RISD’s President John Maeda Responds to No-Confidence Vote

by Paddy Johnson on March 11, 2011 · 19 comments Newswire

The RISD campus

RISD’s President John Maeda responded to the faculty co-confidence vote last wednesday via mass email today at 3:00 pm. Maeda claims that the changes he’s implemented have benefited the school in the following ways:

●    Increasing funding for scholarships and securing 6- and 7-figure gifts.
●    Receiving significant grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation.
●    Garnering increased national attention from policy makers and potential employers.
●    Realizing the lowest tuition increases in decades.
●    Welcoming the most diverse class in RISD's history in 2010.
●    Creating a vibrant space for student activities in Carr Haus.

What Maeda doesn’t address is why his administration seems to be pressing forward with the consolidation of departments despite being deeply unpopular. It’s easy to see why many at RISD might find the president’s email grating. He talks a lot about the conversations he’s had, but not once does he cite the voice of the students or faculty. The omission is glaring.

The full email below:

From: RISD President <president@risd.edu>
Date: Fri, Mar 11, 2011 at 3:00 PM
Subject: [Students] A Message to the RISD Community

Dear RISD Community,

I would like to take the opportunity to address recent events that have unfolded on campus, including the vote of no confidence that took place last week. Since then, I have had open office hours for faculty, for staff, and for students; I’ve had dinners, an open forum with students, and many informal conversations with faculty, students, staff, alumni, families, trustees, and members of the local community to understand their perspectives on the situation, and to begin to figure out how we can move forward together. Though they haven't always been easy conversations, they have all made me feel grateful to be part of a community that is so passionate about its future.

Despite our efforts to build an inclusive and participatory strategic planning process, to maintain respectful and collegial relations with the leadership of the faculty union, and our underlying desire to create space for healthy and reflective debate, recent events on campus painfully reveal that our intentions to work together fell short. I am determined to improve relations between faculty and administration. We have a lot of work to do.

RISD is undoubtedly an institution beyond compare, and a symbol of creativity for the world at large. It is precisely for this reason that we must be fully aware of the real challenges we face. RISD's health is determined by its enrollment: the health of our classrooms is dependent on the quality of our students who come to learn from our faculty, and the health of our budget is dependent on tuition. When I arrived at the College in 2008, I learned that applications and inquiries from prospective students had been consistently declining for the past decade at a time when the number of college applications were increasing in the U.S. Our campus had grown quickly and become more residential, yet we were not offering commensurate services to ensure the highest quality student experience.

Furthermore, the number of alumni who give to RISD — an important barometer of confidence in the school — was in steady decline, dropping from 3,423 out of 15,003 alumni in 2002 to only 2,722 out of 20,208 alumni in 2008 — a 20% decline in the number of alumni donors, and a drop in RISD's alumni participation rate from 23% to only 13%. It is important to note that during this period, the average number of alumni donors per U.S. higher education institution held steady, and that the national alumni participation rate only fell from 13.4% to 11%.

I know that RISD is more than capable of rising to meet these challenges, and I am proud to have brought together an experienced, capable and agile leadership team to help us address them. This has undeniably brought a great deal of change to our campus since my arrival. These changes may have felt sudden, and certainly did not always feel good. They affected the lives of many who have been at RISD a long time. I hear these concerns, and the concerns that the pace and magnitude of the changes jeopardize the spirit and fabric of RISD. Yet I firmly believe that the steps we are taking are necessary. The Board charges the President with the management of the College, and my leadership team and I are fulfilling these responsibilities for our students' futures.

Our trustees' full support of my administration is a result of what we have achieved together:

●    Increasing funding for scholarships and securing 6- and 7-figure gifts.
●    Receiving significant grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation.
●    Garnering increased national attention from policy makers and potential employers.
●    Realizing the lowest tuition increases in decades.
●    Welcoming the most diverse class in RISD's history in 2010.
●    Creating a vibrant space for student activities in Carr Haus.

This is an important moment for our campus to truly listen to each other and rise above the historical tendency to “take sides.” Despite our differences of opinion, we are committed to the same important pursuits: to continue to attract and admit the caliber of students that makes RISD what it is, and to ensure that they leave RISD prepared to make fulfilling and creative contributions to the ever-changing global landscape.

We must provide RISD with the resources and operational strength required to meet the challenges of this century. I am more committed than ever to making sure we have meaningful dialogue to take our strategic plan from its current draft to final form and to create our future together.

I welcome your questions, comments and thoughts to help us get there.

Sincerely,

John Maeda, president

  • http://twitter.com/zearl Zak Greene

    Yeah. He has made progress toward what I saw as RISD’s biggest problems: high tuition, few scholarships, low diversity. I guess I don’t really know the impact that having 1 dean instead of 3 would have had on me as a student. But I know what impact lower tuition and better diversity has. The museum director resigning seemed weird. Curious to hear other perspectives but at this point I’m hoping he gets to stay.

    • Marcus Aurelius

      Greater diversity? RISD isn’t diverse, it’s white and Korean. Greater diversity just means admitting more Koreans (love the Koreans, but I just wouldn’t call it diversity). Also, I understand that foreign students don’t qualify for scholarships/tuition cuts…

      • Amcmasters

        I believe there is a reason there aren’t more poor minorities at RISD.

        • Dr Garbanzo

          Because the board of trustees is made up of OLD, RICH, WHITE, CONSERVATIVE, bankers and insurance execs. What have they done for society lately? 1% ers could care less about the 99%.

  • Sheryl Dansey

    The idea of collapsing multiple schools into one is ridiculous. Whats the point? Students already have a foundations year. His plan seems to be that if you eliminate divisions you can eliminate specializations and elevate a kind of generalist approach to art-meets-design. Broad discussions are already a part of each division so why raze the divisions completely? For Maeda it comes down to eradicating art in the purest sense and irrevocably linking it to commerce. Big companies butter his bread, and he’s more than happy to feed them in return with the most creative and insightful minds in the country. Alas, this is tantamount to eliminating culture from society and its tragic. He and Schiffrin need to wander off into social media land and “like” each other. Noone is buying this shtick.

  • jk

    It doesn’t say “lower tuition”. It’s lower tuition INCREASES.

  • student

    Carr Haus is a dumpy coffee shop with a few new couches thanks to Mr Maeda.

    Oh wait, no, we’re getting a flat screen TV too, sponsored, no doubt, by Samsung.

  • Amcmasters

    This is the same
    Situation that many schools are facing – and it is important to factor in intangibles like “originality of thought” as well as “openess” and adaptability – so
    Ethnic that all parties should attend to. The thing is, technology is changing – so it makes sense to combine industrial design with painting classes. Shaped canvases are all the rage. Not only is medieval icon painting compatible with CNC routed thermoplastics. You know that’s huge when you are selling to parents who so often foot the bill for high brow trade schools. now I know John mayeda has some crazy ideas about what art is or should be, but design is everywhere, like a tsunami.

  • Mmutt

    Since none of the great artists had art degrees, we can get rid of the schools and frumpy faculties anyway. BTW, it’s no-confidence vote, not ‘co-confidence vote’, and Rhode Island, not ‘Rhodes’ Island.

  • IM

    “I have a great respect for nothing.”

  • Amcmasters

    so when the drones come out of design school dont cry to me about how stupid their shit is. And it will be dumbed down. Business is like that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rain-Smith/100000263069098 Rain Smith

    Are any of you students here? Very interested in your opinion of this, and perhaps what a better solution might be. Best, Erin
    @AveryEducation

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Am looking at the “President’s Page” and having a good laugh at the design. Maeda can’t fit an organizational chart on a webpage without mashing it down to illegible size ( https://sites.google.com/a/risd.edu/risd-president/risd-organization ) and note how badly compressed the arty “visualization” of the school population is: https://sites.google.com/a/risd.edu/risd-president/data-on-risd
    The man needs to take some courses at his own school!

  • http://peeveedee.tumblr.com erik

    As a student of RISD I can say that this email is symptomatic of Maeda’s general attitude towards the school. He is completely dismissive of student and faculty concerns, and continues to push forward with his “strategic plan” despite overwhelming disagreements. His plan amounts to converting what has been, and is, a valuable institution for training and educating talented people into a summer camp where wealthy, unqualified students from all over the world are baby-sat and given a degree.

  • Mmuttsanidiot

    By “great artists” I’m assuming you mean the classics. I also assume you only know them because the ninja turtles were named after them because any educated person would know that all classical artists that you call great went through art education and in a lot of cases even art schools. Get rid of the art schools, and you can say good bye to everything as you know it and welcome in 1984. I’ll just go ahead and assume that went over your head.

  • Prefer A. Nonymity

    I think in a simple, ideal world, art and craft would be pure, not requiring any backing or support from corporations or government. We the people would have full control. However, society believes and empowers technology and the government so much that it’s impossible to ignore and we are required to be fluent in the media which are used to govern us. Nam Jun Paik apparently claimed that he did his work in a way that he would get first dibs at understanding it, before big companies did.

    So how to build an “institution” devoted to empowering the “people” ? As Nietszche said, man can not live on truth alone. So, an institution must have two faces. It must be possible to learn new things while pretending to adhere to the old things and protecting the new things from being turned over directly to the companies. For most of us, we must strike a deal: we slowly dissolve our secrets into the ocean of corporate knowledge while enriching ourselves and those in our inner vicinity.

    The tools are the ones who happily convert their research into power without filtering or regard. Perhaps RISD enjoyed their safely tucked away position, accruing outward reputation while internally preserving cultural secrets. Perhaps the fame of Maeda has exposed much more than they’re comfortable with? Maybe these sources of gifts, e.g. from the NSF, have come with strings attached?

  • Prefer A. Nonymity

    I think in a simple, ideal world, art and craft would be pure, not requiring any backing or support from corporations or government. We the people would have full control. However, society believes and empowers technology and the government so much that it’s impossible to ignore and we are required to be fluent in the media which are used to govern us. Nam Jun Paik apparently claimed that he did his work in a way that he would get first dibs at understanding it, before big companies did.

    So how to build an “institution” devoted to empowering the “people” ? As Nietszche said, man can not live on truth alone. So, an institution must have two faces. It must be possible to learn new things while pretending to adhere to the old things and protecting the new things from being turned over directly to the companies. For most of us, we must strike a deal: we slowly dissolve our secrets into the ocean of corporate knowledge while enriching ourselves and those in our inner vicinity.

    The tools are the ones who happily convert their research into power without filtering or regard. Perhaps RISD enjoyed their safely tucked away position, accruing outward reputation while internally preserving cultural secrets. Perhaps the fame of Maeda has exposed much more than they’re comfortable with? Maybe these sources of gifts, e.g. from the NSF, have come with strings attached?

  • Sad Alumna

    Perhaps Alum. participation has dropped off so dramatically at RISD because the staff in the Alum & Career Office is so incredibly rude and unhelpful? 

  • BobSoth

    Maeda administration at odds with staff again… leadership failing again
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/RISD-Technical-Association/178570815555588

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