SFAI Student Perspective on USF’s Proposed “Merger by Acquisition” Deal Points

CURRENT STUDENTS AT SAN FRANCISCO ART INSTITUTE

SFAI is in an emergency situation and existential crisis. This is a call for action. Please share the following statement widely with the press, community members, alumni and more. Ways you can participate include: volunteering your time and expertise, raising your voice and sharing your perspective and experience, participating in the organization of a new reimagining committee to help steer SFAI towards a future that is in line with its legacy and values. 

 

The following statement was written by a coalition of concerned students to inform the public about what is currently happening to our school:

 

URGENT: SFAI Student Perspective on USF’s Proposed “Merger by Acquisition” Deal Points

05/15/22

With the proposed “merger-by-acquisition” of fine arts institution San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) by University of San Francisco (USF), SFAI students are deeply concerned that rather than a merger, what USF is proposing is the full shutdown of SFAI. SFAI’s longtime faculty, staff, and current students will bear the brunt of the trauma if this deal is allowed to go through in accordance with some of USF’s recently stated positions.

The current deal points offered by USF are inconsistent with what was originally conveyed to the SFAI community. In initial talks, USF had assured SFAI that the highly-esteemed art school would retain a large measure of autonomy in the deal, continuing on as SFAI at USF. Strong efforts would be made to recruit new students for SFAI at USF so that its enrollment numbers would allow it to eventually become a School within USF. Full-time SFAI faculty would be retained; tenured faculty would be brought in at tenure level; SFAI students would be able to finish their degrees on the SFAI campus with no major disruption to the pursuit of their MFA, BFA, MA, BA, and dual degrees; and at least some SFAI staff would be retained.

 

Much of that now seems to have been walked back or called into question by USF.

 

On Friday, May 6th, SFAI students, faculty, and staff learned that SFAI would likely close on June 30th, 2022—less than two months from now. They also learned the following:


 

  • That all SFAI employees would immediately receive WARN notices of forthcoming layoff with absolutely no guarantee of rehire at SFAI at USF. This is counter to what was originally stated: that full-time and tenured faculty would be retained at SFAI at USF at their current level of seniority.

  • That continuing SFAI students wouldn’t be able to continue pursuing their degree at SFAI, and would have no clear guarantee of admission at SFAI at USF, no guarantee of continuation of existing programs (USF currently has no MFA and BFA programs), and no guarantee of continuation of current financial aid. This is counter to what was originally stated: that the merger would cause little disruption for current SFAI students. 

 

This threatens the stability and futures of the entire faculty, staff, and student body at SFAI–particularly our international students who now find themselves at the end of the semester without guarantee of the continuation of their VISAs or any ability to meet transfer deadlines to continue their studies. 

This is unethical and unacceptable. For a school that prides itself on its commitment to social justice, USF’s aggressive position, if maintained, would tarnish its reputation while demeaning SFAI’s legacy. Despite its financial woes, SFAI is world-renowned for a reason—and that reason is the school’s ongoing capacity to attract brilliant faculty, staff, and students. It is the people that matter. If USF does not honor and take care of the people and core programming of SFAI, then there is no doubt that this is just a brand buyout and means the end of SFAI. As such, the SFAI Board should vote the proposal down.

With the infusion of funding announced this week from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts for USF’s fine arts program, USF now clearly has the capacity to support and revive the SFAI artistic community rather than to destroy it. As stated on the USF website regarding the donation, 

“The gift will provide funding for expanded and renovated arts facilities, support for renowned arts faculty, and access for arts students.” Clearly, the first move USF makes with these funds should not be to dismantle the oldest arts institution in San Francisco and the rich community that comes with it.

 

If any deal is to be made between SFAI and USF, USF must protect SFAI’s existing students, faculty, and staff by ensuring the following:


 

  • That all SFAI full time and tenured faculty retain their existing positions 

  • That all SFAI students be able to continue to pursue their current degree programs on the SFAI campuses, whether it be BA, BFA, MA, MFA, or Dual Degree

  • That all SFAI students continue to receive the financial aid that they currently have for the duration of their degree program, with no additional tuition or fee expenses

  • That existing SFAI support staff maintain their current positions in order to assist continuing and new students with their vast experience and knowledge of SFAI’s operations

  • That all students will have full rights of free artistic expression, even when such expression critiques the institution, the Jesuits, the Catholic Church, or any other entity

 

The above points must be agreed to publicly and in writing by USF as quickly as possible in order for SFAI students to even consider supporting their Board in signing on to such a deal. 

 

 

From a Coalition of Current SFAI Students