LOS ANGELES — The ongoing saga of the #USC7 and the beleaguered Roski MFA program at the University of Southern California (USC) entered its latest chapter today when the graduating class of 2015 released a letter calling for Dean Erica Muhl’s removal. Two months ago, the first-year MFA class dropped out en masse in response to “the University’s unethical treatment of its students” including changes made to their funding and curriculum instituted by new Dean Erica Muhl. Since then, the 2015 class boycotted their graduation in solidarity, while Roski School alumni issued a letter in support of the students. Throughout, Dean Muhl has denied the students’ grievances, even offering to re-admit them, an offer the students did not accept.
The new letter from the class of 2015 outlines their own “experience negotiating Dean Muhl’s unwillingness to reasonably communicate curricular changes.” As a result of “the administration’s consistent lack of transparency, evasive communication and persistent belittling of its students,” respected faculty and staff left the program. With the withdrawal of the class of 2014, “our studio facilities lay nearly empty,” they write, “bled of a once robust community with ties to a broader cultural discourse and its accompanying support systems.”
In response, they are asking USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Edward P. Roski Jr., and Provost Michael Quicks for the Dean’s removal. In addition to the letter, they have started a Change.org petition which also lists USC facts outlining rising executive compensation and student debt. “We see the destruction of our program as alarming evidence of an increasingly corporatized system of higher education that prioritizes profit margins and inflated administrative salaries,” the petition states. “The university must rededicate itself to the mission of education rather than the business of education.”
The entire letter is reproduced below and can be viewed here:
16 July 2015
Dear President Nikias, Provost Quick and Mr. Edward P. Roski Jr., Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Southern California:
We, the 2015 graduating Master of Fine Arts class of the Roski School of Art and Design, are writing to express our feelings of loss and alarm over the May 15th, 2015 withdrawal of our esteemed classmates and the events that have unfolded since that time. We echo our fellow alumni’s recent letter expressing disbelief in the systematic downward trajectory that Dean Erica Muhl’s tenure has steered the world-renowned Roski MFA Program.
Our experience negotiating Dean Muhl’s unwillingness to reasonably communicate curricular changes significantly encumbered our degree progress at USC. Over the past year, we felt increasingly ostracized from our own program. After many meetings with Dean Muhl and her staff, it became clear that our investment was not one the Roski administration wished to understand or support. The administration’s consistent lack of transparency, evasive communication and persistent belittling of its students resulted in the significant loss of respected faculty members and staff during the 2014-15 school year. We struggled through the noise of a program in crisis that reached breaking point with the withdrawal of the class of 2016, which was unprecedented but not unexpected. During our final Summer 2015 semester, our studio facilities lay nearly empty, bled of a once robust community with ties to a broader cultural discourse and its accompanying support systems.
Dean Muhl has alienated students, faculty and alumni and offered convoluted and untruthful information to the public in an attempt to obfuscate the devastating impact of her actions and the failure of her administration. USC is sheltering a highly paid administrator who has operated unethically by breaking funding and curricular promises to its students. In continuing to allow Dean Muhl to maintain her position, USC is demonstrating that it does not honor its commitments to its students.
These disruptive tactics have made it clear to us, as well as the public at large, that Dean Muhl disregards and fundamentally misunderstands the needs of a graduate-level studio art program, despite the valuable advice of our committed faculty. In light of the stated losses, we are requesting that the University remove Erica Muhl as Dean of the Roski School of Art and Design, as she has proven herself unfit to uphold the charge of leadership in the field of fine arts higher education.
We celebrate the bonds we have formed with our peers and faculty, whom we thank for strengthening and engaging us beyond the limits of the institution. These relationships have proven unshakable in the face of the strategic dismantlement of a formerly renowned studio arts program. Following such a quick downfall, our sincere hope through this effort is for a reevaluation of the future of the program to which we enthusiastically dedicated ourselves the past two years.
The USC Roski MFA graduating class of 2015