Philadelphia University of the Arts Shutters, Leaving Students in Limbo

June 13, 2024

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By 

Elle Yap

Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, also known as UArts, suddenly closed down the institution on Friday, June 7. The sudden closure, of which faculty and students weren’t even informed of until the press announcement, triggered protests from the campus population. 

UArts’ administration said that the institution was facing declining revenue rates and enrollment. In a statement released on Friday, May 31, the institution’s president, Kerry Walk, said that they attempted to bridge the shortfall of the finances from new enrollment’s downward trend, but that the grants and gifts they received were not enough. 

Philadelphia's University of the Arts. Photo by ajay_suresh. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Photo by ajay_suresh. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“We have done everything in our power to address this crisis and avoid the worst possible outcome: an abrupt closure. Yet we have reached this deeply painful outcome, which we know affects our entire community,” the statement from the university said.  

Walk later resigned on Tuesday over the sudden closure. Her leaving triggered the Board of Trustees to hire consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal to handle the closure. 

The Board promised that the school will help their students find places to continue their degrees and studies, graduating students will be receiving their diplomas, and refunds will be provided for students already enrolled in their summer and fall classes.

Unanticipated Expenses

Beyond the decreasing enrollment rates within the country, UArts also suffered from sudden infrastructure repairs which continued to increase beyond their capacity of revenue. Pandemic-related challenges also increased the strain on the system, as art students preferred face-to-face classes rather than online. 

Faculty members, many of whom are members of the United Academics of Philadelphia, expressed surprise at the closure despite the lingering financial problems of the institution. 

UArts with a flying Pride flag in the foreground. Photo by Beyond My Ken. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
UArts with a flying Pride flag in the foreground. Photo by Beyond My Ken. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Many faculty members took hefty pay cuts to continue working in the university. Some even said that they lost half of their pension contributions due to the pandemic. The teachers’ union, who recently negotiated a contract with the school, expressed that they will be bargaining on behalf of the faculty over the sudden closure.

“We were aware they were struggling financially but closure was never presented as a possibility. It’s incredibly confusing,” union president Daniel Pieczkolon said.

Students Protest Unfair Treatment

Protests from the student body emerged over the closure. Much of the anger from the 700 staff members and 1,149 students came from the lack of communication from UArts. Many of them found out about the closure and Walk’s resignation from local newspaper The Philadelphia Inquirer

One student shared that they received an email to apply for graduation before receiving another about the university’s closure hours later. Another student found out about it on an Instagram post during a graduation party. 

A protest in Philadelphia in 2017. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A protest in Philadelphia in 2017. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

At least two lawsuits have been filed by student and faculty members over the situation. State Rep. Ben Waxman said that UArts did not approach the government to ask for assistance to keep the university open. 

“At no time did this administration ever so much as even mention the idea that the school had financial problems that could lead it to close in a week,” he said. 

The closure of the university marks the end of its 154-year history, serving as an important part of the city over the decades. Originally, the university traces its roots from the Philadelphia Musical Academy and the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. The former opened in 1870; the latter opened in 1876.

The current shape of the university came in 1985 after the Philadelphia College of Art merged with the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts.

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