It’s been a tough few years for Oregon college and universities. But now Oregon’s vibrant community of artists and scholars has a few good reason to celebrate.
On Wednesday, Willamette University in Salem, OR announced that it finalized plans to merge with the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), a Portland-based art institute founded in 1909. The merger was supported by a $2 million gift from the family of the late Arlene Schnitzer, who attended PNCA in 1958. The money will be used to create a PNCA Dean’s Initiative Fund to provide resources for the new dean to experiment with new initiatives and collaborations for the college. The search has begun for a new dean for Pacific Northwest College of the Art.
PNCA will maintain its Portland-based campus and current faculty, but the search has begun for a new dean. The school will no longer be its own entity, but will now be one of four schools within Willamette University, joining the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Law and the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. Founded in 1842, Willamette is widely considered the oldest university in the western United States.
In an official statement released by the colleges, PNCA Board Chair Scott D. Musch said,
"As we enter this new era for both institutions, we are confident that PNCA and Willamette’s distinguished legacies, our commitment to students and our contributions to the cultural vibrancy of the Pacific Northwest will be strengthened and enhanced by this relationship. We’re eager to see what our students will accomplish with the broader curricular offerings and opportunities this presents them.”
On the same day that Willamette and PNCA finalized their merger, the Oregon State Legislature approved $68 million in state funds for Portland State University to build a new Art + Design center. The new building will act as hub for the existing Art and Design department, which had been spread out across multiple buildings, and free up space for other departments.
“We are so excited to finally bring all of our students together in one central hub, a place that embraces the power of creativity and interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Lis Charman, director of the School of Art + Design. “We envision this as a place where everyone, regardless of background or identity, is encouraged to dream and make.”
In line with this vision of creating a more inclusive school, the PSU School of Business announced this week, the last week of Pride Month, to announce their new Maverick program, which will provide increased mentorship and support for LGBTQIA+ business students.
The expansions of these three colleges are welcome news to many Oregonians, especially because they come on the heels of a difficult year, and follow the recent closing of four other colleges in the state.
The Oregon College of Arts and Crafts shut its door in 2019 after a 112 year run, and the Art Institute of Portland, a for-profit school owned by the Education Management Corporation (EDMC), closed in 2018. Marylhurst University also closed its Marylhurst and Portland campuses in 2018.
Most recently, in the Spring of 2020, Concordia University in Portland announced it would cease operations at the end of the Spring semester. The 115-year old University enrolled 6000 students, and employed 1500 faculty and staff. The news came as a shock to many members of the community, who viewed soaring enrollment from 2010 to 2014 as a sign that the school was thriving and adapting to the times.
In hindsight, experts see red flags, including high-turnover among administration and mounting debt. Concordia University is now involved in multiple lawsuits, including a class action lawsuit brought on more than ninety former students who want their tuition money refunded and a suit brought by the technology company who claims the college owes them $300 million.
This week, Concordia sold their 24-acre campus in Northeast Portland to Lutheran Church Extension Fund, an organization affiliated with the school’s parent company, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, in a foreclosure auction held at the Multnomah County Courthouse.
It’s been a tough few years for Oregon college and universities. But now, Oregon’s vibrant community of artists and scholars has reason to celebrate.
Willamette Board of Trustees Chair Lynne Saxton is one of those celebrating. “The joining of these two institutions will create tremendous new opportunities for student artists and ensure that they have tools they need to leave a mark on the world through their art, at a time when the world needs them most." Saxton said. "We’re so pleased that this merger is officially complete and to move forward with our exciting plans.”
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