President Yager Shares a Message of Gratitude and Reflections on the Fall Semester

Originally sent to faculty and staff Weds., Nov. 23

Dear colleagues,

This Thanksgiving week brings a well-deserved break and opportunities to travel, celebrate with family and friends, and find quiet moments of reflection on all that we remain thankful for. Before we step away for the holiday, I would like to take a moment to express my profound gratitude for this incredible creative community and for all that you have done to ensure a successful fall term for our students and the university as a whole.

We certainly have much to be thankful for at UArts. In addition to expressing my gratitude for your collective efforts in support of our mission, I also write today to provide several updates and reflections on the semester, and to highlight our upcoming holiday party.

A Healthy Environment for Learning
For years now, my messages to the community included lengthy updates on our strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, our community’s case counts remain remarkably low, and all have been mild or asymptomatic. Thank you all for the care you have continually demonstrated, and a special thanks to Health Services and the Crisis Management Team for their diligent work in safeguarding our health.

Enhancing the Student Experience
Now that we have re-engaged in a full slate of activities and events, our students have reported an overwhelmingly positive experience this term. I have truly been impressed by the caliber of student work in these first performances and exhibitions and look forward to seeing the culmination of the semester’s work in the weeks to come. This has been an incredibly rich semester in our classrooms and studios, and it’s wonderful to be together in person to delight in the creativity of our community.

As we continue to explore new ways to serve our students and alumni through all stages of their careers, from their first steps on campus to their days as creative leaders, we are preparing to launch the Institute for Creative Futures, which will broaden the range of programs, workshops and relationships that support our students and alumni throughout their lives. We are currently searching for a forward-thinking executive director to shape and lead this new enterprise.

New Community Leaders
As you saw in Vice President Carol Graney’s announcement, renowned artist and educator Sheryl Oring has been named dean of the School of Art and will begin her new role on Jan. 30. Sheryl joins UArts from Wayne State University, and I remain excited to see how her creative practice, which draws heavily on civics and democracy, will flourish in Philadelphia and influence our students.

Our searches continue for the next dean of the School of Film and UArts’ next president. The committee charged with identifying and recruiting the university’s next leader is deeply engaged in its critical work and expects the new president to join us on July 1. Thank you to all of you who participated in the community listening sessions, informing the work of our recruitment firm, Isaacson Miller.

Enrollment and Recruiting
Our fall application season is well underway, and our Admissions and Student Financial Services teams are hard at work connecting with prospective students and their families. Simultaneously, we are implementing recommendations from external consultants, as we optimize our financial aid offerings, improve student experience through the process and expand recruitment communications.

I also want to recognize the many efforts of our faculty, program directors and deans, who play a critical role in recruiting new students and evaluating their candidacies. It is heartening to see so many across the university working together towards the critical, shared goal of increasing enrollment. I am confident that together, we will be able to yield an outstanding class, the size of which puts us back on track.

Negotiations with our Unions
This fall, we have continued our efforts to foster productive bargaining sessions with our faculty and staff unions, as we work toward contracts that benefit all involved. Along with our community, I am hoping for a speedy and smooth conclusion to these negotiations, so that we can move forward together.

Last week, we were pleased to share a strong financial proposal with the faculty union, which included substantial raises for full- and part-time faculty each year over the next five years, along with a gradual return over four years to a 2:1 pension match for full-time faculty. This proposal is at the upper limits of what the university can afford given the constrained financial environment, but it goes a long way toward bolstering faculty compensation. As for the staff union, our negotiations are still in the initial phases, but we hope to work through the non-economic issues more expeditiously and then discuss financials.

I mean this sincerely: All of us at UArts believe in the value of each of our community members, fully respect the decisions of our faculty and staff to form unions, and hope to find a productive compromise and resolution soon.

Evolving Spaces
As I mentioned at our Town Hall in September, the university is engaged in selling Pine Hall, our residence facility most in need of modernization. Proceeds from the sale will be reinvested in our remaining dormitories to better meet the needs of our students, increase the number of single residences and ensure our rooms are well-suited to address a range of accommodations. Students will continue living in Pine Hall through the spring semester.

Construction continues to move swiftly on the new Student Center in Gershman Hall, and we expect work to conclude in early February. The Student Center has been generously supported by private donors and $1 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. When the first floor is complete, we will turn our attention to Gershman’s lower level and begin work on a purpose-built screening room that will host Lightbox Film Center’s captivating programs, among other possible events, supported by private donors as well as additional grants from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We are also exploring the possibility of constructing an expanded dining facility in the lower level of Gershman, which would replace Terra Market as a modernized space with substantially increased seating capacity, plus more flexibility for student and community needs.

In addition, we continue to work toward securing tenants for two commercial spaces: the restaurant at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and the ground floor of Terra Hall at Broad and Walnut streets, which previously housed a Wawa.

Opportunities to Celebrate
Finally, this fall has ushered in a slate of opportunities for us to gather together in celebration of creativity. In the past month alone, we welcomed the first cohort of our Inspiration Lab (iLAB) artists in residence, celebrated the tremendous gifts of our scholarship donors, dedicated a new mural—created by an alum with Mural Arts Philadelphia—on Spruce Hall, and learned more about the vital work of our faculty and staff supported by the first round of Grants for Creative Research and Innovation. We’re also excited to resume our annual holiday party for faculty and staff, which will be held Wednesday, Dec. 14, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. I hope you will join us!

Additionally, our galleries team continues to fill the Philadelphia Art Alliance and Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery with compelling work by important contemporary artists, many showing their work in Philadelphia for the very first time. I encourage you to find a moment to explore these opportunities. I am certain you will be delighted by what you discover. Thank you again for your hard work and dedication.

I hope you enjoy a restful break and look forward to seeing you again on campus soon.

With gratitude,