Entire MFA class drops out of USC

Entire MFA class drops out of USC

Jenna Simeonov

I came across this pretty engrossing story yesterday. An entire class of Masters of Fine Arts students has withdrawn from their degrees, after ongoing administrative struggles, including misinformation and changes to the terms of their program.

In a statement found here and here, the group of seven artists provide a detailed account of why they “are returning to the workforce degree-less and debt-full.”

Former MFA students Julie Beaufils, Sid Duenas, George Egerton-Warburton, Edie Fake, Lauren Davis Fisher, Lee Relvas, and Ellen Schafer claim, among other things, that the terms of their tuition funding changed drastically from what they had been promised upon admission to USC. Initially, upon acceptance the students were promised their first year of tuition would be partially funded by scholarships, and their second would include a TA position, fully-funded tuition, benefits, and a stipend. Instead, the seven students found out that they would be competing for these TA positions which they had been promised, and competing for them with a larger group of students. The curriculum had changed, too, and “the program lost a prominent artist, mentor, and tenured Roski professor, her pedagogical energies and input devalued by the administration.”

When the students questioned the administration about all of this, “we were then told by the vice provost for Graduate Programs that the communication we received during recruitment clearly stating our funding packages was an ‘unfortunate mistake,” and that if the program wasn’t right for us, we “should leave.”

I wait expectantly for USC to address this issue in an official setting. I’m interested in this story for the easy parallels of MFA to any post-graduate music education; these students sought out a program for its quality and funding, and no one but the class themselves seemed to care much that these things were soon taken off the table. I sense a connection between the dismissive (read: apathetic) response by the USC administration and the larger problem of undervaluing the arts.

“We each made life-changing decisions to leave jobs and homes in other parts of the country and the world to work with inspiring faculty and, most of all, have the time and space to grow as artists. We trusted the institution to follow through on its promises. Instead, we became devalued pawns in the university’s administrative games. We feel betrayed, exhausted, disrespected, and cheated by USC of our time, focus, and investment. Whatever artistic work we created this spring semester was achieved in spite of, not because of, the institution. Because the university refused to honor its promises to us, we are returning to the workforce degree-less and debt-full.”

Their Tumblr page is sparse yet clear: MFA NO MFA.

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