UArts Students and Staff Rally After Abrupt Closure Announcement

Students and faculty of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts (UArts) rallied outside the school’s Hamilton Hall today, June 3, to protest the institution’s imminent closure. UArts leadership shocked community members last Friday, May 31, when they abruptly announced that the school would be ceasing operations this week after 150 years.

In its unexpected statement last week, UArts cited a “fragile financial state, with many years of declining enrollments, declining revenues, and increasing expenses.” The school’s tax returns filed for the 2022–2023 fiscal year show that the institution made $123 million in net assets while also running a deficit of over $6 million.

“We would have shared this news with you directly, but the Middle States Commission on Higher Education elected to withdraw UArts’ accreditation and announce before we could communicate with you,” read the message, signed by Board of Trustees Chair Judson Aaron and President Kerry Wal.

UArts has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

On May 29, UArts leadership notified the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), an institutional accrediting agency, that they were anticipating an “unplanned, imminent closure” in three days, according to a statement released last week. After asking UArts for supplemental information about the closure, MSCHE took “immediate adverse action” to revoke the school’s accreditation, which went into effect on Saturday, June 1.

“The institution failed to inform the Commission of closure in a timely manner or to properly plan for closure,” a MSCHE representative told Hyperallergic.

According to MSCHE policy and federal regulations, accredited higher education institutions are required to submit a “substantive change request” to the agency for prior approval by one of six bimonthly deadlines each year; failure to do so can risk an institution’s accreditation status, as well as its Title IV funding or eligibility. Substantive changes include modifications in an institution’s legal status, objective, programming, and operations. In this case, UArts would have been required to notify MSCHE of its impending closure by May 1.

The Commission also required UArts to submit “a comprehensive, implementable teach-out plan with signed teach-out agreements” by this Friday, June 7. These agreements, required by federal regulations and MSCHE policy, consist of partnerships between institutions with similar curricula and programming to facilitate students’ transfer to other schools. 

On Friday, the news of the closure and accreditation withdrawal was published by MSCHE and later circulated by local outlets — all before UArts informed its students, faculty, and staff, drawing scrutiny from community members. 

“Part of what makes this so shocking and outrageous is that at no point was there any indication from the senior leaders at the university … that the university’s finances were this precarious,” faculty member and union representative Bradley Philbert told Hyperallergic, adding that within the last three months, the university has hired between four and six staffers.

“This is not just something that happened overnight,” Philbert said.

Students shared their disbelief on TikTok, claiming they had already paid deposits and lost scholarships by the time they learned the news, in some cases over Instagram. A town hall planned for today to address the community’s concerns was canceled 10 minutes before its scheduled start time, according to an email from the school obtained by Hyperallergic.

Bryant Fleming, a musical theater major, told Hyperallergic that they initially found out about UArts’s shuttering from their friend, who saw a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Why do we have to find out in literally 24 hours that the school is closing when they could have told us five months before?” Fleming said at the student rally today. In the background, demonstrators chanted “Town Hall Now!” while carrying signs decorated with unicorns (the school’s “mythical mascot”) that read phrases like “You Can’t Kill This Community” and “A Unicorn Died Here.” 

Staff have also criticized the school’s delay in alerting community members, sharing their frustrations across social media platforms. Former faculty member and program director Natalie Robin launched a Gofundme yesterday; all proceeds raised from the campaign will go toward financially assisting UArts faculty and staff represented by United Academics of Philadelphia 9608, a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers labor union. 

Michael Pogudin, a former second-year composition major who helped organize the protest, told Hyperallergic that he is currently undecided as to where to continue his studies next semester. Nearby schools like Temple University, Drexel University, and Moore College of Art and Design have already announced commitments to supporting currently enrolled UArts students. 

“I was grateful to call this place home for two years, and am glad my peers became lifelong friends and my teachers lifelong mentors,” Pogudin said, adding that he is still hopeful that the school can appeal the closure.

“Regardless of what happens, UArts will always be a home to so many people,” Pogudin said.

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