Wednesday, January 5, 2005

SCAD Comes to Atlanta

The art education community in Atlanta just got a little bit ... scarier.

It was February, just a month before the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was scheduled to open their new Atlanta campus, when a curious letter appeared in my academic mailbox. My status as a member of the adjunct faculty of the Atlanta College of Art had earned me SCAD's indiscriminate attention. I, and nearly every colleague of mine in metro-Atlanta education, received a blanket solicitation – an invitation to join SCAD's new Atlanta faculty. Chills ran down my spine.

The Savannah College of Art and Design was founded in Savannah, Georgia, in 1978, and awards Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Architecture, Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees, and both undergraduate and graduate certificates. Since March 2005, SCAD-Atlanta has provided undergraduate and graduate education in art and design, with initial course offerings including animation, art history, broadcast design and motion graphics, drawing, illustration, and painting. The school expected more than 100 students to take classes in Atlanta starting Spring 2005, including current SCAD-Savannah students who moved north with nearly a dozen faculty and their programs.

SCAD began developing a relationship with the Atlanta community and business leaders in 2003 with the opening of "Savannah," a contemporary art gallery in Buckhead. Atlanta is also home to approximately 700 SCAD alumni.

Downtown Atlanta business leaders had hoped SCAD would select the abandoned Macy's building at 180 Peachtree, vacant since the department store closed in April 2003. Other potential sites had included the Equifax building, the Inforum, Centergy in Midtown, Two Buckhead Plaza, and locations outside the Perimeter.

Instead, the college selected 1600 Peachtree, formerly occupied by iXL, a Web design company that invested more than $21 million in renovations. Miami-based design firm Arquitectonica used bright colors and innovative lighting techniques to create a unique interior environment for the metropolitan campus. The facility features well-equipped classrooms and computer labs, studios, a library, administrative and exhibition space, a fitness center, dining facilities, parking, and a nearby residence hall.

So what about SCAD caused my hair to stand on end? Its reputation. I had been teaching at ACA for several semesters, and had guest-lectured several times at the nearby Creative Circus, before that letter showed up in my mailbox. More than a few of my students were "SCAD refugees" and a number of my faculty peers had "done time" in Savannah.

Rumors had been floating around art and design circles for a while about SCAD's uneasy relationship with Atlanta education institutions. Georgia State and Georgia Tech had reportedly declined to share facilities and programs with the art school. Even the current standing of SCAD's accreditation was in question.

Curious, I began to do my own informal research. Indeed, around the time the letter showed up, I had become aware of a lively online community of SCAD detractors – including current and former faculty.

With a grain of salt, I learned about SCAD-Savannah's academic and administrative culture – an environment repeatedly likened to John Grisham's The Firm. The overall theme was one of abuse – both academic and physical. Stories ranged from professors fired for "disloyalty" and "giving voice to student concerns" to the use of physical force to make departing faculty sign releases and waivers. There was even documentation of a rash of faculty who become ill, developed cancer, and died while working in the Savannah campus' Poetter Hall (The Atlanta Journal - Constitution, Sunday, July 20, 2003). Tales of physical coercion and mob tactics fill faculty testimonials. Tales of inadequate facilities and incompetent administration fill student and parent critiques.

I fully appreciate the venom one can have for their former employer (just get me started on my former studio if you don't believe me) but the frequency of similar complaints and the nature of some of them – especially the physical assaults and instances of legal misdirection – shocked me. Could so many people bear such rancor without reason?

SCAD's track record with job openings is perhaps a less easily disputed measure of their success with faculty. The same openings appear time and time again, either never filled or always needing replacement. When I asked a colleague of mine about this he smiled and advised me, "Avoid SCAD, whatever you do. They use professors up and throw them away. You'd be lucky to get out with your reputation intact. They ruin people."

The Savannah College of Art and Design is the largest educational institution of it's kind in the South East. Already other area institutions, most notably the Art Institute of Atlanta, are adapting their course offerings to compete with SCAD's Atlanta campus. And the rumors and accusations continue to fly.

And now they're here. fb


Anonymous said...

I am a parent of a SCAD student graduating in May 2008 and I want to confirm that Safety is a Major Problem at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah. This may also be true in Atlanta, you will need to investigate that city on your own.

A girl was kidnapped and raped outside of Turner dorm when my daugher was a student living in Turner. There was a security guard station right near where it all happened. The school did not alert students to the occurance until 48 hrs. later. Parents were NEVER informed by letter or email that anything unusual had gone on at the campus or in our child's dorm. Students weren't informed immediately so they could handle themselves differently around Turner. Had we not been there that weekend, we NEVER would have know about it. SCAD does not feel it has ANY responsibility to keep parents aprised of security issues on campus. A girl recently fell from the 5th floor of Turner House and parents were not informed to "protect the girls' identity." Those living off campus weren't informed about the safety problems with Turner until they saw it on the evening news.

Do not mistake the SCAD security cars for a secure environment in Savannah. They only roam a specific rectangular area surrounding SCAD's academic buildings. Because SCAD has not built sufficient dorms to accommodate the number of students admitted, they have turned old ramshackle hotels and motels into "dorms." You will find it hard to find anything less than $1700-$2100 per month in a safe area. Divided by three roomates that's $700, although apartments for three are very, very rare. Most are for two (so prepare to pay a small mortgage). That's not to say there aren't apartments for less, but expect them to be in the most impoverished areas, high in crime and drugs, with broken windows etc. or one street away from a crack house. Nice streets alternate with housing that looks like it should be condemned. Just imagine your son or daughter coming home in the evening to find parking on the street, but there is none. He or she has to park a block away,late at night, carrying mace. Picture it. That's Savannah.

While staying at the Palmer Dresser House, I was introduced to a Savannah policeman who told me "the pedaphiles and rapists are released south of East Gaston. Don't live East of Price, West of Jefferson, South of Gaston. In fact, I yet have the map he marked to show the rectagular area we were to move our daughter into to keep her safe. He stated: "The SCAD cars don't patrol outside of those areas. I was the one who had to keep track of them, so I should know." Can you even imagine hearing such a thing as a parent....wouldn't you drop everything and move your son/daughter? I did; I extended my visit, rented a truck and moved my daughter 4 blocks north of where she was then renting. You cannot find cheap housing in Savannah that will be safe. Your student will have to use a car lock to prevent vandalism or find a place with a garage.

Rest assured, these are things the SCAD staff will not tell you on your tour. Read the following reports and reviews in the media:

Parents, do your homework.

Anonymous said...

I graduated from SCAD last year and it think this is all a bit dramatic. I'm not saying SCAD or Savannah is perfect. Nor am I saying that it is the safest city...but there are plenty of inexpensive apartments not in horrible areas. Downtown is not a suburban gated community where everyone dresses alike, acts alike, and is all white. Just be you should be in any other city and you'll be fine.

Anonymous said...

I agree.....this is a bit dramatic.I've known Savannah for a long time now. If you can't find decently priced apartments in a relatively good area then your not looking in the right spots or your standards are too high. There are plenty of apartments , with character, not new but fun and funky places to live. The areas are typically safe...just don't be stupid and leave your valuables in your car,etc... I also know Atlanta and can tell you that you are more likley to get hurt just driving in the city let alone physical assualt. Sounds like sour grapes from a professor who fears the unknown...or rather an instructor from a laughable Atlanta art school. Atlanta is a stress pit compared to Savannah and you know it.

Anonymous said...

I know the first comment is more than a year old but as others have said, it's overly dramatic and more than a little questionable with its facts.

I lived in Savannah from 2000 to 2001 and never found it to as crime-ridden as that first poster claims. First, SCAD does not have a dedicated campus like many schools which means it's interwoven with the recent of the city. To me, that's a good thing. That also means that buildings that have a questionable past are sometimes purchased by SCAD and turned into classrooms, libraries, residential halls, etc. That's not a secret; they've been doing that since the 70s and it's that very thing -- downtown revitalization -- that has gotten them the national attention they receive now.

Unless you're planning to move to Montana or Idaho, crime is everywhere so people should do their research BEFORE they show up, not afterward. I currently work in higher education and the institution is not bound to informing parents of every act of violence that occurs on campus. Because it's an ongoing investigation, oftentimes there's not much to tell in the first place but more than that, the students are considered adults and are therefore capable of determining if the city is the best place for them to live and study. SCAD police are most likely not "real" police officers, meaning they have been sworn in by a state agency. They don't have the ability to arrest someone and more than likely work in tandem with Savannah PD on criminal investigations. Again, since the school is not on a campus but within the city, it would be inappropriate for "campus police" to do more than patrol the surrounding area. UPenn is the only school off the top of my head in which safety and security officers are actual police officer, meaning they carry guns and can arrest you for crimes. They have an art program; perhaps the first poster should have moved her kid to Philly.

Yes, it's an expensive city to live in. Again, a known fact for anyone willing to do some research. It's not the institution's job to make certain you know what rental costs are before you arrive.

All that said, I too have heard nothing but bad things about how SCAD treats its professors and staff. I had been considering going back to Savannah but a big red flag is the number of times I have seen the job I want re-posted. That tells me they either pay poorly, are unable to hire people, are unable to retain people or a combination thereof.

I'm passing on SCAD.

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