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Fine arts students quit USC, protesting curriculum changes

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    Erica Muhl, second from left, has overseen the Roski School of Art & Design for two years as dean. She is seen here in 2013 with, from left to right, music mogul Jimmy Iovine, rapper Dr. Dre and USC President C.L. Max Nikias, announcing the creation of a new academy at the university.

LOS ANGELES » The entire graduate class of 2016 at the University of Southern California’s art and design school has dropped out, protesting faculty and curriculum changes.

The seven fine arts students on Friday posted a letter online, saying they’re withdrawing from USC’s Roski School of Art and Design because of changes to the visual arts graduate program and the loss of several prominent professors.

"It’s a different program from what I enrolled in," George Egerton-Warburton told the Los Angeles Times in Saturday’s editions. "I had a dreamy first semester — it had a tone of rigor. But we’ve lost that this semester."

Students said they were upset that studio visits were replaced by classes focusing on teaching and criticism. They also lamented about the loss of guaranteed teaching assistant positions.

The school said "minor changes" were made to the curriculum before the students arrived in 2014 and that studio tours remain part of the curriculum.

"I regret that several of our MFA students have stated they will leave the program over issues that were presented to us and that we considered to have been resolved, specifically having to do with financial aid and curriculum," Dean Erica Muhl said in a statement.

When Muhl took over in 2013, she oversaw a name change from the Roski School of Fine Arts to the Roski School of Art and Design.

USC’s graduate visual arts program is intimate but highly respected. It has produced many well-known contemporary artists including international art star Paul McCarthy, installationist Amanda Ross-Ho and multimedia artist Elad Lassry.

Experts said universities in recent years push for an interdisciplinary arts program that boosts students’ chances of employment.

At schools that offer both art and design, "design gets more attention and often more funding," said DeWitt Godfrey, president of the College Art Association and professor of art and art history at Colgate University.

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