Coordination questions loom over SFAI acquisition

University leadership addressed questions about the financial and employment impact of San Francisco Arts Institute acquisition. PHOTO COURTESY OF USF OFFICE OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS

In a follow-up to the announcement made last week on the pending integration between USF and the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), President Paul J. Fitzgerald S.J. and Provost Chinyere Oparah held a town hall meeting via Zoom Feb. 8.

The town hall, which at its peak had 185 remote attendees, mostly USF faculty, addressed questions raised, such as how finances and future employment opportunities will pan out in regards to the potential merger, dubbed SFAI@USF.

The potential acquisition had been in talks for over a decade, and became a serious proposition about two years ago before the pandemic halted the discussion, according to a statement to the Foghorn from USF Media Relations Head Kellie Samson. 

“We need the arts now more than ever to inspire new ways of thinking about the key issues of our time. USF’s strategic plan calls for a renewed focus on and investment in the arts, activism, social justice and community engagement,” Samson said. 

Fitzgerald began the meeting with a slideshow showcasing the SFAI campus, which celebrated 150 years in 2021, and ended it with a photo of Diego Rivera’s $50 million mural “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City,” which Fitzgerald intends “to keep forever.”

Both Fitzgerald and Provost Oparah were optimistic about the benefits of the acquisition. “USF has an excellent fine arts and applied arts program but with quite inadequate facilities,” Fitzgerald said. “Imagine taking our amazing faculty, staff, and students and combining with folks from the art institute, and having projects on both campuses, but with 100,000 square ft studio spaces.” 

“While I’m excited, I want us all to do our deep due diligence and looking at the nuts and bolts of what this would mean, not just the vision possibility,” Oparah said. She continued that the University plans to balance these assessments with “a process of discernment,” and  “real exploration.”

This excitement has been dampened by SFAI’s current financial status. In 2021, the regents of the University of California bought SFAI’s $19.7 million debt, saving the school from closure. USF will have to buy the rights off of the UC regents for full title to SFAI.

Samson said USF’s financial position is stable in terms of their own outstanding debt, which is approximately $250 million. Still, some USF staff members have worried how financing the merger will impact their salaries, and students have expressed concern about additional hikes in tuition.

However, during the town hall, Fitzgerald said there is no intention to finance SFAI out of USF’s operating budget, and USF media relations confirmed there will be no tuition increase for the 2023 fiscal year. 

Fitzgerald also said that he expects philanthropic donations to cover SFAI’s debt. “We already got an unsolicited $100,000 gift from someone who saw the news and said, ‘I want to help make this happen’,” he said.

The announcement of the pending merger coincided with the allegations that USF administration has abandoned bargaining with the Part-Time Faculty Administration (PTFA).

Michael Hammond, the secretary for PTFA, said in a statement to the Foghorn: “PTFA hopes for the best regarding the SFAI merger but will always encourage USF to live up to its Jesuit mission, which should place people ahead of property in the spirit of cura personalis.”

“This action shows that USF has the resources to make massive acquisitions even as they are reluctant to meet the needs of the essential workers who constitute the majority of teaching staff,” said Hammond. 

USF media relations couldn’t provide specific comments on the PTFA negotiations at this time, but said they are still “evaluating the financial impact of integrating SFAI into our operations” with “the best interest of our students, faculty, and staff — as well as the institution’s priorities and future — in mind.”

“Negotiations with the part-time faculty union involve issues beyond salary adjustments,” said Samson. “We cannot comment on negotiations in progress.”

With the status of both USF and SFAI adjuncts unknown during these merger talks, Hammond offered a statement of support. “PTFA stands in solidarity with SFAI’s adjuncts and are concerned about their future at USF. We’ve let them know that they have a home with us,” said Hammond.


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