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‘Furious’ and ‘appalled’: Students, alum react to University of the Arts closure

The university has canceled summer courses, and will not enroll new classes in the fall.

  • By Emily Neil/WHYY
University of the Arts in Philadelphia (UArts)

University of the Arts in Philadelphia (UArts)

Students, faculty, alum, and other members of the University of the Arts community were stunned by the sudden announcement that the higher education institution will close June 7. On Friday evening, they took to social media to share their memories, frustration and angst.

The university has canceled summer courses, and will not enroll new classes in the fall. In a statement released Friday night,  President Kerry Walk and Judson Aaron, board of trustees chair, said the university is working with higher education partners, including Temple University — which posted a message of support on X —, Moore College of Art and Design and Drexel University to transfer current students to other degree programs.

Noah David Roberts, a BFA student majoring in poetry going into their senior year at UArts, said they are “furious.” On Saturday, they received an email from the university asking them to set up a payment plan for the fall semester.

“The negligence is shameful,” Roberts said. “And the lack of communication is shameful. And I think that University of the Arts admin has let down and disappointed every single person who has interacted with the school by hiding this information from all of us, until someone else shared it. I truly think it’s abhorrent how they’ve approached this shutdown.”

When they found out about the closure with other students, Roberts said they were shocked.

“We all thought we were on an episode of ‘Punked’ or something, we thought it was not real,” they said.

Daisy Fried, assistant adjunct professor of poetry and University of the Arts, said she is “appalled” for the students and faculty.

“The students at the University Arts are most of the reason a lot of us teach there, because we don’t get paid very well,” Fried said. “But they’re interesting and they’re kooky and they’re problem solvers. And they came to University of the Arts with trust and aspiration and a lot of hard work and commitment. A lot of them go into debt for this. And then they find out that their institution doesn’t return that commitment and the work, and has also been dishonest with them.”

“I think the uncomfortable thing is really, that there was no plan,” she added. “A responsible institution doesn’t do this a week before they shut down.”

Roberts said they “went broke” in order to be able to attend the university, and wants answers on how student loan debt will be handled. As of Saturday, they hadn’t yet received details on a town hall the university said it will hold for students and faculty on Monday — but Roberts plans to be there.

“UArts’ whole brand to their students, it’s like ‘Building community through art.’ And in the last 24 hours, they said that doesn’t matter with their actions,” Roberts said.

The closure was first made public when the Middle States Commission on Higher Education announced the immediate withdrawal of accreditation effective Saturday. UArts notified the commission on Wednesday about the school’s impending closure. The commission said UArts failed to provide adequate plans for closure.

The UArts teachers union told WHYY News Friday night that they had not been notified of the closure prior to the commission’s announcement.

The university said the reason for the sudden closure was due to financial issues:

“We know that the news of UArts’ closure comes as a shock. Like you, we are struggling to make sense of the present moment. But like many institutions of higher learning, UArts has been in a fragile financial state, with many years of declining enrollments, declining revenues, and increasing expenses. We have worked hard this year alongside many of you to take steps that would secure the University’s sustainability. The progress we made together has been impressive.

“Unfortunately, however, we could not overcome the ultimate challenge we faced: with a cash position that has steadily weakened, we could not cover significant, unanticipated expenses. The situation came to light very suddenly. Despite swift action, we were unable to bridge the necessary gaps.”

Jennifer Cressman had committed to attend University of the Arts in the fall to study photography and paid the $300 deposit. The recent  Bucks County Community College graduate said as of Saturday morning she still had not received any direct communication from the university about the pending closure.

“I’m a little frustrated, because now I have to figure something out for school,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now because all of the applications for other colleges have closed by now.”

Cressman said “sooner would have been better” to know about the closure. She was in contact with her adviser recently about her classes and the closure announcement came “right out of the blue.”

“There’s not a lot of art schools in Philly so it’s sad seeing them close,” Cressman said.

University of the Arts now joins Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as another higher education arts institution that has shuttered its degree programs. PAFA announced in January it was cutting its degree programs at the conclusion of the 2024-2025 academic year due to declining enrollment and increasing costs. The Delaware College of Art and Design, in Wilmington, Del., also announced in May it was closing this year, and would not be open for the 2024-2025 academic year.

“It just feels like one more nail in the coffin in Philadelphia,” Fried, the UArts professor, said, noting that the university was supposed to absorb some of the PAFA students who are going to be left without a program next year.

Conrad Benner, a Philly-based arts curator and founder of, started a discussion on X, asking people to talk about whether or not they stayed in Philadelphia because of University of the Arts or PAFA programs.

Fried said she is confident Philadelphia artists will continue to find a way to create art — but that’s the “rosy picture.”

“I mean, artists need support, you know, whether you’re a working artist, like all of the faculty at University of the Arts, or a young artist, who may need just the psychological and I would even say spiritual support,” she said.

Kimberly Garrison (née White), a 2015 BFA graduate in dance, told WHYY News she’s concerned to see another arts education pathway eliminated.

“I even noticed, just like in local public middle school and high school that they’re cutting the arts programs. And I fear for these kids who rely on their creativity, rather than their education,” Garrison said. “For instance, I didn’t really have the SAT scores to get into a really good education-like college. So I relied on my talent to get me into a good school and possibly pursuing something in the arts field.”

Pa. state Rep. Ben Waxman, whose district includes parts of Center City and South Philly where UArts is located, said in a statement Friday that he is “profoundly disappointed and frustrated” by the closure.

“This esteemed arts school has been a cornerstone of creativity and culture in Center City Philadelphia for generations,” he said. “Its loss is a significant setback and not only a devastating blow to our local community, but also a significant setback for the arts and education in our city at large.”

Waxman said his office will provide assistance and support to students and faculty, and he plans to “find answers” to the “unacceptable” decision to close the university with such short notice.

As of fall 2022, the university had more than 1,300 students in undergraduate and graduate degree programs studying visual arts, dance, design, film, music, theater arts and more. The institution traces its history back to 1870. Various arts education institutions in the city merged to become University of the Arts in 1987.

University administrators said they will host a town hall Monday for students, faculty and staff.

Peter Crimmins contributed reporting to this story.

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