Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Requiem for the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale

When I first started blogging, I tried to be very careful not to use names:  not the names of people in my life or the place where I worked.  At the same time, I was trying to create an online presence to serve my writing career, whatever that would turn out to be.

I'm still careful about my blogging topics.  I'm still aware that future employers can easily find anything I've written.  I'm still aware of how what we post online threatens not only our privacy, but the privacy of others--and makes it easier for safety of all sorts to be compromised.

It's not hard for anyone who wants to know to figure out the broad outlines of my life, so let me just say that I once worked for the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  I started working there in January of 2002, and I left for a new job in October of 2016.  During that time I saw many changes, and I spent several of my last years at the school wondering how the school would survive bad publicity, high tuition, and declining student numbers.  I knew that the path was unsustainable--it's one of the reasons why I left.

I have spent years predicting that the school would have to close, but on some level, I was still shocked when the official announcement came yesterday.  And it's not just AiFL.  Seventeen Art Institutes across the nation will close, nine Argosy campuses, and 3 South University campuses.  I don't have details yet about timelines or how the students will be guided.

When I started at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, enrollment was at an all-time high, just over 3,000 students.  If you arrived at certain times, there would be no parking--none--and you had to hunt for free street parking or pay at the meters, and that parking was scarce.  We had two four story buildings with classes on every floor, and we had to rent space at places nearby.

I became Associate Chair of the General Education department in 2007, and Chair in 2010.  Numbers had fallen off, but departments still fought over classroom space.  By the time I left, there was no need to fight.  Many classrooms sat empty for much/all of the day.

When I left, the school had one building and the Culinary department across the street.  Tuition was still high and Gainful Employment legislation was about to make it hard to sustain the current trajectory.  I had ideas about how the school might turn around, but no Corporate types were interested in our ideas, and our upper management at school wasn't allowed much freedom at all.

Throughout the years, we did good work--even during my final years, when we had fewer and fewer resources, we did good work.  Don't believe anything you might read that suggests otherwise.  The school has just come through an accreditation visit with very few findings--the school did good work.

I've been working on a collection of linked short stories, and the link is that all the characters work at the same for-profit art school, The Art Institute of South Florida, a school based on AiFL.  During the fall of 2017, I worked on a story, "The Burdens They Carried," which had the school close.  I knew that the school was headed for closing, and I have for years, but I'm still surprised that the company didn't try to save it in other ways:  lowering tuition, moving more classes online, lowering tuition, creating short-term classes and opportunities to bring in more cash, lowering tuition . . .

Here's the ending from the story that I wrote.  My friends who have read the short story tell me that they find the ending surprisingly hopeful:

"In the end, the building stood by itself. The building had thought that it would miss the hustle and bustle of the school, but it was surprised to find that it didn’t miss the drama that comes when students gather in a place. The sadness that had soaked into every fiber of the school slowly dissipated until the building felt so buoyant that it might leave its foundation and float away to sea."

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