wednesday whether university officials are doing enough to address the school’s financial challenges, such as canceling programs, reducing staff or selling more of the school’s valuable real estate in downtown Philadelphia.

Judson Aaron, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees and dean of the School of Arts Kerry Walk, said in a statement that after years of declining enrollment and revenue, the school faced “sudden changes. Huge, unexpected expenses that arise.” They did not elaborate. Walker resigned this week.

“Despite our best efforts, we were ultimately unable to find a viable path that would allow the institution to remain open and serve its mission,” the school board said in a separate statement.

Parent Chris Krewson recalled receiving a fall tuition bill just hours before news of the sudden school closures broke. His son Owen has just completed the first year of a five-year course that combines vocal performance and music education, which he may now find difficult to replicate.

Krewson, an assistant at Temple, has been approached about a possible transfer, but it’s unclear where his 19-year-old son will land in the fall. He chose UArts over Boston’s Berklee College of Music and thrived at the Philadelphia Center for the Arts, even performing for composer Stephen Schwartz at the nearby Kimmel Center.

“It was really a neutron bomb that went off in his summer,” Chris Krewson said.

“He spent the last few days calling everywhere — calling Berkeley, calling NYU, filling out forms for Temple, trying to figure out his next move,” he said. “We have passed the normal transfer deadline.”

Krewson wondered how the board, made up of some of the city’s top business leaders and philanthropists, could have missed signs of financial distress.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, which oversees nonprofits, said it is reviewing the circumstances of the school closures, including “any transfer or loss of assets.”

“We are deeply concerned about the sudden closure of the University of the Arts, which is having an impact on students, staff and the community,” said Brett Hambright, a spokesman for Attorney General Michelle Henry.

Meanwhile, Temple explain It is exploring potential mergers to save the School of Arts, which has courses in art, dance, design, film, music and drama.

“Over the past few days, we have spoken with UArts representatives to explore all options and possible solutions that might help preserve the arts and the rich legacy of this 150-year-old institution,” Temple University said President Richard Englert and Provost Gregory N. Mandel.

The number of U.S. college students had been declining steadily for years before the pandemic caused a sharp decline in enrollment. While numbers nationwide are gradually coming back from a downward trend, smaller colleges whose budgets rely on tuition are still struggling to stay afloat.

Enrollment declines have been steepest in the Northeast and Midwest due to regional population losses. These areas also have some of the highest concentrations of universities, resulting in shrinking student numbers and fierce competition.

Total enrollment at the University of the Arts dropped from about 1,900 students in fall 2018 to 1,300 students in 2022, the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education.

Since 2009, the school’s enrollment has dropped by nearly half.


Rubinkam reported from Northeastern Pennsylvania. Associated Press reporter Colin Binkley in Washington contributed to this report.

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