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June 06, 2024

City Council plans hearings to investigate UArts closure

The 150-year-old institution is slated to shut down Friday as students and faculty seek accountability from university leaders.

Government Investigations
UArts City Council University of the Arts/Facebook

The University of the Arts will close Friday, a week after administrators abruptly announced it would shut down due to financial problems. City Councilmembers Mark Squilla and Isaiah Thomas are seeking to hold hearings and open an investigation into the closure.

City Council may soon get involved in the search for answers about the abrupt closure of University of the Arts, which is shutting down Friday after a week of uncertainty for students and faculty. 

Councilmembers Mark Squilla introduced legislation Thursday calling for hearings on the closure; it was backed by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. At City Hall, Squilla said his conversations with UArts leadership and other local officials have left "a lot of confusion" about what went wrong and whether the university did everything in its power to remain open. 

Thomas represents the First Councilmanic District, which includes some of the university's properties. 

On May 31, the university said it would close in week due to financial problems that had been mounting for years. The university's accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education was revoked in response to UArts' failure to provide proper notice to its community in advance of the closure. The commission has called the university's communication "terribly frustrating" and said the school's leaders publicly misrepresented some of the events that led up to their decision to hastily shut down.

Thomas, an at-large council member, said a City Council investigation would look into the relationship between the closure of UArts and the collective bargaining agreement that was reached with faculty and staff earlier this year.

"Of deep concern was the long-fought contract agreement with the school's faculty and staff unions, which was only agreed upon and ratified earlier this year over four years of negotiations," Thomas said. "These artists, educators and staff supported UArts students' journeys and for the rug to be pulled out from under them so soon after a contract ratification is highly concerning and should be thoroughly investigated."

On Wednesday, the faculty union filed a class-action lawsuit against UArts for its failure to provide the required 60 days' notice in advance of a layoff or closure. An Unfair Labor Practice charge also was filed with the National Labor Relations Board over the administration’s lack of engagement with the impact bargaining process.

Students and faculty have been rallying at the university over the last week to demand a meeting with the Board of Trustees to get their questions answered. UArts President Kerry Walk resigned earlier in the week. Some faculty and students are petitioning for the university to get its accreditation back. There also have been discussions about a potential merger or sale of UArts to Temple University.

If the legislation is passed by City Council, future hearings would be conducted by the education committee.