Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sad News for CVA (and a Hard Speech to Deliver)

The College of Visual Arts is in it's 89th and final year. CVA, my alma mater and where I've been teaching for the past 8 years, announced last week that it will be closing its doors after this Spring 2013 semester.

Read more about it in this Minnesota Public Radio article.

Today was the first day of classes for the Spring 2013 semester. Or at least it should have been. Instead, today was spent working with current students and their parents to answer any questions and getting some of the finer points of transferring all of our students to a different college. (MCAD is working closely with us to accept our students and their credits, but students are allowed to transfer anywhere - we're hosting a "transfer fair" shortly.)

There was a meeting in the auditorium at the Minnesota History Center this morning for all students and their parents before we officially kick off our final semester.

The bright state capital through the dark hallway at the MN History Center this morning.

Parents and students had all been informed of the sad news last week, but this assembly was for them to get more info. After a short opening from the president of the college and the head of the board, guess who's turn it was to address all of the parents and students?

You guessed it...

It was my turn.

I took the stage and spoke some difficult but heartfelt words:

Good morning.

Two years ago, I accepted a full-time position at CVA. My title is Assistant Professor and Photo Lab Technician as I teach between the Photo Dept and the Foundation Dept as well as manage the CVA Photo Lab. I’ve only been full-time for 2 years, but I’ve been teaching at the college for a total of 8 years.

I’ll be saying “we” a lot in the next few minutes – referencing the other full-time faculty members – but I have to make it clear that I can’t put words in their mouths. We’re all reacting so differently to this tragic situation. I’ll be echoing sentiments that I KNOW to be true among all of us, but we are all having our own unique responses, so don’t take my statements as a word-for-word reaction from all of us.

I also want to make it clear that no one “approved” these remarks. You’ll be learning in a moment why I was asked, but no one signed off on what I’m about to say. These words are mine and mine alone.

You’ll be given the opportunity shortly to be heard and to have all of your questions answered. Do NOT leave without having your concerns acknowledged or with any unanswered questions.

I’m not here to lighten the mood before this meeting really gets difficult. I’m here for this one purpose: to let all of you know that your professors still have your backs for this final semester at CVA.

We’re not throwing in the towel, and we expect the same from you. We’re not going to give up and have an easy free-for-all semester. We’re dedicated to teaching and the transfer of knowledge, and we want you to continue to dedicate yourselves to learning. You will still receive the highest level of professionalism from us as your faculty. Yes, the St. Paul institution known as The College of Visual Arts will only be around for another few months, but that doesn’t mean we want CVA to fizzle out in its final semester. We will all be associated with “that art school in the Twin Cities that closed its doors,” but we are NOT about to be associated with “that art school in the Twin Cities that closed its doors whose students and faculty gave up.” We’re proud of the name CVA, and we’ll stand by it til the end.

You might be wondering why ** I ** was asked to speak today. I have no seniority here at CVA. The 7 full-time department heads – Jim, John, Val, Maria, Lynda, Julie, and Ellen – have almost all been here longer than me (I only have Ellen and Jim beat). In fact, if you total up the years these fine professors have been with CVA, you get 115 years. One hundred and fifteen years of devoted service. That’s an average of over 16 years / department head. No one stayed because it was easy. They stayed because of a love for this school and its students – all of you.

The reason I was asked to speak is due to an e-mail that I sent on Thursday night. The next afternoon, I was asked to share my sentiments from that e-mail with you all today. I sent Ann and Sue (the President and Vice President) a note once I had cooled down a little a day after learning the school’s fate. My thoughts and emotions had been EVERYWHERE over those 24 hours, as I’m sure all of yours were too. I expressed my sadness and anger and how unfortunate it was that we all found out so late. After a large paragraph of partially incoherent grumbling and complaining, I ended with this:

“I just wanted to let you both know that I'll do all I can for the school and the students in these upcoming months. Having been a part of CVA as a student starting in the late 1990s and now as a faculty member for the last 8 years, I'm obviously very tied to the school. I could easily say that CVA has been a big part of making me who I am, but the reality is it's been the BIGGEST part of turning me into the person before you today.

**awkward 10-second pause with my head down as I (unsuccessfully) fought back tears**

"I'm sad to see the school go, and I'll do all I can to make it an easy transition for the students, and to leave the school with the best possible reputation in the community.”

Look, the fact of the matter is this: the brick and mortar structures bearing CVA’s name will no longer exist in a few months. But well after they’re gone, we will STILL be advocates for all of you.

You’ve changed us, and we HOPE we’ve changed you.

We love CVA, and we love all of you.

Thank you.

I didn't plan on getting emotional. I'd practiced this speech a number of times at home, and even once while walking the halls just 20 minutes before I was on stage. But I found myself getting a little choked up when I said "Yes, the St. Paul institution known as The College of Visual Arts will only be around for another few months..." And my voice started to crack shortly after. And as I read the e-mail I'd sent to the President and Vice President, I could no long see though the tears.

I left the stage with my head down, and I walked up through the entire auditorium without making eye contact with anyone. I felt slightly relieved to be hearing a loud applause for the first (and only) time all day - I must have said something that struck a chord. But I couldn't look up and face those students. My students.

When I exited the auditorium, I was met by 2 other full-time professors. One threw her arms around me with tears in her eyes, and said "Oh Steve... that was perfect. That was perfect. That was perfect." Right after that, a CVA staff member came up to hug me and (also with tears in her eyes) said "Thank you for saying what we all wish we could." I'm not mentioning those 2 interactions to be self-serving - I'm pointing them out because (as you could tell from parts of my speech) I was so afraid of speaking on everyone's behalf and saying something that was NOT the way everyone felt. And these 2 interactions showed me I did them all justice.

We met up with all of the students 2 hours later for lunch, and I can't tell you how many hugs I got from past and current students. That makes this ordeal so much harder - the students here at CVA are FANTASTIC. I will miss them all.

p.s. I quick want to address the part in my speech about CVA being "the BIGGEST part of turning me into the person before you today." I must first really thank my parents for instilling certain values / ethics in me and my sister. Mom and Dad, you are the best. This is NOT meant as a shot at you. All I'm noting here is something Mom sometimes teases about: where did I get my artistic talent? She always jokes that it DIDN'T come from either of them. I owe all of this to CVA.


jenn (koning) dietzler

thanks for making me cry; again.
well said.

Tom Westbrook

Well said. I wish I had been there. Rest assured I am going to teach the crap out of this quarter.

Dj Vail

You are an amazing person and I am so glad to have been able to work with you and learn from you.

Meahgan (Wood) Daniels

I wish I could have made this meeting even though I haven't been a student in well over a year now. I was still planning to return so imagine my shock when I heard about this. Thank you for posting your speech and giving me more insight into this situation. CVA was my home away from home and I'm going to miss everything and everyone there. Truly.

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