Entire First-Year MFA Class Drops Out in Protest at the University of Southern California

by Matt Stromberg on May 15, 2015

Formal_Roski_CardOnWhite-1280LOS ANGELES — Citing “the University’s unethical treatment of its students,” the entire class of first year MFA students at USC’s Roski School of Art has decided to leave the school, according to a statement they released today. The seven students list a number of grievances leading to their decision, beginning with a significant decrease to the generous tuition subsidization that they had expected before their acceptance to the program. They also criticize the school’s administration that “did not value the Program’s faculty structure, pedagogy or standing in the arts community.” As a result, they say, the Program Director left in December 2014, followed by the resignation of tenured professor Frances Stark.

After numerous meeting with the administration, they write:

[W]e have no idea what MFA faculty we’d be working with for the coming year; we have no idea what the curriculum would be, other than that it will be different from what it was when we enrolled and is currently being implemented by administrators outside of our field of study; and finally, we have no idea whether we’d graduate with twice the amount of debt we thought we would graduate with.

In the midst of this upheaval, the university was eagerly celebrating the arrival of the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy, which came with a $70 million gift from the music industry giants. Focused on art, technology, and entrepreneurship, the undergraduate program is also headed by Erica Muhl, the newly appointed Dean of Roski. The Academy’s tagline, “The Degree is in Disruption,” employs a favorite techie term, which the student statement addresses:

[F]aculty voices are silenced and adjunct faculty expands, affecting their overall ability to advocate for students. We seven students lost time, money, and trust in a classic bait-­and-­switch, and the larger community lost an exemplary funding model that attempted to rectify at least some of these economic disparities. What we experienced is the true ‘disruption’ of this accelerating trend.

Read the full statement below:

We are a group of seven artists who made the decision to attend USC Roski School of Art and Design’s MFA program based on the faculty, curriculum, program structure and funding packages. We are a group of seven artists who have been forced by the School’s actions dismantling each of these elements to dissolve our MFA candidacies. In short, due to the University’s unethical treatment of its students, we, the entire incoming class of 2014, are dropping out of school and dropping back into our expanded communities at large.

The Roski MFA Program that attracted us was intimate and exceptionally well­funded; all students graduated with two years of teaching experience and very little to no debt. We were fully aware of the scarcity of, and the paucity of compensation for, most teaching jobs, so this program seemed exemplary in creating a structure that acknowledged these economic and pedagogical realities. However, a different funding model was presented to us upon acceptance to the Program by the Roski administration: we would receive a scholarship for some of our first-­year tuition, and would have a Teaching Assistantship with fully-­funded tuition, a stipend, and benefits for the entirety of our second year upon completion of our first-­year coursework. We, the incoming class of 2014, were the first students since 2011 to take on debt to attend, and the first students since 2006 to gain no teaching experience during our first-­year in the program. Moreover, when we arrived in August 2014, we soon discovered that the Dean of the Roski School was attempting to retroactively dismantle the already-­diminished funding model that was promised to us, as well as make drastic changes to our existing faculty structure and curriculum.

The Dean of the Roski School of Art and Design was appointed by the University in May 2013, despite having no experience in the visual arts field. She, along with Roski’s various Vice and Assistant Deans, made it clear to our class that they did not value the Program’s faculty structure, pedagogy or standing in the arts community, the very same elements that had attracted us as potential students. The effects of the administration’s denigration of our program arrived almost immediately. In December 2014, Roski’s MFA Program Director stepped down from her position, and was not replaced with another director; in short succession that month, the program lost a prominent artist, mentor, and tenured Roski professor, her pedagogical energies and input devalued by the administration. By the end of the Fall 2014 semester, we quickly came to understand that the MFA program we believed we would be attending was being pulled out from under our feet. In January 2015, we felt it necessary to go to the source of these issues, the Dean of the Roski School.

In a slew of unproductive, confounding and contradictory meetings with the Dean and other assorted members of the Roski administration in early 2015, we were told that we would now have to apply for, and compete with a larger pool of students for the same TAships promised to us during recruitment. We were presented with a different curriculum, one in which entire semesters would occur without studio visits, a bizarre choice for a studio-­art MFA. Shocked by these bewildering and last-­minute changes, we reached out to the University’s upper administration. We were then told by the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs that the communication we received during recruitment clearly stating our funding packages was an “unfortunate mistake,” and that if the Program wasn’t right for us, we “should leave.” Throughout this grueling process of attempting to reason with the institution, the Roski School and University administration used manipulative tactics of delaying decisions, blaming others, contradicting each other’s stated policies, and attempting to force a wedge of silence between faculty and students. At every single turn, the Dean and every other administrator we interacted with tried to de-­legitimize and belittle our real concerns, repeatedly framing us as “demanding” simply for advocating for those things the School had already promised us.

As of 5pm on May 10, 2015, after four months, seven meetings that we held in good faith with the administration, and countless emails later, we have no idea what MFA faculty we’d be working with for the coming year; we have no idea what the curriculum would be, other than that it will be different from what it was when we enrolled and is currently being implemented by administrators outside of our field of study; and finally, we have no idea whether we’d graduate with twice the amount of debt we thought we would graduate with.

Since February 2015, we have communicated in writing to the Provost of the University, the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs, The Dean of the Roski School, and other USC administrators that we could not continue in the Program if the funding and curricular promises made during recruitment were not honored; thus, the University is not blindsided by our decision, nor has it been denied ample time and opportunity to remedy these issues with us. Perhaps the University imagined that we would suffer any amount of lies, manipulations, and mistreatment for those shiny degrees.

Let’s not forget about the larger system of inequity that we paid into to try to get our degrees. USC tuition has increased an astounding 92% since 2001¹, compensation for USC’s top 8 executives has more than tripled since 2001², and Department of Education data shows that “administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009”³. Adjunct faculty, the jobs that freshly-­minted MFAs usually get—­ if they’re lucky —­ are paid at a rate that often does not even reach the federal minimum wage4, while paying off tens of thousands of dollars of student-­loan debt. USC follows this trend of supporting a bloated administration with whom students have minimal contact to the diminishment of everyone else.

Despite having ultimate power over the program structure and curriculum, our experience has shown that the administration has minimal concern for their students. Meanwhile, faculty voices are silenced and adjunct faculty expands, affecting their overall ability to advocate5, for students. We seven students lost time, money, and trust in a classic bait-and-­switch, and the larger community lost an exemplary funding model that attempted to rectify at least some of these economic disparities. What we experienced is the true “disruption” of this accelerating trend.

We each made life-­changing decisions to leave jobs and homes in other parts of the country and the world to work with inspiring faculty and, most of all, have the time and space to grow as artists. We trusted the institution to follow through on its promises. Instead, we became devalued pawns in the University’s administrative games. We feel betrayed, exhausted, disrespected and cheated by USC of our time, focus and investment. Whatever artistic work we created this spring semester was achieved in spite of, not because of, the institution. Because the University refused to honor its promises to us, we are returning to the workforce degree-­less and debt-­full.

A group of seven students is only a tiny part of the larger issues of the corporatization of higher education, the scandal of the economic precarity of adjunct faculty positions, and the looming student-­debt bubble. However, the MFA Program we entered in August 2014 did one great thing: it threw us all together, when we might not have crossed paths on our own. We will continue to hold crits ourselves and be involved in each other’s work. We will be staging a series of readings, talks, shows and events at multiple sites throughout the next year, and will follow with seven weeks of “thesis” shows beginning in April of 2016. Our collective and interdependent force is energizing as we progress toward supportive and malleable spaces conducive to criticality and encouragement. These sites are more important than ever in the current state of economic precarity that reaches far beyond the fates of seven art students. We invite everyone to reach out to us with proposals, invitations and strategies of their own, dreams not of creating a “better” institution, but devising new spaces for collective weirdness and joy.

Julie Beaufils, Sid Duenas, George Egerton-­Warburton, Edie Fake, Lauren Davis Fisher, Lee Relvas and Ellen Schafer

[email protected]

1 “Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System”, Final Release Data,National Center for Education Statistics, accessed January 2, 2015.

2 IRS 990 Forms FY 2001-­2007, Part 2, Item 25, and Schedule III and IRS 990 Forms FY 2008-­2012, Part IX, Line 5

3 “The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much”, Campos, Paul F. The New York Times, April 4th 2015.


5 75% of USC faculty is contigent­2015-­faculty-­count-­for-­factbook-­corrected.pdf

UPDATED, 6:00pm ET: A USC spokesperson released the following statement to Hyperallergic:

From Erica Muhl, dean of the USC Roski School of Art and Design:

“I regret that several of our MFA students have stated they will leave the program over issues that were presented to us and that we considered to have been resolved, specifically having to do with financial aid and curriculum.

“The USC Roski MFA program remains one of the most generously funded programs in the country. These students would have received a financial package worth at least 90 percent of tuition costs in scholarships and TAships.

“The school honored all the terms in the students’ offer letters. We offered the students scholarship support with an option to apply for a TAship in their second year. This was in keeping with practice at Roski except for a recent three-year period when two-year TAships were the norm. Subject to the students meeting the standard requirements of basic preparedness and satisfactory progress, they would have been first in line for TAships on their return for a second year (except for one student who already had full financial support).

“Changes are made to the curriculum on an ongoing basis. Minor changes were made to the MFA curriculum prior to the students’ arrival in fall 2014, mainly involving one elective in the summer of 2015. Studio visits and study tours remain part of the curriculum as the students requested.

“I have met with the students at length and hope for an opportunity to continue engaging them in a full and open conversation.”


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  • CCAycedo

    After merely a year of receiving my MFA from USC Roski School of Art and Design, the program is dismantled in a clear corporative move. Same thing happened with sister program MA Curatorial Practice in the Public Sphere. I’m feeling sad, ashamed, disgusted, and frustrated. But also inspired by first year students with TREMENDOUS guts to drop out, and face and expose theUniversity of Southern California as the true Corporation it is. Students in the USA are customers, and high education is heading towards the continuation of an economic empire, without space for critical thought and praxis. This seriously makes me think about where and how I want to raise my child.

    • InRandomOrder

      They are only the first. I’m in touch with students in several Universities who are witnessing their traditional Schools of Art being strangled. Applause to them for the courage and for Hyperallergic for getting the word out.

    • joeymegatron

      praxis, really? The word for the day? Anyway, you’ve been living in a dream world if you think that things at the university (even though it’s non profit legally, it still can’t afford to lose money) are any different today than they’ve always been. The fuel, if you will, of universities is money…lots and lots of money. Universities are killing ‘unprofitable’ majors all the time–just a few years’ ago, for instance, USC killed its undergraduate nursing program. Change is constant, and the university is really no more or less greedy than they’ve always been.

      • CCAycedo

        yeah praxis, the combination of theory and action, when you think and you do, when dancing, writing making videos, or cooking becomes a form of dissent and critique, there are several educational models apart of the US empire corporate model…look at real public education , meaning free or very low cost, in places like germany, colombia, spain, mexico, chile

        • Infoczar

          Then “critical thought” and “praxis” makes your statement redundant for no purpose but flowery language.

          • dang3rtown

            What?! No. Critical thought is the process of improving the quality of one’s thinking through self analysis. Praxis is the physical application of a theory, skill or lesson. They are different and the original statement was well worded. Perhaps if the negative people here used a little bit of critical thinking, they could actually add something beneficial to the conversation rather than just sniping from the peanut gallery.

          • Tigernan Quinn

            And that post won’t make you anything but a pedantic dick.

          • Infoczar

            For pointing out someone was being a supercilious twit? Gotcha . . . *rolls eyes*

        • Roman

          No doubt the lack of capitalized proper names of the country’s you mentioned Joey is an example of said education. Perhaps to better reflect your point…

      • Noah Dillon

        Wouldn’t it be a waste of resources to go to USC for nursing credentials? Nursing is one of the most in-demand jobs in the US right now, and you can ever that field with credentials from a community college or trade school.

        • alwaysthink

          A basic Nursing AA degree can be gotten at a junior college or even trade school, but Nursing also needs BS and Masters for more complicated jobs in the Nursing field. Same on USC for dropping that program to train Medical professionals.

          • Noah Dillon

            Ah, yeah, I guess that makes sense. Like a registered nurse practitioner or something?

        • consumersunite

          People need to stop going to college to get a job. We should just have trade schools and apprenticeships for people who do not want an actual education, by which they learn to truly think for themselves and not just acquire a skill that makes money in the “real” world. College and university should be only for those wishing to acquire true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Not for those who want to do a specific job. Just my opinion.

      • thelaister

        “It can’t afford to loose money” that’s what endowments and donations are for, like the 70 million dollar donation usc just received earmarked for this and related programs. When you create an educational model that creates societal value and artistic cache you get donations from entities that see the value the arts on society as a whole. Bridging the gap between the day to day costs and the actual value is the whole point of endowments. Usc doesn’t see the value of the very thing that drives major donations. The truth is they just see this program as a drain rather than part of the reason why they receive major gifts. That’s a big mistake.

        • Uraina Pack

          Universities and colleges “can’t afford to lose money” because they are being run like corporations in which the administrators are executives and the faculty are quickly becoming over-educated contract laborers. They are pseudo-non-profits with administrators who have figured out how to promote themselves, increase their salaries and expense accounts while students are increasingly relegated to symbolic dollar signs.

      • consumersunite

        The debt is way more than it has always been. Just because something is not “new” does not mean that it is good or right and should continue to perpetuate misery.

      • Robert Ivey

        No they are wasting money on things like administrators that suck the value straight out of the school.

      • Pigoon Rancher

        The dictionary is your friend:

      • himura

        Oh yeah, and that solves the problem right?
        “hey, the world sucks, deal with it, dont try to change it”
        Very mature and responsible.

    • himura

      I feel your pain, My wife is currently getting her degree in studio art in UC Davis.
      AS an artist myself I feel privileged to be able to make a living and support my family with my art but I have seen this amount of BS from art universities my whole life. That is what I decided to teach myself and drop out at an early age to pursuit my goal on my own terms.

      It saddens me to see how disrespectfully is ART treated in universities nowadays, specially when entertainment is one the engines that drives society.

      I wish the best to all those artist that put their trust in those Universities and those failed them.

  • Jenny Odell

    Amazing and beautifully written.

    • marcedward

      More like a long winded letter from a bunch of crybabies who don’t get “brevity is the soul of wit”

      • Ellis_Weiner

        They weren’t trying to be witty. This was a document of protest and an expression of anger and disgust. Would you not think them “crybabies” if it had been shorter?

      • Tigernan Quinn

        If that’s what you saw, that reflects on you, twit.

        • marcedward

          Tigernan, is name calling the best you can do?
          I’m guessing it is.

          • ksimms

            Said the person who wrote “bunch of crybabies”. You may get brevity but you don’t get wit.

          • kevinwires

            What else would you listen to.

    • stewart

      I wouldn’t say beautifully written. I wish appeals like this didn’t smack so much of trying to sound level-headed. They’re pissed off, obviously. Write with more passion. We, the readers can tell there is more to the story, but it’s not expressed. That’s what I’d call frustrating writing.

  • DMTX

    Impressive and necessary!

  • go4jazz

    What is wrong with you people. Don’t you know that the football team needed new towels this year? Sheesh. Art over sports.

    • Batkinson

      Well, except that profits from the sports programs (especially football) can self sustain the costs while also spreading more money throughout the university. The USC football program had profits of over $34 million while the expenses are $23 million. Where do you think that $11 million goes?

      • disqus_3pvMh5wc1W

        Not the programs in the school of art.

        • Batkinson

          I don’t don’t doubt that. I mostly was just pointing out that the chances are incredibly slim that money was pulled from art to go to sports.
          Otherwise, I’m in complete agreement that this story is ridiculous (and kind of inspiring for the bravery of the MFA students).

          • InRandomOrder

            More than likely, it was appropriated for tech. It’s happening all over. Fine Art cannot be turned into a trade school. It’s been separate from Commercial Art for a reason. I say, follow the money. And … track the cronies.

          • birdonawire

            Have you seen the numbers lately demonstration the value of the arts to LA’s economy. They are astounding.

          • Even the K-12 public school systems are shoving technology down the throats of visual arts educators. Yes, technology is an important tool in art, but only one of many tools.

          • Infoczar

            Don’t be stupid – it has nothing to do with “Commercial Art” from which numerous other subdisciplines have spun off. It is a symptom of the bloated middle management in higher education put in place to suck more money from the govt. teat and put students in indentured servitude for life.

          • go4jazz

            I was being a little facetious about the sports thing. I meant it more as a metaphor for priorities in general at a University. I’ve been unhappy with the University of Utah that bait and switched two of my kids in a variety of different ways and no I don’t believe it was because of the sports teams but piss poor planning and execution.

          • Batkinson

            Oh, I can agree with you than universities, in general, really screw over students.

          • InRandomOrder

            I apologize if I sounded like I was singling out your comment, I wasn’t. I’ve gotten so accustomed to fielding questions or snide remarks (from other students) about being an art major it’s become habit. I actually had a neighbor apologize to me once for being snide about ‘how hard can it be to just make stuff’ after she saw me all hours of day and night, back and forth to studio.Just one turnaround is better than none, I figure! No aggression intended, truly.

      • InRandomOrder

        Special interests? Tech? Fast turnover vocational-oriented job rehabilitation? Administration croneyism & bloated salaries, overinflated benefits packages, alumni ‘care’ & ‘support’ – ?

      • go4jazz

        Apparently not to the art department.

      • Steve Smith

        Probably the soccer team, baseball team, fencing team, wrestling team, track and field, lacrosse, etc. teams that don’t produce much revenue at all.

    • TeaKoolAid

      revenues from sports have often helped fund other departments………not the other way around

  • And the bigger issue — ok one of many bigger issues — is that to be a professor in studio art, more and more places are requiring PhDs. The MFA is now just the BFA, the bare minimum you need. I have an MFA but decided to leave studio teaching and did an MA and now PhD in art history. I have no illusions about job prospects in art history either but the MFA road seemed particularly treacherous. These students are brave and I commend them.

  • Eyes To Fly With

    Well done! Inspiring! I am in a PhD program (in the UC system) and I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by the letter, even as the details change from school to school. O the bullshit I have endured … I am still trying to finish but I wish I could have walked out like this, en masse, with others.

    • InRandomOrder

      Hang in there! Those of us further downstream will have to jump the dams they’re building to block formal Art study and education, we are going to need you on the other side!

  • duckfaceantonacio

    More worthless people to add to the list! So, we can’t trust: Presidents, Police, Priests, and now Professors. If i were one of these students, I wouldn’t leave the place without first accidentally dumping a cup of coffee all over someone’s desk while murmuring “EFF YOU.”

    • DrPlacebo

      Did you read the statement? A few months earlier the professors resigned in protest of the same issues.

  • marcedward

    1) Kids, you’re not “artists”, you’re “former art students”
    2) If you had gotten your MFAs, there almost no chance you’d have done anything with them, you’d leave working in the arts inside of 5 years
    3) Art Grad students are a dime a dozen, you’ll be replaced by people with just as much (or more) talent than you have.
    4) Art professors – see (3), above. There are hundreds of people with an MFA who will line up to replace any resigned art prof.
    5) Your “collective” (what are you, the Borg?) isn’t going to last and none of you will be successful.

    Have fun with that!

    • You must be a really fun guy to have around.

      • marcedward

        Just realistic.
        For every 100 people who get a college degree in the arts, maybe 1% of them will still be working on their discipline 5 years later.
        Out of every 100 artists, only 5 can support themselves on their artwork alone.
        So there’s a lot more art students than any market can serve, and most of those artists are barely scrapping by, so putting aside the “big names” (who mostly made it big through connections, not smarts or talent) being a full time artists takes a lot of discipline, talent, smarts – they aren’t the sort of people who call it quits if they have a bad month or a bad year.

        • Ellis_Weiner

          They’re not calling it quits. They’re leaving USC.

          • marcedward

            They will eventually call it quits. People have to eat, these folks aren’t ready to make money, they won’t make money, they will quit.

          • Jeanne Berry

            My God are you pessimistic. Making art has nothing to do with eating, it has to do with feeding the soul. One can balance what they do to “eat” with what they do to feed their soul. Going to an MFA program is taking time out from that to focus solely on feeding the soul, and to possibly gain qualifications that will enable the artist to get a better-paying art-related job so they can pay the bills easier while continuing to make art.

            By the way, they ARE artists, whether they are students or not. An artist is someone who makes art. Whether they do it for a living, or get a degree in it, matters naught.

    • Tash Madden

      lol they already ARE incredibly successful artists, have you even researched them?

      • marcedward

        They are students, not artists, there’s a huge difference. Art students are still learning under the guidance of others, artists do their own thing and don’t need the approval, praise or criticism of paid strangers.

        • dont even

          You have no idea what you are talking about. To be an artist has NOTHING to do with going to a an institution which provides education in the arts. The artist’s profession and very EXISTENCE demands that there is a fundamental creative source that each person commands, regardless of a formal education whatsoever. Take your condescending tone and ignorant projections on the validity of these artists (clearly a statement about yourself above all) and go home. Or wait. You’re already home. I bet you never leave.

          • Cnfssr

            You’re right. So why do they need to go to art school?

          • marcedward

            Oh Don’t even, I think you’re getting a bit hysterical. Switch to the decaf already! I never said any artists needs to go to an art school to be an artist, I was saying that when one is IN art school, one’s an ART STUDENT, because when you’re in art school you’re not really making your own work, you’re under the influence of your professors and peers. Art schools certainly have their uses, they teach the history, the craft and can teach a lot about thinking about art.
            Hope that helps!

          • Jeanne Berry

            I’m sorry, but one does not stop being an artist just because one undertakes further study. If that were true, then there are no real artists in this world, as every creative person is constantly learning new techniques and methods (or should be!) from various sources, formal or otherwise.

            Example: I create using various mediums but my preference is fibers. If I take four days out of my life to attend a fibers workshop where I’m engaged in learning new techniques from my mentors, have I temporarily lost my status as artist? NO! I am STILL an artist. AND I am a student. What if the roles are reversed, and I’m teaching a workshop? Am I no longer an artist because I’m now “just” an educator? No again.

            And yes, you ARE still making your own work while in a graduate program. The only difference is that instead of fumbling through all alone, you are now under the guidance of those with more experience and knowledge, who can get you over the stumbling blocks a lot faster than you’d be able to get over them yourself.

            I suspect you are a frustrated potential grad student who has received one too many rejection letters, am I right?

          • Infoczar

            A dilettante . . . maybe . . . but YOU are certainly NOT an “artist”. I’ve seen your work and you are better off clinging to that secretary position. If I ever review you for NASAD you will have some REAL questions to answer for once.

          • Jeanne Berry

            Oh, really? You are about as qualified to determine whether I’m an artist (or not, based on what little you’ve seen) as I am to determine that you most definitely are a F***head.

          • Infoczar

            No, I am just actually qualified to evaluate what is and isn’t art (and what is and isn’t an effective program). I’ll let you know IF you ever make any. It is always sadly easy to spot a student assistant overplaying their “qualifications”. An actual artist doesn’t need a false brag to feel like an artist.

          • Jeanne Berry

            You know nothing, and you’re just a bully.

          • Infoczar

            It seems to me you attacked me first. Run along – and take your enormous insecurities with you.

          • Ok. This thread is getting really personal. Please stick to the topics. Future comments will be deleted.

          • Ok. This thread is getting really personal. Please stick to the topics. Future comments will be deleted.

          • Carol Cheh

            Umm you could delete about 99% of the comments on this story without any loss to the public “discourse.” Scrolling thru has been profoundly depressing for a researcher such as myself. Hyperallergic’s monitoring of troll activity used to be more rigorous than this, what gives?

          • We do the best we can but as we grow it is tougher.

        • Tash Madden

          Um I don’t know if you’ve researched them, but I can assure you that they are professional artists.

    • PeterEllenstein

      What the hell are you talking about? You’re enumerated opinions, since you don’t state facts, have nothing to do with the crux of his article. Which is about whether or not the university acted in bad faith towards its students. Instead, I guess do to personal discontent, you decided to opine about ANY art students’ life choices. I’m sorry you are so unhappy, but perhaps you should focus on your own choices, rather than infect others with your own unhappiness. These students are clearly bright passionate people, they don’t need those who are disillusioned to give them advice, as the world is never changed by the disillusioned people. So please go back and nurse your wounds elsewhere, and be as practical as you’d like. I applaud these students for following their dreams and standing up for their rights. I hope they win a hefty settlement.

      • marcedward

        Rather obviously you wouldn’t get what the heck I’m talking about. I made it pretty clear, I even put numbers so folks like you wouldn’t get confused.
        Think of it this way – there’s about 100X more “art students” than there are any kind of career in the arts (and that’s a conservative estimate). If these folks quit grad school they will be replaced by people with equal or greater talent and drive. How hard is that to understand?

        finally, being “bright and passionate” = $5 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The server world is full of bright and passionate people who couldn’t jump through the hoops to get through an MFA program or do the massive amount of hard boring work that goes into being a successful artist. Bright and passionate without a lot of toughness is just about worthless.

        • PeterEllenstein

          You clearly and fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of artists and the purpose of art. You seem to view the world entirely through a monetary currency, so finding other currencies “worthless”, doesn’t exactly qualify you to pass judgment on a field in which monetary success is a long way down the priority list. I imagine you feel the same way about english, poetry, philosophy and literature and psychology majors as well. There is a reason you are in wholesale and retail. That is the language you speak and good for you. Others speak a different language, and their view of the world is just as valid, even more so in Academia which is supposed to be dedicated to education, not job training.

          • marcedward

            “You seem to view the world entirely through a monetary currency”

            Perhaps because artists are human and humans have to eat, pay rent, etc. Not everybody can live on a trust fund or their parent’s money.
            Here’s a clue kid – people of means LOVE it that artists don’t get money and never take business classes. That’s why so many of them can tell an artist “I can’t pay you what you deserve, but think of the exposure!” and get away with paying artists less than minimum wage for their work.
            Side guess – you’ve never tried to support yourself on your artwork.

          • PeterEllenstein

            Funny that you think I’m a kid. Actually I’ve made my living in the arts for most of my life, as has my brother, as did my father. Simply because you don’t understand something, which you obviously don’t, doesn’t mean you should ridicule it. As a business person you should also recognize that it is bad business to reneg on contracts or deliver to a customer something different than what you sold them.

          • marcedward

            Peter, what does your post have to do with anything? So your making it in the arts, that’s a great thing, It challenges nothing of what I said about the odds on anybody going from art school to being a professional and being self supporting.

          • PeterEllenstein

            I was simply pointing out that your supposition that I never tried to support myself through art was wrong. Like your entire take on this issue; which is merely a rant against the value of art, liberal arts education and intangibles. You may want to note that the subject the highest percentage of billionaires studied in college was art. Which, while totally NOT why people study art, but still completely destroys your argument from even your own monetary perspective.

          • Vsanborn

            I’m so glad you stopped responding to marcedward. You expressed what I wanted to say, but said it better.

          • marcedward

            Good for you! Nice that your dad was already in the arts and could give you a head start.
            Of course most people don’t have that advantage do they? Maybe you don’t understand that people need to do things like eat and pay rent because they don’t have a well off family to fall back upon.

          • marcedward

            Translation – I have a different opinion than your’s, you cannot defend your opinion, so you make personal attacks. Not everybody has well off parents to support them and give them help in a career in the arts. You don’t get basics like “PEOPLE HAVE TO PAY RENT AND BUY FOOD” probably because you’ve never had to worry about such things. 95% of the rest of us do, so WHO’S the out of touch one here? Go look in the mirror!
            Have a nice day!

          • PeterEllenstein

            You are the person who cast aspersions on artists. You are the person who claimed that these artists are only, “former art students”. And made a bunch of other truly uninformed statements due to your fundamental, and apparently fundamentalist, opinion that job training is the primary consideration in education. You then make pre-suppositions about me, all of which are wrong. My family makes a living in the arts, making it, teaching it, promoting it. We make a living but have never been wealthy, and that is fine with us, because we gain our primary satisfactions life through rewards other than money. But because you cannot seem to understand this life choice, you belittle it. And when it is pointed out that you misunderstand other people’s values system you lash out. Please remove the plank fromyourown eye before pointing out the speck in others. I don’t begrudge you your life choices. I trust they make you happy.

            This article is about a University not honoring its commitment to students, and you chose to attack the students life choices, instead of address the actual issue. You’ve been called out on it, and have now been proven erong in virtually every assumption you’ve made.

  • Cnfssr

    Poet Franz Wright died yesterday, but his opinions regarding MFA programs were fairly well known and made a lot of sense. Artists create art. Teachers teach and “publish or perish.” Artists love art, love creating art, and desire both to communicate and to master their genres. The VAST majority of MFA students are more concerned about using their mediocre art to make a living. Sadly, the relatively small percentage of artistic geniuses or even just great artists are stuck in a workshop with a bunch of wannabes learning nothing but the fine art of self-aggrandizement. Want to be a studio artist worth anything? F*&^ing PAINT.

    • marcedward

      I totally agree.

      • Cnfssr

        Of course, this hits me like an arrow to the chest…I want to write. I love to write. Currently, I cannot write. But writer’s block is another thing altogether (or is it?). The fear of once again failing to make the words say everything I want (need?) them to say. Don’t get me wrong – I think there is a place for the study of poetry, but the MFA scene is ridiculous. Besides promoting mediocrity and turning poetry into business/who do you know incestuous I’ll publish you if you’ll publish me crap, it forces potentially great artists who SHOULD mentor others through the stifling academic nonsense that is most MFA programs. Oh, you went to Iowa? Your absolutely crap poem sent in on a napkin because you’re JUST. THAT. EDGY. is OBVIOUSLY ready for the top opportunities in the country. I’ve met MFA grads who are some of the worst people alive. Generally, they write reviews of other people’s art. /end rant

        • Jeanne Berry

          What do you mean, you cannot write? Seems to me you just did. :-) Maybe all you need is to stop trying to write what you think you should write, and write what stirs your soul, as you’ve done here (and quite well, I might add).

          • Cnfssr

            Jeanne, you will probably never know how much your kind statement meant to me on this particular day. Thank you for your kind, reassuring words. I don’t know your religious beliefs (and have no need to), but in my mind God sent you my way with words of encouragement at just the right time. Thank you.

          • Jeanne Berry

            You’re very welcome. (I’m glad someone on here is nice…)

  • Meghan

    I applaud your decision. Reach out if you’d like to pool contacts and resources. You will do great work, degree or no degree. I haven’t needed it to pursue interesting and meaningful opportunities. I, and I imagine the world of artists working on the east coast alongside me, support you and your brave and important action. – Meghan Keane

  • joeymegatron

    Pedagogy? I doubt these little spoiled brats even know what that means.

  • Chiller

    In my experience it takes guts to drop out, and it takes courage to hang in there when things get tough–but that’s just my feeling.

    What if the faculty (when students arguably needed them most) stuck around and led the MFA’s an MA’s though this awful crisis, made studio visits happen, etc..? What about the all the great artwork that was lost to this mess?

    I worry this move offers instant gratification and excitement, but in the end the actions of the students and faculty in reaction to the Dean and others will ultimately be more damaging to would-have-been future and the unique recent history of Roski.

    The corporation, capitalism, injustice, whatever you want to call it may have won in a sense and that is sad.

    Another outcome is perhaps this will be the wake-up call we all want it to be and Roski will come back to life. That is what I hope for.

    I encourage all the higher-ups to take the highest road, reach out, and negotiate with the students to come up with another solution.


  • voscerote

    ugh, sucks. hope these guys get to still study art if they’re so committed. Join an Atelier!

    • Elene

      Yes, there have got to be better ways to learn and grow as an artist. Why not just scrap the university system if it is like this.

  • birdonawire

    In a corporatized setting like USC education is becoming less about learning and more about the transaction. Its sad. Don’t pay your debt and let them sue you. As a conceptual art project why not sue the university for false advertising and stop paying off your debt. Keep careful records, turn it into a piece. Then give it to the university in lieu of payment.

  • divadarya

    The USA now values structure over product. We have the most bloated management in the world who mostly spend their time justifying how hire more people to have pointless meetings with while ignoring anything resembling a purpose or a product.
    Silicon valley culture hasn’t helped; they’re just greedy tycoons with hoodies instead of diamond stickpins and top hats.

  • giotto

    There are 2 sides to education. Education and business. The day is long past when the lofty ideas of the educated person was the objective. The ivory tower is on Wall Street with a vault door. Places for wealthy to store $ with their names on it. Many art schools are simply a fraud and places where ill suited academics and students can find an acceptable title or credential…BUT there are exceptions. If fine art is the objective, those curriculums should recognize the importance of the truly educated person not the skills or craftsmanship that will inevitably come if fine art was their calling. Others too should seek broader educational goals Ones other than finger digital skillfulness which many vocational schools can offer cheaper and to better ends.

    Why don’t art schools do follow up studies on how their “products” are doing years after? You know why they don’t but why don’t you ask them…..

  • OniRaptor

    I wonder if the students can sue the College for breech of contract to write off their debt.
    It only seems right that they should incur no further abuse from this formerly respected institution.

  • dang3rtown

    My apologies! I completely misread your statement, I thought that when you said “Then “critical thought” and “praxis” makes your statement redundant for no purpose but flowery language.” you were conflating critical thought and praxis, which obviously would be asinine and indicate you understand neither of those concepts! I’m so sorry!

    • AnM

      I think you need to just ignore Infoczar. Just look at the name he chose. He is just one of those internet trolls, and they just go online and seek ways to provoke and belittle people for their own entertainment and self-aggrandizement. Your comments were entirely appropriate and well thought, dang3rtown.

      • quasardrake

        AnM – Exactly!. I thought dang3rtown’s comments were appropriate and well stated also.

    • Infoczar

      Apology not accepted. It should have been obvious to you that I was reading the commenter’s own understanding of the concepts. But then again, I actually considered what was posted before commenting. I wouldn’t goes as far as calling you asinine though – just slow on the uptake for a stereotypical know it all aging liberal surfer hippie

      • quasardrake

        CCAycedo’s original comment used the terms “critical thought” and “praxis” appropriately, and made a clear point regarding the situation at USC, as well as the overall situation in higher education in the U.S.. The terms, as I understand them, do not mean the same thing; and your assertion that their use makes the statement “redundant for no purpose” (!!) is simply not correct. Praxis may(and IMO should) should include critical thought, but it may not. Critical thought, by itself, does not necessarily include praxis though it would seem that it should be incorporated into it subsequently. Hence the statement is not redundant or “flowery”.

        I have never understood why some people object to others using vocabulary which expands, and more correctly or completely expresses, what they are trying to say. I like, and indeed prefer it, when people make some attempt to convey their thoughts more precisely, even if I have to refer to the dictionary to be sure I understand them. If I DO have to look up a word, I have learned something, and I like to do that.

        In any case, what I have learned about this unfortunate situation at USC, leads me to largely agree with CCAycedo’s comment. I am appalled by the (largely unnecessary) expansion of administrative positions at many universities, which eat up much of the budget without benefit to the students. I can understand why unexpected changes to any previously arranged financial packages would strike the student dependent on them as deceptive and unfair. I think that accepting students to a graduate program then changing virtually everything about the curriculum and administration of the program IS indeed a “classic bait and switch”, especially if the students have no warning that changes are in the works.

        Graduate students seeking higher degrees usually invest way more than just money into the process; they often apply to specific programs precisely because of the faculty and curriculum, and may be very dependent on the negotiated financial “package” to finish their degree. To to change almost literally EVERYTHING about the program after the candidates have relocated etc., amounts to fraud, morally at least. It does take great bravery for an entire class to stand up to such fraud by resigning from the “program” as the impact on their lives is sure to be considerable. I support these students and wish them well.

        • Infoczar

          “Praxis may(and IMO should) should include critical thought, but it may not.” Enough said – if you read further – the commenter clarified that in this case it did. My assessment was spot on.

          All the rest of your verbiage is a wasted but thanks for posting it inappropriately in a response to my comment. I wonder if anyone will spend the time to read it?

          • quasardrake

            Erm, no. One may do praxis, then critical thinking about praxis, then apply the results of critical thinking to further praxis. (I did read further before I commented initially BTW) CCAycedo’s response to joeymegatron simply related a casual definition of praxis and had nothing whatsoever to say about critical thought. Critical thought can occur without any praxis following it, whereas by definition praxis is the application of theory and learning to action, which can occur (and sadly often does) without any critical thought whatsoever. IOW, as I said before, the two are not the same thing….. and the response by the original commentator did not define them as the same either. As for the rest of my comment you and others are free to read it or not as you please.

          • Infoczar

            Erm . . . yes. derp

          • disqus_rAILIde2hh

            wow, you’re back . . . . again!

      • Mjd

        Really? Commenting on other people’s comments instead of the meat in the article. We could go on and on and on

        • Infoczar

          “We could go on and on and on” ok – bring it on. You liberals are all the same – you want to take shots at others but when responded to you never have a leg to stand on. It always ends with an insult and fleeing. I’ve checked your posts – you are one of those low info. types. You don’t think for yourself – go back to Al Jazeera where you can post in an echo-chamber of victimhood.

      • InRandomOrder

        Ah. There it is. Name calling. So much for superiority. Or logic. or Maturity. Thank you. I know exactly where to classify any previous comments.

        • Infoczar

          I know! Right? Because baselessly calling someone a “pedantic dick” is so much more credible than correctly identifying someone as liberal through their actual posts and the fact that Discuss shows their most visited websites. You can’t make this stuff up. ha ha ha – Your thought process is flawed random.

          • InRandomOrder

            that’s a relief! whew! Using the same paradigm, same method, same pattern for a few thousand years to judge others and self-elevate at their expense is not superior, it is in fact mindless rigid obedience. Whew! Glad that unmoving, unchanging, predictable stasis is not my problem!

          • Infoczar

            You just said absolutely nothing. Try again! Your grammatical faculties seem to be as flawed as your evaluative faculties. Obey!

  • DrPlacebo

    I am neither an artist nor an art student, but I am not the slightest bit surprised by this move. USC’s modus operandi when I was a medical student there (I’m referring to the main university administration; I have no complaints about the medical school) was similarly to violate its own published policies, and deny the existence or validity said policies when called out for it. I cannot recommend going to USC to study anything at all, art or otherwise.

  • Jeff Putterman

    This country wants stupid voters, and has no clue about culture. Which is why we need to emulate Cuba!!!

  • choraleboy

    She sounds like a real douche. I hope you find other programs in which to continue your work.

  • eugene

    From the students’ statement:

    “…we, the entire incoming class of 2014, are dropping out of school and
    dropping back into our expanded communities at large.”

    “Whatever artistic work we created this spring semester was achieved in
    spite of, not because of, the institution. Because the University refused to
    honor its promises to us, we are returning to the workforce degree-­less
    and debt-­full.”

    Does sound a bit whining and pouty to me. I’m gonna hold my breath till I’m Blue

    Judging by the examples of art I saw of other artists referenced to in articles on
    this subject, please do drop back into communities at large. I consider myself an artist and accepting of just about anything tossed out to the public for consideration, but the artwork of most all these folks can probably be produced and created just as well without attending any manner of school or receiving financial assistance.

    Frankly, I’d not look twice at what I’ve seen (much of it predictable in
    cookie-cutter tone and execution), but hey, that’s the nature of art. Not
    every piece of work rocks everyone’s boat. And pissing and moaning about
    the current matter at least as I have understood from reading
    the statement, is not gonna develop a mindset of skills for traditionally
    “sensitive” artists to sally forth in their endeavors to express and share
    their work with others.

    Art is a means of personal expression, and I’ve expressed myself – to
    whatever degree of gumption I have put into doing so and as well as to any
    degree anyone has cared – just fine without some wildly disproportionate
    financial aid or any faculty instruction after even just a community college
    level education. One can also learn about art and hone their own talent without
    having to sit in a class and listen to a PhD drone on and on about this or that
    period or tangential flights of philosophical theory about what it may all “mean”.
    My personal reading and studies of art has led to soulful insight and discoveries
    of humanity just as valuable or more than had I even more daring and less than
    traditionally stodgy instructors.

    And as far as a school having to pay to maintain faculty required for a scant 7
    students, ever hear of a little something called independent studies? A lot more manageable than some hugely layered college department bureaucracy.

    As for becoming an established artist, just get out there and do your thing. If it means holding down a traditionally boring job and then toiling away with the art thing after hours, well, so be it. But don’t think just because one may be an “artist” one is entitled to special treatment and a pat on the head and a wad of moolah doled out.

    Academia is not essential to create art.

  • kalpal

    I live near a major university. In the past 40 years it has metamorphosed from an educational institution into a major construction company. The medical school is slowly taking over nearly the entire budget. Fund raising keeps going briskly since construction is expensive. What does not seem to matter is education. Sports are very big. Lots of new, ugly buildings are being built. Tuition keeps rising but academics are never the primary issue at this educational institution. (The construction is intended to recruit new tuition payers who wish to have a good time rather than expand their intellectual horizons.)

    • Infoczar

      “I live near a major university.” That clearly makes you an expert on higher education.

      • kalpal

        So if I attended that same university and matriculated in the 1970s and subsequently taught in private school and university, I am sure that would be totally inadequate for a mental midget like you. So be it. You live by faith. I try my best to live by knowledge which you deny has any value I am sure.

        • Infoczar

          No – you live by feelings. What you “feel” is right. You have NEVER backed up a statement with an ounce of truth. You are a sad lonely little agitator clogging up the interwebs with incompetence. I’ll give you one thing though – you have no shame. I’m still rolling over the dunderhead thing! ha ha ha ha ha I wouldn’t hire you to adjunct any of my classes.

  • kalpal

    In any event you are still a pedantic dick. Nothing will ever change that. I assume its genetic or it may be self taught?

    • Infoczar

      Let me get this straight kal – I catch someone being a pedantic dick and you take umbrage at MY comment? You are none too swift and it kind of takes the teeth out of your insult. That and your 5k plus trolling comments. lol

      • kalpal

        Keep on LOL so as to avoid shedding tears over your massive ignorance and low intellect. Laugh, laugh and laugh some more. It’s sure to help you.

        • Infoczar

          You are a hoot!!

  • Dago T

    So, 7 people realized they couldn’t afford the program after funding was reduced. That’s the story.

  • consumersunite

    I totally support these students. It is great to see them standing up for their rights, their instructors’ rights (especially the adjuncts, who are indentured servants if they have student loan debt), and higher education in general. Only administrators with educational experience (as faculty) should be allowed to be deans.

  • fuzzybacchus

    I don’t understand how “we didn’t get the stipend we were expecting (note: not that it was promised or anything) and so we are dropping out since our worthless education isn’t worth the expense” suddenly equals “brave”

  • Jeanne Berry

    Oooh. “Umbrage”.

    • kalpal

      You should follow infoczar, He, she or it is a major RW twit as you are sure to doscover.

      • Jeanne Berry

        LOL, no thanks. :-)

    • Infoczar

      You can look it up – you are on the internet.

      • Jeanne Berry

        I know what it means, thanks.

        • Infoczar

          Then is it too “highfalutin” for you? ha ha ha ha Sorry to out pretentious you little one.

  • Teto85

    Art is always important. This is just sad.

  • kevinwires

    Eyes rolled or not, still a pedantic dick.

    • Infoczar

      That owns the likes of you. I’m proud of being pedantic in the eyes of someone like you. Being learned and informed is a useful thing – I can’t help it if it is too difficult for you to keep up.

      • kevinwires

        And obviously still proud of being a dick,
        PS: the fact that someone finds you to be a rude blowhard does not mean they aren’t keeping up with your comments.

        • Infoczar

          Ha ha ha – go read your comments kev – YOU calling ME a dick means absolutely nothing. And no you are not capable of keeping up. derp

  • Teddy Hose

    There is a great recent documentary on the corporatization of colleges called Ivory Tower. It also highlights the student protests at Cooper Union, whose founder’s “Open and free to all” free tuition policy since 1854 – the philosophy the school was built on – was destroyed by a new dean having a fancy new building built, therefore suddenly charging students tuition in 2014:

    I graduated from School of Visual Arts $70k in debt in 2006, so can only imagine how bad it is now. Colleges exploit young dreamers like myself then the hardest, who paid for it out of pocket to work on building a better life from the poor families they grew up in. It’s an antiquated system that I believe is beginning to crumble, thanks to bold moves like this one, addressed with thorough effort and calling out the financial corruption where it happens. This also happens in charities, the funeral industry, and healthcare among other things. Anything considered “sacred” and/or absolutely necessary attracts people’s money, so schemers who only see profit spikes on the graph realize they can keep charging more. Fuck that shit. Walk away and start something more personal and genuine like these students did!

  • I was a none traditional student, came in with several decades of life experience. My experience in Undergraduate and MFA was that collage students do not receive the same rights given to US citizens, they don’t seem to be protected under the same laws, this extends into the repayment of student loans. Read Ben Shahn “The Shape Of Content”, he says that art school can really only offer discipline, and on can easily achieve that themselves. It is time for the Artist’s to take bake that arts, pull the control from administration, academia, gallery’s
    and auction houses. Fine art is for the people and belongs with the people.

  • Dixie Firefly

    Maybe these students should be paid $15.00 an hour to attend the school. Then they could focus on gender and minority themes, and on their own tali-wags. They could recapitulate masterpieces of the past, and never be forced to make one new creative contribution. And for their thesis, taxpayers should send them to Cuba, so they can paint out US history. Boo who, who.

  • Jerry Summers

    Snicker, poor, poor little snowflakes.

  • So, a whopping seven students felt miffed and dropped out of a major university because heaven forbid the curriculum changes. And we are expected to care about these seven children for some reason when the university has honored all expectations….
    Strange world I live in!

  • InRandomOrder

    As ‘Deep Throat’ said during the Watergate story – “follow the money.” – This from another article in Sunday’s LA Weekly – (link to article at end of copypasta)

    “Muhl is responsible for the program’s changes, though as the students
    point out, her background is as a musical composer, not a visual
    artist, and she has little or no experience in the fields of art and
    design. In 2013 she was appointed dean of Roski, having previously
    served as a professor of composition at the USC Thornton School of
    Music. Her appointment coincided with another drastic move by USC, the
    inauguration of a new undergraduate program called the Jimmy Iovine and
    Andre Young Academy of Arts, Technology and the Business of innovation.
    The academy was created with a $70 million gift from Iovine and Andre
    Young, aka Dr. Dre.”
    “Muhl is the daughter of Edward Muhl, the
    former head of Universal Pictures. Iovine and Dr. Dre’s Interscope
    Records is a subsidiary of Univeral Music. At the top of her LinkedIn
    profile, above “Dean of the Roski School,” Muhl’s lists her position as
    “Executive Director, USC Iovine and Young Academy.”

    What an unbelievable coincidence! I hope someone is keeping a folder of all this information.

  • Pigoon Rancher

    Surely these seven have some kind of legal claim against the university? In this instance, USC Roski should be lumped with the for-profit universities the government has been investigating.

  • udmfa

    I want to commend this group of artists and invite all of you to consider joining us here at the University of Delaware, where we offer an intimate interdisciplinary program for 20 students with exceptional funding and teaching experience opportunities. All accepted students receive free tuition for the entire two years. We provide a large number of generous teaching stipends and scholarship options—to put it in perspective, approximately 75% of students receive stipends for the full two years of the program, with 100% of 2nd years teaching and earning a stipend. We are delighted to say that our students are able to graduate with very little, if any, debt due to their MFA education. It is a crucial gift of artistic and intellectual freedom that the graduate faculty is committed to maintaining.

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