Four years after its inception, the highly touted Iovine and Young Academy will officially become its own school at USC in Spring 2018. This secession from the Roski School of Art and Design will have its own major repercussions, as Dean Erica Muhl’s decision to transfer her leadership to the Academy will leave a vacuum in the art school’s much-needed leadership.
After being the subject of the “USC Seven” scandal — in which all seven MFA students withdrew from the University — and having its Master of Fine Art rankings plummet from No. 36 to No. 69 between 2012 and 2016, Muhl’s departure represents a brand new opportunity for the school to transform its current approach to contemporary arts education. In the past four years during Muhl’s tenure as both the dean of Roski and executive director of Iovine and Young, members of the USC community have observed the disparity between the exclusive cohort of Academy students and other Roski students.
While the Academy has been cultivated to grow and expand from a 31-person inaugural class in Fall 2014 to its own school and facility on campus, little change or growth has been observed on the west side of campus where Roski resides. The Iovine and Young Academy was created to fuse technology and innovation with the arts to prepare students for a constantly changing contemporary arts scene. They gain practical knowledge in areas like business, engineering and computer science to supplement their fine arts and design experience, allowing them to take their creativity and apply it in the real world.
On the other hand, Roski students are denied this experience, and the University has made no substantive moves to both address past problems and bring the school into the 21st century. In recent years, Roski students have been forced to pursue their own vocational opportunities outside of Roski through other institutions like the Viterbi School of Engineering, the Marshall School of Business or the School of Cinematic Arts. However, the Academy represented the most comprehensive effort to meld Roski into a program that fits the needs of a changing arts profession.
Despite efforts to revamp its art program through the recruitment of renowned artists into its faculty and introduction of new Bachelor of Fine Arts and Masters of Fine Arts programs in design, USC administrators and the incoming Roski leadership have a responsibility to transform its current structure through a more holistic approach to arts education.
The demand for interdisciplinary skills in the workforce is now more prevalent than ever.
In 2016, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism revamped its journalism major to incorporate the digital and multimedia elements that have revolutionized the field. And in 2017, the School of Dramatic Arts introduced a new bachelor’s degree in musical theatre to accommodate its rising popularity. These schools have shown a dedication to not only their students’ educational pursuits, but also their employability in a constantly changing job market. If other schools at USC are meeting these demands, then so too must the Roski School of Art and Design.
If it does not modernize, Roski will not be USC that gets left behind in the arts scene — after all, it has the burgeoning Iovine and Young Academy, with the money, technology and resources to succeed. Instead it will be the Roski students. If a significant change does not take place, these same students will be left with broken promises, abandoned by the University that agreed to foster their arts education and prepare them for a modern career in the arts.
USC must capitalize on Iovine and Young’s newfound autonomy to recalibrate Roski’s academic focus. In the months leading up to the appointment of Roski’s new dean, the senior administration and dean selection committee must take into account the unique circumstances that the Roski students will face when they take their first steps in the professional world.
The new dean of Roski should embody the forward-thinking values that USC applies to every other branch of the arts and humanities. Allowing a subpar program to continue is unacceptable for an educational institution of the caliber that the University aims to be, and meaningful reforms must be made if USC hopes to become a world-class institution in more than just name.
Daily Trojan Fall 2017 Editorial Board