UArts community shares mixed opinions on possible Temple merger

Students and faculty wonder if their fallen school’s uniqueness can exist at other institutions like Temple.

University of the Arts students protest on the steps of Dorrace Hamilton Hall before the university officially shuts down. | OLIVER ECONOMIDIS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Bradley Philbert turned off his phone the evening of May 31. He and his fiancee had just purchased rings for their upcoming wedding and booked an outdoor dinner date where they could eat without distractions. 

Philbert, who taught courses in critical theory at the University of the Arts, didn’t realize anything unusual was happening until he turned his phone back on later that night. A wall of unread texts and missed calls from fellow faculty was waiting for him.

“The whole thing unfolded for me at once on my notification screen,” Philbert said. “Something was wrong with UArts, and I knew exactly what was wrong with UArts based on the news alerts.” 

Philbert plunged into a shock that had already hit the rest of the city: The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news that his institution where he’d worked since 2021 was shutting its doors, forever, on June 7. 

Aftershocks from UArts’ closing still reverberate, weeks later. University president Kerry Walk resigned the Monday after the announcement, leaving the school without a figurehead in its final days. Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry opened a “review” of the closure after Philadelphians demanded an explanation. 

The year-old UArts Faculty Union — where Philbert served as a negotiator — launched a class-action lawsuit accusing the school’s management of closing so quickly that they violated “fair-notice” labor laws.

George Elanjian graduated from University of the Arts in 1977 with a degree in film that he says is still precious to him now.  

“There’s not a day that goes by without me using something I learned at this school,” Elanjian said. 

Elanjian also said that he’d welcome any move to rescue his alma mater — including a merger with Temple.

Not everyone would greet that union with joy, even if it anointed Temple as UArts’ savior. Marshall O’Neill, a graduate student in museum studies, wondered how heading 20 blocks north for courses would change his college experience, as Temple doesn’t currently offer an M.A. in museum studies.

“First of all, we’re a private school, so we have more flexibility to make the curriculum how we see fit for artists,” O’Neill said. “Everybody here really likes the professors, the community is great, and the uniqueness of our school is amazing.”


Administrators and trustees cited sudden money trouble — namely a $40 million financial gap — as the cause of UArts’ demise, and a college dean told state legislators under oath that Walk elected to close the school “unilaterally” after hearing of the cash gap. 

Officials and students expressed shock and disbelief at the explanation: The university raised $67 million in a 2022 funding drive, funded a recent citywide branding blitz, and appointed a suite of business and real estate titans to its board of trustees. 

But the cash crunch mirrors the plight of colleges across the country: First, the Great Recession caused college students to choose lucrative majors over the humanities. Now, a projected decline in college applicants is leading small, liberal arts colleges to close while bigger schools cut less popular majors out of their curricula.

Temple has faced crises over these trends before. In 2022, former president Jason Wingard authored a book advocating for new approaches to higher ed to save it from what he dubbed “the college devaluation crisis.” 

Among his plans: Teach more courses in the virtual world, where a single instructor could teach enormous numbers of students. Move colleges away from learning for its own sake, and towards models that match the desires of the job market. And make college more accessible to more political stripes by de-emphasizing issues that put colleges in the middle of controversy.

The Chronicle of Higher Education and the L.A. Review of Books blasted Wingard’s idealized school as a “grim,” “soulless,” “EdTech griftopia” — not least because Temple’s grad student union, feeling underpaid and disrespected, launched a 42-day strike in early 2023.

TUGSA, the grad students’ union, eventually drew sharp concessions and claimed victory. Wingard, checked in his pursuit of a novel model, resigned and took up a visiting professorship at Harvard. And Temple, far from facing a “devaluation crisis,” received a record number of admissions applications and reassured many embattled majors and professors their jobs were safe this spring. But O’Neill isn’t sure that Temple would offer the kind of education he’s looking for.

“There’s so many people that come here for programs that don’t exist anywhere else in the country,” O’Neill said. “I wouldn’t say ‘apprehensive.’ But we’re kind of taking it in stride, bit by bit, when it comes to the potential merger, because we don’t want the school to die.”

Greater Philadelphia’s other centers of higher education have moved to bring in students affected by the closure, opening the gates of the transfer process to integrate what’s left of UArts before the fall. 

Drexel funneled sudden transfers to its art and design schools through the “UArts-Drexel pathway.” St. Joseph’s University launched a webpage just for UArts transfers and headlined it “Hawks and Unicorns Together,” a reference to the University of the Arts’ unofficial mascot.But few have been more involved than Temple, which announced in the early days of the fallout that it was exploring a school-saving merger.

UArts’ 1,300 undergraduate and grad students are still bereft from the private creative academy’s collapse. Most had already picked their courses and secured housing for the fall, and none received notice of their university’s closure from officials before that night. 

Several of these students clustered near the steps of Dorrance Hamilton Hall, the most stately of UArts’ South Broad buildings, to vent their frustration with the circumstances and those they held responsible for them.


Rebekah Palmer found out about UArts’ closure through the Inquirer, just like Philbert. Most students didn’t get confirmation of the report from the school until later that night, Palmer said.

 “We got excited about planning our classes and planning our schedule,” said Palmer, a dance major at the end of her sophomore year. “And we would have cherished our friends a little bit longer — to say, like, ‘see you later’ or something — if we would have known sooner.”

Philbert, the UArts professor and union negotiator, expressed hope that any arrangement wouldn’t disrupt the fallen school’s community. But his ire was reserved for those he believed put them in this situation to begin with.

“I couldn’t imagine showing my face in public again if I had anything to do with this disaster,” Philbert said. “And wherever our former president, Kerry Walk, slinks off to, she doesn’t deserve a good night’s rest the rest of her life.”

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