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College of Visual Arts faces questions as president abruptly quits

  • Article by: MARY ABBE and JENNA ROSS
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • January 24, 2013 - 11:22 PM

Unrest continues at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul with the abrupt resignation of President Ann Ledy.

Her departure follows her announcement last week that the college on Summit Avenue would close at the end of June due to money troubles triggered by the recession, falling enrollment and rising costs.

Ledy ended her eight-year tenure Wednesday with a "Dear Students" letter in which she blamed the economy and "financial circumstances" for the school's demise. "I am devastated by this reality and I know that you are, too," she wrote.

Susan Short, the school's vice president and general counsel, is now the acting president.

Meanwhile, an ad hoc group of about 25 alumni have formed CVA Action, a committee that hopes to forestall the closing by working with the school's six-member board. They want to review the school's financial statements and intend to ask for a moratorium on the decision to close.

"We feel the decision was made rather abruptly," artist Valerie Frank said.

In 2011, the school earned coveted accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, a complicated process that involves examination of "financial viability not only at the moment but for the future," Frank said. Given that vote of confidence, the decision to close now "didn't make sense," she said.

Alumni packed a large first-floor room in the college's building on N. Western Avenue for an information session Wednesday night.

The chairman of the college's board of trustees, Jim Rubenstein, started by closing the meeting to reporters.

A recording of that meeting posted on YouTube shows that Rubenstein, a Minneapolis lawyer, told the crowd that "after considering all the factors and the reasonable alternatives, the board reluctantly concluded in December that an orderly closing of the college at this time was the only reasonable choice."

It was important for the college to make the decision to close "at a time when CVA still had sufficient cash and other resources for a strong finish that would provide CVA's students with the kind of education they have come to expect," Rubenstein said Thursday by e-mail, "and to soften the financial impact on students, faculty and staff as much as possible."

Rubenstein said that the board did not ask Ledy to resign.

Trustees' role questioned

The CVA Action group is also questioning the trustees' overseeing of financial and personnel matters.

Last fall faculty and staff members wrote to the board asking for the removal of the president and vice president "because of the intimidating and fearful atmosphere they created," Frank said.

In response, the board appointed consultants "who disagreed with our opinions and decided to close the school," said John DuFresne, professor and chair of the graphic arts department who is not part of the CVA Action group. More salary cuts, streamlined programs and consolidated facilities might have saved the school, he said.

"I've been using the metaphor of physicists looking at a bumblebee and determining that it really can't fly," Dufresne said. "The long history of the school is that it's always had financial troubles and always been tuition-dependent and it's always managed to survive."

mabbe@startribune.com • 612-673-4431 jross@startribune.com • 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna

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