Dance Students and Faculty React to the Sudden Shutdown of the University of the Arts

June 7, 2024

Last Friday, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia announced it would be shutting down as of June 7. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a steep drop in enrollment left the nearly 150-year-old school in such a deep financial crisis that the accrediting agency abruptly withdrew its charter.  

Many students and faculty found out through the Inquirer’s coverage, and only got an email from the university an hour later. Lauryn Ruff, a rising junior in the dance program, says she thought it was a fake news piece at first. 

“The way it went down was a complete shock,” says longtime modern dance professor Curt Haworth, who was once on the school’s finance committee. He says most faculty members knew the school was in “tough straits,” but they were all blindsided by the extent of the financial crisis. 

“We thought we were going to have a $2 million loss, which is pretty typical—a lot of schools go into a deficit this time of year, waiting for the next year’s tuition dollars to come through,” he says. “But this year, suddenly, it was $12 million.”

Faculty members who have been teaching at the school for years are now suddenly out of a job. “I’m a 60-something professor in an ageist field,” Haworth says. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I worry more about my students.”

The School of Dance faculty and dean Donna Faye Burchfield have stayed in close contact with students. Other dance departments at colleges like Drexel University, Temple University, Point Park University, George Mason, and Muhlenberg College have reopened their 2024 admissions specifically for UArts students. Ruff says she’s gotten in contact with a couple of programs, but it’s not a route she’s eager to follow. 

“The UArts School of Dance, specifically, is so special and such a safe place for me and so many other students,” she says. “We’re all just really trying to hold out hope for something to happen.” 

Students and faculty are still fighting to keep the school open. Rising senior dance major Catherine Bauermann had a lawyer put together an email that people could send to elected representatives, whose contacts they collected. New grad Aleesha Polite has been taking part in protests on the campus steps—when she’s not helping pack up studio equipment to send to the American Dance Festival, since nothing can be left in the UArts buildings.

One possibility: The Inquirer reports that Temple University is now exploring a potential merger. However, Bauermann says they were told that most likely wouldn’t include UArts programming or staff. They are now considering just starting to freelance rather than finish their degree in another school. “I have a great fear that going into my senior year, instead of it being this warm and beautiful experience, it might be the wrong community for me,” they say.  

Compounding fears and frustrations is the perception that the university administration hasn’t been forthcoming with information. A Monday town hall that was supposed to offer answers was canceled 10 minutes before the start, and university president Kerry Walk resigned the next day. 

Several people contacted for this story say the biggest loss is the community fostered by the school, which has fed a number of Philadelphia dance companies and been a creative incubator with deep roots in the city.  

“This is our home,” says Kim Bears-Bailey, a faculty member, UArts alum, and the artistic director of Philadanco. “We love this institution. It’s our family and it’s worth saving. It’s more than just a building.”