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Friday, April 3, 2009

But Is It Art? SFAI Students, Riled By School's Move To Drop Nine Tenured Faculty, To Blockade Building.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2009 at 11:02 AM

It doesn't take a Ph.D to interpret the deeper meanings of this mural recently created by SFAI students
  • It doesn't take a Ph.D to interpret the deeper meanings of this mural recently created by SFAI students

A last-minute announcement went out this morning that students at the San Francisco Art Institute are mad as hell -- and they're not going to take it anymore.

Spurred by the February announcement that nine tenured faculty members -- one quarter of the school's total -- were to be laid off due to a state of "financial exigency" -- and following a month of letter-writing, online petitions, and prolific Web complaining -- a group of student activists have announced they will hit the streets today and blockade the school's main campus at 800 Chestnut Street.

While a note earlier this month from school president Chris Bratton (available here on the school's Web site) announces staff and faculty pay cuts and permanent reductions in response to the worsening economy, a "community letter" signed by the school's "concerned students and alumni" mocked this rationale.

The letter questioned if the school was really suffering financially, demanded documentation to verify such a statement, and protested that the layoffs had been meted out in a unilateral manner that contravened the school's bylaws. What's more, the students and alums claimed that the choice of who was to go was not a matter of dollars and cents but political retribution:

The layoffs appear to have targeted vocal critics of the current administration. Three of the nine faculty being laid off are current or former representatives of the faculty union and as such have been at the front lines of conflict between the faculty and administration. One of these was suspended from teaching last year after a public conflict with the administration. To lay all three of these individuals off sends the troubling message that to express opposition at SFAI is to put your job on the line.

Messages left for the student protesters have not yet been returned. Bratton was unaware that he was about to be barricaded in his office and, not surprisingly, discredited the protesters' claims as "an effort to sling mud."

The school president said his school's once-$10 million endowment took a 30 percent loss with the onset of the financial crisis and affirmed that, yes, his institute is struggling financially.

"I can tell you that everything we've done has been entirely within the letter of our contracts and state and federal law. There's no easy way to make these sorts of reductions," he says.

And, despite protesters' claims that he's living high off the hog, Bratton added that he and other top administrators took a 25 percent pay cut last year. "I challenge you to find another institution where senior staff has taken such a deep pay cut."

In about 30 minutes, he may be shouting that challenge out of his office window at the irate folks below. 

Photo   |   Popwerks

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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