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USC Roski’s Only MFA Student Abandons the Program

In an email to USC’s provost Michael Quick, HaeAhn Kwon, the last remaining student in USC Roski’s MFA studio art program, who entered in fall 2015, has announced that she is leaving. was one of the first sources to break the story concerning the dismantling of the school’s master’s in art program. The breakdown was due to USC’s revamped institutional structure, in addition to poor financial support and the virtual disappearance of teaching assistantships that were promised to the incoming fall 2014 class. That group of students, who would’ve graduated this past May—Julie Beaufils, Sid Duenas, George Egerton-Warburton, Edie Fake, Lauren Davis Fisher, Lee Relvas, and Ellen Schafer—issued a public letter last year outlining the troubles with the program and their collective decision to leave. The fallout also resulted in the departure of several of USC Roski’s high-profile faculty members, such as Frances Stark, A. L. Steiner, Charlie White, and Sharon Lockhart. In the October 2015 issue of Artforum, a roundtable was gathered to discuss the issues surrounding art school and higher education in general, which featured affiliates of USC as well as Cooper Union.

“Of course I had seen the roundtable as well as the problematic responses it garnered,” said HaeAhn when reached out to her regarding why she wanted to make her letter available to the public. “The way in which Amelia Jones [USC Roski’s vice dean of critical studies] tried to absorb and diffuse the critique of the roundtable was a big factor in motivating me to speak out truthfully about the current (and projected!) state of the program.”

HaeAhn, who is from South Korea, states in the letter that, even though many artists based in LA advised her against going to USC, she went because she received a scholarship for international students from the school—not the Roski program. HaeAhn detailed a long list of problems she experienced during her time in the program. Among them: a “hastily put together [group critique class], with a first-year MA student with a BFA background, and one of the new faculty members,” which only occurred once for ninety minutes during the fall term; a nonexistent studio component within the curriculum; and “a total absence of leadership,” despite the efforts of Nao Bustamante, the school’s relatively new vice dean of art, who has been attempting to build a more solid foundation for the student and the program after all the bureaucratic chaos of the past year. (Bustamante just informed the Los Angeles Times that a full class of eight new MFAs are coming this fall, and that the program’s in the process of a “cluster hire” of new faculty, which will be announced soon.)

“I hope that this letter and the information it holds rings an alarm within USC as a whole,” states HaeAhn. “I could not have anticipated the degree to which my entering this school would reaffirm the opinions of those who deem Roski to be on a downward spiral of predatory, wrongheaded, and woefully oblivious decision making.”