USC Roski Dean Suspends Recruitment After One MFA 2017 Candidate Enrolls

Erica Muhl, dean of the USC Roski School of Art and Design.Photo via USC.
Erica Muhl, dean of the USC Roski School of Art and Design.
Photo via USC.

Erica Muhl, dean of the Roski School of Art and Design at the University of Southern California, will suspend recruitment of graduate students, she tells the LA Times in an exclusive interview.

This decision follows the dropout of the entire MFA class of 2016 over what they call a bait and switch, in which they say that financial offers were rescinded and important parts of the program gutted (see Entire 2016 MFA Class Drops Out of USC’s Roski School).

At one point she says recruitment will resume “at a later date” and she then says “this fall.”

The students’ withdrawal has obviously severely damaged recruitment—the incoming class consists of a single student.

“We have one,” she says. “That’s it.”

Blaming the media rather than any changes to the program, she concedes that “the negative publicity may have affected recruitment efforts.”

Muhl defends her changes to the program, saying she arrived at them after two years of consultation with faculty. She also calls the changes “pretty minor” and says that “all of the salient aspects of the [studio arts] program remain.”

She maintains, in contradiction to the students who withdrew, that the changes would not have affected their class.

She draws a strong distinction between the MFA program and the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy, a new USC undergraduate program started by the music producer and the rapper (better known as Dr. Dre). She’s also the head of that program.

At the same time, she says, “We had to open avenues for the students to interact with other students and faculty at USC.” Muhl says the Academy students benefit by “interchange and exchange and interaction” with the graduate student(s).

Six dozen alumni published an open letter to the dean last week, alleging “serious wrongdoing,” saying that changes to staffing and curriculum under Muhl leave the school “grievously diminished.” Among the signers are Tyler Coburn, Alyse Emdur, Alex Israel, Elad Lassry, and Amanda Ross-Ho.

Asked to respond to the letter, Muhl declines: “They did not contact me before writing that letter. But I hope to speak to them at a future date.”

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