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On Monday, the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design laid off more than half of its faculty. Ten instructors, several of them department heads and all of them long-time teachers at the Corcoran, were terminated.
The move comes as part of George Washington University’s continued restructuring of the art college. Nine Corcoran faculty members renewed their contracts with the university.
Among the instructors let go were Muriel Hasbun, head of the photography department; Lynn Sures, head of fine art; and Francheska Guerrero, head of undergraduate design. Andy Grundberg and Claudia Smigrod, both professors of photography, were also released.
“The past few years have been absolutely exhausting,” says Antje Kharchi, a professor of art and design who also chaired the freshman experience program. “As much as I loved the Corcoran, I feel relief that the seemingly endless wait is finally over. We’ve been lied to, undermined, disrespected, while trying to hold the thing together for our students.”
“They are the soul of this school,” says Johab Silva, a student.
The decision was handed down just days after the college’s May 14 commencement ceremony.
All of the instructors will receive a full year’s severance pay, says Sanjit Sethi, the Corcoran college director since October. He says that he has also recommended that the professors be granted emeritus status, which would confer certain benefits such as library access.
“I did this with a great deal of care,” Sethi says. “There were many factors I needed to consider.”
Curricular focus and projected enrollment were guiding factors, according to the director, who met with faculty members to discuss the situation. The college recently completed an accreditation review with the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, and those recommendations also factored into his decision, he says.
Enrollment at the Corcoran has fallen by half since 2010. It’s perhaps a predictable outcome, given the years of crisis that consumed the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design and eventually resulted in the court order that dissolved the institutions. Many decisions regarding GW’s takeover of the Corcoran in 2014 have not yet been made or fully implemented. Sethi confirmed that no faculty within GW’s existing art department lost their jobs.
Earlier this week, GW announced artist Mel Chin as the Corcoran’s inaugural William Wilson Corcoran Visiting Professor in Community Engagement. In a statement, Sethi said that “this visiting professorship allows the Corcoran to bring exciting individuals that are committed to the role creativity plays in addressing complex issues.” Chin’s appointment begins July 1 and will last through the 2016-2017 school year.
In April, a Corcoran student posted flyers around the school urging administrators to “Save the Faculty.” Currently, course listings for the fall semester at the Corcoran and at George Washington University’s fine art department do not have any instructors attached to them.
“Although we were aware of this occurring, the amount of loved and devoted teachers that have not been given a contract for the coming year is alarming and disheartening for the Corcoran community, alumni and current students alike,” says Camila Rondon, a Corcoran student, in an email. “This is atrocious on the part of the GW administration and it is not something that should be swept under the rug.”
Sethi says that he expects to have many conversations with students at the start of the school year, if not before. “I’m committed to pedagogical excellence. I’m committed to these students,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to keep a line of communication open with these students. To students expressing disappointment, I want to hear about those concerns.”