600 staffers laid off during conference call on last day of operation for the University of the Arts

Saturday, June 8, 2024
600 staffers laid off on last day for the University of the Arts
600 staffers laid off during conference call on last day of operation for the University of the Arts

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Hundreds of staffers at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia officially learned they were out of a job on Friday, on what appeared to be the final day of operations at the school.

Action News has learned that some 600 adjunct and faculty staff were laid off on a conference call. Some other staff members were given the option to work until the end of the month.

Students and staff rallied outside Hamilton Hall, as the university community, supporters and local officials hope to find a path forward for the students.

Gehia Davenport was among those fired. The alumna turned staff member says she was coming up on 30 years with the university.

"I got on the call. They let us know that everyone on this call is going to be terminated and today is our last day," recalled Davenport.

600 staffers laid off during conference call on last day of operation for the University of the Arts

The university announced just one week ago that the 150-year-old school in Center City would be closing.

The news caught the community off guard, prompting Philadelphia City Council to launch an investigation into what went wrong. They will be looking into the relationship between the closure of UArts, and the collective bargaining agreement that was reached with faculty and staff earlier this year.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, which has oversight over nonprofits, said it is also reviewing the closure, including "any transfer or loss of assets."

Gov. Josh Shapiro weighed in on the closure on Friday, saying he was "angry and disappointed in the leadership of the University of the Arts."

"UArts sprung this on all of us," he said.

Can the University of the Arts still be saved?

Frank Machos, who is with the School District of Philadelphia's Office of the Arts and was on track to join the university's Board of Trustees this month, has joined a newly-formed committee to save the university.

"There are so many out-of-the-box thinkers around the planet that if we were made aware of the situation we would have gladly stepped in to help and come up with some solutions," Machos said.

Machos is optimistic that the University of the Arts can be saved.

"We feel that the leadership's abrupt decisions were obviously rooted in challenges that the university had been facing. But there was never a call for help, particularly from the creative community," he said.

In the wake of the news, Temple University said it was looking into the possibility of a merger with UArts, where around 1,300 students are enrolled in 40 undergraduate and graduate programs.

Other institutions are also exploring similar possibilities.

"Temple, Drexel and a bunch of other institutions have been welcoming and open-armed to welcome us to their institutions - West Chester University as well. A very seamless transition they've set up for us," said student Michael Pogudin.

Some students received tution statements after the announcement of the closure.

"Some people got some, I think, just two days ago - up to $20,000," said student Jimmy Butterfield.

UArts officials have not said how or why they suddenly ran out of money to pay the bills. The university president also resigned earlier this week.

Another concern: what happens to the large amount of valuable real estate the university owns that takes up most of South Broad Street?

Class action lawsuit filed

Nine former employees have filed a class action lawsuit amid the abrupt announcement.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, says the university failed to provide sufficient notice about the closure planned for Friday.

Federal law requires employers to give 60 days written notice to workers for plans for layoffs. The University of the Arts gave a week's notice.

The lawsuit seeks two months' pay in damages, along with accrued holiday and vacation pay, and other health benefits.

The school has not responded to the lawsuit.