ALUMNI COMMUNICATIONS

No money until the SFAI Board of Trustees opens the books and the board!

Dear SFAI Alumni,


We are a group of concerned and committed students, instructors, alums, and extended SFAI community members writing to offer our response to the letter that was sent to alumni from board members Bonnie Levinson and Jeremy Stone on April 16. That letter omits the experiences of those of us who are left to deal with the  ramifications of the board's inconsistent and secretive plans. The letter does not accurately reflect the conditions or feelings of the dedicated students, faculty, and staff. It is crucial to not let our narrative get rewritten by those seeking to eliminate the present community in the future vision of SFAI.


First, we want to make sure all are aware that while the board of SFAI is not calling this a closure, the effects to the community are identical to that of a closure. We are suddenly left without a school, without jobs, and without a clear way forward during a global pandemic. For students and teachers, the results are devastating. SFAI’s decision forces students to abruptly transfer without any form of aid in place to guarantee a smooth transition. Currently, international students' visas are at risk, leaving them unclear on their status to remain in the country past this semester. Due to poor timing, inadequate communication, and lack of resources, students are unsure of their ability to transfer to continue their education in the Fall.  First year BFA, MA, and MFA students, who recently joined the SFAI community under the notion that they would graduate, are facing immediate transfer and housing insecurity. There are the vaguest of plans in place to graduate out students with only a few credits left, but also no security as to their full credits being transferred. This potentially leaves them forced to redo credits at alternative universities, committing more time and finances to a degree they should have already received. Despite this, the school has refused to offer any tuition reimbursement. 


Students are not the only group currently being affected. Long-term faculty, many of whom have served for decades and are nearing retirement age are separated from the school that has been their second home for years, to be dropped from their healthcare coverage in the midst of a pandemic.  Part-time adjuncts, who teach 75% of the classes at SFAI, and whose work is already under-appreciated, underpaid and precarious, are now without teaching assignments; and it’s far too late to get replacement assignments at other schools. Several of these adjuncts themselves have taught for decades at SFAI. Long term staff members, many of whom act as de facto teachers, were summarily dismissed without the most basic acknowledgement or appreciation for their service.


Meanwhile, in the buildup to the closure, we were all systematically left out of the conversation. As it became clear that SFAI was in significant trouble, many of us -- students, faculty, staff, and more -- implored the school to listen, let us help, include us in the process, and put us to work, so together we can honor the mission of the school and keep us going. They did not listen. We can’t overstate this enough. They absolutely failed to listen. We can only assume they didn’t believe we were a valuable resource. Now, all the artists and scholars are forced to leave the school, and the very same people who brought us to this point are taking it upon themselves to create a vision of the school’s future. As of now, there is no plan to have artists and scholars develop a future for SFAI. Instead, they recently brought in a COO (named Mark Kushner) who is unknown; his past experience in education is primarily with K-12 charter schools. Kushner has so far treated the board as sacred, and the rest of the community as expendable. After repeated and direct requests, Kushner and the board have yet to disclose financial records that would indicate what kinds of mistakes brought us here. That information is not forthcoming, and we can only make assumptions about why they would systematically keep that information a secret. 


Now, the school is sending out PR-driven statements that attempt to paint a rosier picture about the future of the school in an effort to fundraise. What’s not clear is what the fundraising is for and whose making determinations about the allocation of funds. One thing we do know, the board has continually excluded us from the conversation and has shown no interest in our participation. We too want a sustainable future for SFAI, but it must come out of transparent communication and collaboration.


The only way forward for SFAI is to gain the trust of the community. In order to build that trust, we must be able to tell our stories. The board and Kushner must stop hiding the truth, stop hiding behind Covid, stop the PR spin, and truly embrace the community. This is how we have a democratic institution. We are recommending that alums and community members who care about SFAI commit to not donating any money to this board until the following conditions are met: 


  1. End closed/executive sessions of the board, and make board meetings open to all members of the community.
  2. Immediately release all records related to SFAI’s finances from the past decade. No more delays. The community needs to know what happened to bring us to this point.
  3. The board must state publicly and in writing that it agrees to mediated talks with faculty and student leaders to change the Institute’s bylaws and bring a new era of transparency and openness.


We ask alumni to show their support for the real lives of those affected by SFAI’s decisions. Please enter your email below to continue to support us. 

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1 Footnote: Mark Kushner: the consulting group he advises (https://www.entangled.solutions/team/kushner-mark/) states that he's a 'pioneer', who created the first charter high school in California. He’s not just involved as a participant, but apparently one of the leaders of the push to turn large public schools into small charters.

Kushner’s Flex Charter school in SF failed:

http://blogs.mercurynews.com/internal-affairs/2016/07/15/sf-flex-charter-school-closes/

Leadership High School was founded in 1997 by Kushner and others, was targeted for closure due to consistent academic failure: 

https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-Leadership-High-on-state-s-list-of-10-for-2407762.php

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