Registration is now open for fall classes at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, but no one at the school is very happy about it. While students may sign up for classes in ceramics, sculpture, painting, and other topics in art, none of the courses have instructors attached to them.
That goes for classes at both the Corcoran and within the fine-arts department at George Washington University, the Corcoran’s parent institution. For dozens of undergraduate and graduate course listings, the slot for the instructor’s name is a blank space.
The situation may be confusing or inconvenient for current and incoming students, who are being asked to pick their courses blindly. But for faculty, it’s a worrying reminder of the uncertainty that still plagues the Corcoran. None of the instructors at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design—a formal adjunct of George Washington University since fall 2014—have received contracts for the next academic year.
“Some of us are going to be let go, and some of us are going to receive three-year contracts,” says one faculty member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature surrounding the contracts discussion. “Nobody knows anything.”
This week, a flyer appeared around the school urging Sanjit Sethi, the director at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design since October, to answer the plight of students and teachers. The poster, ostensibly the work of a student or students and graphically reminiscent of the 2014 “Save the Corcoran” campaign, describe the impasse as “unacceptable.”
For instructors, the future may remain unresolved for weeks. In a statement provided to City Paper, Sethi said that some faculty members will be assigned three-year contracts, “with eligibility for promotion, sabbaticals, and research support from GW.” The rest will be given one-year severance packages.
“I will be renewing some of our faculty contracts—beyond sharing that, I cannot share specific personnel details,” Sethi’s statement reads. “Every single member of the faculty will be notified no later than May 30th.”
Crisis is a familiar condition for the Corcoran. Formerly the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design, the institution was dissolved by the Corcoran’s board of trustees in 2014 after years of mismanagement. Works from the museum’s art collection are currently being absorbed by the National Gallery of Art, which will disseminate the works it doesn’t accept. The museum is also planning art exhibitions in the former museum space.
The former Corcoran college falls under the purview of George Washington University, which also took control of the institution’s historic Flagg Building at 17th Street and New York Avenue NW. George Washington University has begun work to restore the Beaux Arts–style building, announcing in March, for example, plans to restore the Corcoran’s 14-foot-tall, 4,000-pound oak-and-bronze doors.
But much work remains in bringing the Corcoran School under the aegis of GW, both in terms of curriculum and reputation. Attendance at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design has declined: Total enrollment fell from 404 in the fall of 2014 to 294 in the fall of 2015. In 2010, the college boasted nearly 600 degree-seeking students. (Enrollment figures are not yet available for the 2016 academic year.)
“We have a small class, like never, ever before,” says another faculty member, who wish to remain anonymous. “It’s a bind. We really want more students. [The administration has] finally realized we need more students. The students are proud, we’re really proud, but it’s all under these circumstances. Since December we’ve been completely on eggshells.”
Teachers at the Corcoran School point to “NEXT”—the annual student thesis exhibition, which opens on April 6—as one reason for optimism. Indeed, the show has always drawn high marks from City Paper and from The Washington Post alike. The drop-off in attendance can be chalked up to years of dismal publicity, but also declining college enrollment regionally and nationwide. For their part, several Corcoran instructors describe the one-year severance packages as generous, if the prospect of receiving one is grim.
Still, faculty members complain that they are being kept in the dark about decision-making—another familiar chorus at the Corcoran. In 2014, Washingtonian reported at length about how students were left in the lurch during the assimilation of the college. Last year, following the new director’s arrival in October, Hyperallergic explored the many kinks in reconciling a small art school with a major research institution. That transition is still ongoing, and it has been predicated so far on one-year contracts for long-suffering Corcoran faculty—the review of which instructors describe as opaque.
“As I review those contracts, I’m considering a few factors, including the school’s current and projected enrollment, our operating budget, the merging of the Corcoran’s programs with those current arts programs at GW, as well as feedback from the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD),” reads Sethi’s statement. “This is a decision that must be made with a great deal of care, and I take my charge to ensure a profound educational experience for our students seriously.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery