USF Pulls Out of SFAI Acquisition, Announces New MFA Program


In February of this year, USF announced its intent to acquire the historic San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). The acquisition announcement came after SFAI’s struggles with low enrollment and financial troubles, reasons they previously cited when the school decided to stop admitting new students for the fall 2020 semester. 

USF began a process of what it describes as “due diligence” with SFAI, prioritizing how the acquisition may satisfy both institutions’ values and intended outcomes. Members of the community were invited to a town hall on Feb. 8 2022 to discuss details of the acquisition, and raise questions as they came along.

In a May 2022 message to the community, USF announced that the acquisition fell through due to numerous concerns, such as SFAI’s “financial viability.” “USF informed SFAI leadership that we would not enter into a definitive agreement with SFAI due to business risks that could negatively impact USF students, faculty, and staff, effectively ending the possibility of an acquisition of SFAI,” said Kellie Samson, USF spokesperson.

Eric Hongisto, professor of fine arts at USF, and SFAI faculty director for the acquisition, went into more detail about the factors the school acknowledged for not moving forward with the acquisition. “The costs of retrofitting the building was one mitigating factor. That requires earthquake retrofit, ADA compliance for federal disabilities law.” There were also “conversion costs to USF standards, such as the infrastructure for ITS, and possibly changes for curriculum and staffing,” Hongisto said.

For SFAI, the failure of this acquisition means the institution is out of options; they graduated their last class and they have announced that the institution will no longer offer degrees. Current SFAI students have been able to continue their education at alternative accredited institutions. 

For the current fine arts department, concerns over a lack of resources and space have been raised by the community, and when the acquisition was announced, some felt excited at the prospect of acquiring SFAI to have access to the institution’s campus resources. With that, concerns about how USF was supporting its own fine arts department were also raised. 

The dropping of the acquisition came alongside an announcement of a new Masters of Fine Arts program at USF, and a declared commitment to progressing the fine arts department. The commitment includes changes to the current curriculum in the Arts + Architecture department, hiring of new faculty, and possible construction for facilities, though these changes have yet to be solidified or implemented. 

According to Eileen Fung, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, “many works are in progress, such as identifying space and facilities, additional market research and curricular revisions of these programs with the current programs in the A+A [Arts + Architecture] departments. During this academic year of 2022-23, we are also fortunate to host several distinguished visiting artists and Gerardo Marin Post-doctoral fellows to continue the momentum and energy for the arts programing at USF.”

Hongisto said that this new program will see changes for the better in the fine arts curriculum as well. “We think the University administration will actually help the current students based on the options for more studio opportunities, and possibly new materials and spaces that will enhance the experience for current BA students in fine arts.” 

In addition, Hongisto looks forward to what the MFA students will be able to bring to the table, and what the arts community will look like moving forward. “We’re always excited to have more students, especially advanced students who can help work with our undergraduates and enhance the overall arts on the campus.”  

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