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USC Roski MFA Students Deliver Petition Demanding Dean’s Resignation

Watt Hall, where USC Roski MFA students have classes. COURTESY USC

Watt Hall, where USC Roski undergraduate students attend classes.

COURTESY USC

Two days ago, USC’s Roski MFA Class of 2015 delivered a letter and the results of a Change.org petition demanding the resignation of the program’s dean, Erica Muhl, to university administration. Previous formal grievances regarding unmet expectations about the MFA curriculum and poor bureaucratic practices have yet to be addressed.

All six signees previously supported the students who dropped out in May and received little acknowledgment from the program’s administration. On July 17, in a letter, USC Provost and Senior Vice President Michael W. Quick wrote, “I’m afraid that the students were given very bad advice. We all hope that they will decide to rejoin the school in the future.” He concluded his letter with the following:

“As your own artistic careers flourish in the years ahead, I am confident you will be able to view with pride the upward trajectory of the program, and its enhanced stature.

I thank you for writing me to explain your point of view. I wish you all the best, and welcome you to the honored ranks of Roski MFA alumni.”

Quick’s response, in addition to similar reactions from USC President C.L. Max Nikias and chairman of the board of trustees Edward R. Roski, impelled the students to write another letter, dated three days ago. They wrote, “Together, we continue the call for USC leadership’s accountability in acknowledging an administrator’s destructive actions and blatant disregard of the feedback and experience of its faculty and students in support of the future of fine arts higher education at USC.”

A Change.org petition, created on July 15, allows anyone to sign and write comments in support of the Roski MFA Class of 2016. At this time of writing, there are 780 supporters. Among them are artist A.L. Steiner, Art F City founder Paddy Johnson, net artist Marc Horowitz, and painter Nicole Eisenman.

Below, some comments left by other notable supporters:

  • Catherine Opie: “As a professor at UCLA in art, I believe that the dean does not clearly understand how this has not only effected the students that the university is there to serve, but the ripple that has resulted in disbelief in the greater Los Angeles community.
  • Martha Rosler: “The agreement under which students enter school is a contract, not subject to the whims of administrators. The conditions at SC were good for the top administrators, not for the art students. I am a Professor II Emerita at an East Coast school and a graduate of UCSD.”
  • Liz Glynn: “It is unacceptable for an accredited institution to put an unqualified faculty member from an outside discipline in charge of what was once an internationally recognized program.”
  • Kathleen Hanna: “Because I believe in USC’s MFA program, professors and that the students deserve to get what they paid for!”

CORRECTION 08/06/2015, 6:56 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that the six Roski MFA Class of 2015 students dropped out. It was the seven Class of 2016 students who dropped out, not the six Class of 2015 ones, but it was the Class of 2015 students who delivered and distributed the letter. The post has been updated to reflect this.

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