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USC Art Alumni Issue Letter in Support of #USC7

Remnants of the USC Roski School Parking Spaces (via Frances Stark's instagram)
Remnants of the USC Roski School Parking Lot (via Frances Stark on Instagram)

LOS ANGELES — In response to the recent decision of the entire first-year USC MFA class to collectively withdraw from their program, a group of over 70 alumni of the Roski School of Art and Design has issued an open letter of support. The missive is signed by over 90% of alumni from 2005 to 2014, including Elad Lassry, Alex Israel, Amanda Ross-Ho, Emily Mast, Jibade Khalil-Huffman, Sarah Rara, Ry Rocklen, Carolina Caycedo, and John Knuth, among many other prominent and well-respected graduates.

“As alumni, we are heartbroken to see our once highly respected program so swiftly and grievously diminished,” the letter reads, expressing dismay over the removal or depletion of “Teaching Assistant positions and scholarships, committed MFA core faculty with a rotating Directorship and a robust visiting artist series” that made USC “one of the top programs of its kind in the nation.”

In their original statement, the USC7 cited a “bait-and-switch” by the administration, whereby teaching assistant positions that were guaranteed at the time of enrollment were later made competitive, potentially threatening a much-needed source of financial assistance.

The alumni lay the blame squarely at the feet of Roski Dean Erica Muhl, stating that “the current dean’s documented extreme actions … have created a culture of distrust. The heart of any educational program does not reside in its administrative management, but rather in the energy, knowledge, passion and wisdom of its faculty, as well as in the transformative ideas and good faith of its students.”

They close the letter by expressing solidarity with the #USC7 and appealing to “those capable of implementing change for the better at The Roski School of Art and Design” so that this once vital and highly-regarded program is not “recklessly discarded.”

Requests for comment from the administration were not returned by press time.

The entire letter is reproduced below, and can be found at the USC7’s website:

June 18th, 2015

Dear President Nikias, Provost Quick, and Vice Provost Pratt,

As alumni of the University of Southern California Roski School of Art and Design’s Master of Fine Arts Program, we are dismayed to hear that Dean Erica Muhl’s actions and lack of support for the Program have caused the entire graduating class of 2016 to withdraw. This was an extraordinary and painful action for these graduate students to have taken, and presents evidence of serious wrongdoing and extensive problems in the School.

Over the past decade, USC’s MFA Program became one of the top programs of its kind in the nation. As alumni, we are heartbroken to see our once highly respected program so swiftly and grievously diminished. As former students, we see this renowned and intimate program’s finest attributes— Teaching Assistant positions and scholarships, committed MFA core faculty with a rotating Directorship and a robust visiting artist series— now depleted or removed altogether.

The Teaching Assistantships that set USC apart from other leading programs provided graduate students invaluable first-hand experience as educators, and greatly enriched the educations of both the MFA candidate and the undergraduate students whom they mentored. Furthermore, the provided TAships and scholarships helped offset tuition costs— an incredibly important and progressive incentive in assisting graduates to matriculate without the massive debt that has become the norm in higher-education. In the absence of extreme debt, coupled with experience in the classroom, Roski’s MFA graduates were able to immediately establish studio practices, apply for teaching positions, and pursue exhibition opportunities following their graduation. This fact is proven by the high percentage of USC MFAs involved in international exhibitions, public discourse, and post-graduate teaching placement.

The presence of a committed MFA faculty core and the promise of direct critical discourse—a benchmark of the program—has been removed, as seen on the current website promoting the Roski School’s transformed MFA program. Also transformed is the previously robust visiting artist lecture series, which ran weekly in the graduate building and provided on-site discussions, additional studio visits, and a broadly-engaged community of local and international visitors. The removal of the program’s commitment to a core faculty of renowned professional artists responsible for ongoing one-on-one interactions, as well as a rich and diverse lecture series, illustrates a complete disregard for the exceptional qualities of the program, and a lack of knowledge for what these personal and public components mean to artists and the art community.

The current dean’s documented extreme actions, severely affecting both students and faculty, have created a culture of distrust. The heart of any educational program does not reside in its administrative management, but rather in the energy, knowledge, passion and wisdom of its faculty, as well as in the transformative ideas and good faith of its students. This combined enthusiasm and sense of inspiration have been at the center of what made the USC MFA Program so special over this past decade. This is a history that has now been abruptly foreshortened due to a lack of vision, and a perverse misunderstanding of the community that feeds – and is fed by – such programs across the nation.

Over the past decade, the program had matriculated artists whose work has been presented in the Venice Biennale, Whitney Biennial, and the Hammer Museum, among other leading institutions around the globe, and has been the subject of extensive critical focus in leading art journals and publications. For a generation of Los Angeles-based artists, the USC MFA moniker on our CVs has been a badge of honor, representing immense educational, professional and personal value, as well as the support, commitment and trust instilled in us by the School and the larger University. We do not want to see this jewel of the University recklessly discarded, and neither should the President, Provost or the Board of Trustees of the University of Southern California. The damages incurred by the departed MFA students, along with evidence of reckless changes made to the MFA program we attended, has lead us to conclude that the current dean does not faithfully support USC’s internationally recognized program.

We stand in solidarity with the MFA class of 2016, and with the current and former MFA faculty that built, supported and defended the value of contemporary studio practice. We ask that the University consider the damage done to those who have left, and also to all of the MFA alumni that the University invested in over these past ten years. We strongly advocate that the legacy of our MFA Program be respected, and furthermore, upheld by prominent practitioners within our field of study at the University. As alumni, we sincerely hope that our collective voices resonate with those capable of implementing change for the better at The Roski School of Art and Design.

Sincerely,

The MFA Alumni of the University of Southern California, Roski School of Art

Kelly Sumiko Akashi, MFA ‘14
Carolina Caycedo, MFA ‘14
Becket Flannery, MFA ‘14
Julia Kouneski, MFA ‘14
Young Joon Kwak, MFA ‘14
Nevine Mahmoud, MFA ‘14
David Muenzer, MFA ‘14
Christopher Richmond, MFA ‘14
Chris Engman, MFA ‘13
Jibade-Khalil Huffman, MFA ‘13
Dwyer Kilcollin, MFA ‘13
Lila de Magalhaes, MFA ‘13
Paul Salveson, MFA ‘13
Rachelle Sawatsky, MFA ‘13
Barak Zemer, MFA ‘13
Karen Adelman, MFA ‘12
Tyler Coburn, MFA ‘12
Chris Coy, MFA ‘12
Erin Foley, MFA ‘12
Marc Horowitz, MFA ‘12
Sean Townley, MFA ‘12
Kristen Van Deventer, MFA ‘12
Patrick Walsh, MFA ‘12
Neal Bashor, MFA ‘11
Ryan Garrett, MFA ‘11
Onya Hogan-Finlay, MFA ‘11
Gelare Khoshgozaran, MFA ‘11
Vernon Price, MFA ‘11
Sarah Rara, MFA ‘11
John Seal, MFA ‘11
Andreas Warisz, MFA ‘11
Alyse Emdur, MFA ‘10
Cayetano Ferrer, MFA ‘10
Alex Israel, MFA ‘10
Sean Kennedy, MFA ‘10
Lisa Ohlweiler, MFA ‘10
Samantha Roth, MFA ‘10
Kenneth Tam, MFA ‘10
Tellef Tellefson, MFA ‘10
Christian Herman Cummings, MFA ‘09
Michael Hayden, MFA ‘09
Lee Lorenzo Lynch, MFA ‘09
Emily Mast, MFA ‘09
Nicole Miller, MFA ‘09
Dianna Molzan, MFA ‘09
Michael Parker, MFA ‘09
Nick Kramer, MFA ‘08
Joel Kyack, MFA ‘08
Maya Lujan, MFA ‘08
Mores McWreath, MFA ‘08
Lisa Williamson, MFA ‘08
Lawrence Rengert, MFA ‘08
Christopher Badger, MFA ‘07
Justin Beal, MFA ‘07
Patrick Jackson, MFA ‘07
Nick Jones, MFA ‘07
Jenn Kolmel, MFA ‘07
Elad Lassry, MFA ‘07
Jason Starr, MFA ‘07
Ann Trondson, MFA ‘07
Jonathan Butt, MFA ‘06
Lindsay Ljungkull, MFA ‘06
Ry Rocklen, MFA ‘06
Amanda Ross-Ho, MFA ‘06
Greg Wilken , MFA ‘06
Marya Alford, MFA ‘05
Chris Barnard, MFA ‘05
Paul Crow, MFA ‘05
Erik Frydenborg, MFA ‘05
John Knuth, MFA ‘05
Laura Riboli, MFA ‘05
Nicole Russell, MFA ‘05
Julie Shafer, MFA ‘05

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