UArts President Resigns Amid Anger Over School’s Closure

University of the Arts (UArts) President and Chief Executive Officer Kerry Walk resigned today, June 4, less than four days after the historic Philadelphia school suddenly announced it would close within a week. A representative for the school’s office of the president confirmed Walk’s resignation to Hyperallergic shortly after 1pm today.

In a statement, unionized UArts faculty said they were “appalled” by Walk’s decision to step down and the subsequent cancellation of union negotiations scheduled for this afternoon, citing a “pattern of disregard and cruelty.” 

“Employees do not know if they will receive paychecks for the work they have already completed, let alone what happens after June 7,” said the group, which represents non-tenured UArts faculty including full-time professors and the adjunct educators who constitute 85% of the school’s teachers. “Nothing has been done to help students find new colleges in which they may enroll.”

Walk became the 148-year-old institution’s fifth president last August after leading New York City’s Marymount Manhattan College for eight years. Walk’s resignation comes amid an increasingly tumultuous week for UArts. After the Middle States Commission on Higher Education revoked the school’s accreditation, Walk and Board of Trustees Chair Judson Aaron confirmed to UArts community members last Friday that the school would shutter its doors on June 7, citing a “fragile financial state” due to years of waning student enrollment, declining revenues, and rising expenses.

University trustee Laurie Wagman told the Philadelphia Inquirer that while she could not explain the school’s decision to abruptly close, it would take “something like $40 million” to resolve the institution’s financial issues.

UArt’s public tax filings for the 2022-2023 fiscal year reveal that the school made $123 million in net assets but ran a deficit of over $6 million. The previous fiscal year, the university made $124.7 million in net assets and showed a surplus of $1.5 million. 

During this period, UArts was under the leadership of David Yager, who served as the school’s president and CEO from 2016 to 2023. Yager helped steward a number of initiatives focused on improving the school’s infrastructure, programming, and funding, among them the school’s first capital campaign, which reportedly raised $67 million

According to UArts, these funds expanded the school’s endowment by over $24 million, financed several major campus construction and renovation projects, and provided more than $5 million in student scholarships and aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in a recent interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Walk said that “an unspecified amount of gifts, grants, and other revenues the school was counting on had not materialized.”

Yesterday afternoon, UArts students rallied outside the campus’s Hamilton Hall to protest the school’s decision to shut down and, later in the day, institutional leaders’ last-minute cancellation of a scheduled town hall session to answer questions and concerns about the university’s imminent closure.

The faculty union is now demanding that Board Chair Aaron resume negotiations immediately on severance pay and healthcare benefits for affected employees and that the Board of Trustees provide an explanation of the closure to students and the broader UArts community.

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