May 17, 2022

Letter to All Faculty

Hello ArtCenter Faculty,

I hope this message finds you well and that you have had a good break as we launch our summer term. I wanted to take a few minutes to address the upcoming election for ArtCenter’s full- and part-time faculty to be represented by the California Federation of Teachers.

I know this is lengthy email, but this issue is too important to the future of our college for me to give it anything less than what I’ve written here. I appreciate you taking the time to hear my point of view.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in numerous conversations about the proposal to unionize ArtCenter faculty, learning and sharing what it might mean for our College and for all of you. Since this could fundamentally change how we relate to one another, I feel compelled to share my personal thoughts with you directly, and also provide reminders on where you can find more information about unionization. Ultimately, I want to make sure each and every faculty member is making a decision that is right for them.

As you consider your position, there are two primary sources of information. One is the new Faculty Life section of the ArtCenter website where you can get the College’s facts and perspectives regarding this union proposal. The other is the Faculty Federation website where you can get the organizing committee’s perspective.

There are many strong and differing opinions about this issue. And, as I’ve considered them, I’ve realized that underlying the differences is a common theme and shared passion—a sincere desire to create the best possible work and learning environment for our students, faculty and staff. Even though this is occurring over break and the beginning of Summer term, I am hoping that all of our faculty are connecting with one another, sharing information, engaging in the process, and contributing to a thoughtful and respectful dialogue about unionization and what it could mean to our campus community. I hope you all vote and, regardless of the outcome, we will be better for having had the discussion.

As your provost these past four years, I have valued a direct working relationship with faculty, the Faculty Council and numerous faculty serving on institutional task forces and committees. In my view, what makes our community so special is that strong, direct relationship between the administration and faculty—a relationship based on collaboration and respect.

These past couple of years navigating the pandemic have been a challenge. Everyone— and in particular you, our faculty— have worked tirelessly and put in numerous extra hours to deliver a valuable ArtCenter education to our students. We made significant investments in digital teaching and learning, committing resources to provide the training, support and tools you needed to deliver your classes, and you did so with great success. We also invested in activating a service bureau for students to produce their prints and models, created an online Grad Show, developed community hubs in Asia, created a digital library of our models for drawing and painting classes—all with the intention of keeping as many classes as possible functioning effectively, without having to cancel classes, not to lose our incredible students and faculty, and not furloughing or cutting faculty pay. We made sacrifices elsewhere to ensure that our faculty were sustained and supported as much as possible during this pandemic.

There are the silver linings too. With your creativity and determination, we’ve developed meaningful and new innovative approaches to advancing the ArtCenter education. As a result, many of you have embraced new modes of teaching— online, hybrid or hyflex—as it best suits your teaching style. So much of what we have learned together has directly shaped our Strategic Agenda—in particular our approach to an Omnichannel Delivery of Education,  which will significantly expand the ArtCenter portfolio with new degree and non-degree programs, updates to our curriculum and teaching opportunities for our faculty. All of this is part of an effort to reach new audiences of learners as we continue to address issues of access, affordability and inclusion. 

We also prioritized health and wellbeing in our return to campus, remaining as flexible as possible, working with faculty to determine appropriate teaching modalities, sensitive to various personal needs and making it work – and we will continue to do so as we enter the next chapter of this pandemic. The result of these collaborative efforts are evident in the excellent work and success of our students, thanks to your commitment to them.

Like other campuses, we struggled to respond to the movement against social injustice. However, while we still have much to accomplish, we have made quite a bit of progress on our DEI Action Plan, from evolving our curriculum and investing in workshops and training, to the hiring of some incredible and diverse part- and full-time faculty. Faculty members are also involved in current faculty searches as part of a DEI “cluster hire,” and we look forward to welcoming a new group of faculty to ArtCenter in the Fall and Spring terms.

I also recognize the frustration many of you have with some of the organizational processes and systems in terms of scheduling, finalizing contracts and timely payroll. Continuously evolving California labor laws have forced a process of faculty time entry and has been a real pain point for you and for the College. We continue to work to find the best ways to ease this process.

There have been many successes and positive changes over the past several years that are the direct result of us working together.

I am tremendously grateful for the faculty who worked, and continue to work, with staff and administration in building the next model of shared governance at ArtCenter. At the moment, a representative task force is just completing a proposal to the community for a new shared governance structure (right now known as the “Senate”) that was initiated and created by faculty who are invested in having a governance model unique to ArtCenter. Our aim has been to continue to strengthen a culture that is already rooted in collaboration by bringing faculty into the decision-making process, particularly in regard to decisions that impact their relationship with the College.

Because of your recommendations and input, we’ve made many improvements to the faculty experience. I urge you to take a close look at the Collaboration and Success section of the Faculty Life website. There you will see examples of ArtCenter’s commitment to faculty, from creating transparent compensation grids and new faculty contract models to professional development and support.

It’s because we have a history of working together collaboratively to achieve change that I believe that the best path forward is to continue strengthening our direct relationship rather than allow an intermediary to come between us—one that is unfamiliar with our community, and, quite frankly, unfamiliar with small, private art and design institutions like ours. With this uncertainty, I have a couple of major concerns around what this will cost ArtCenter in terms of our culture and economic impact.

Outside of the dues each of you will need to pay to the union, there is the reality of internal costs to the College if a union does materialize. Since we are a private non-profit, non-state funded school that does not receive state money to support the additional staffing and resources required to properly administer a relationship with a union, ArtCenter would incur significant ongoing administrative and legal costs related to faculty unionization. None of these costs are currently budgeted and will have serious financial impact. This cost is currently unknown but may run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Secondly, I’m concerned that union representation will risk ArtCenter’s identity, culture and flexible work environment. It could significantly alter the new shared governance structure we have worked so hard to create, replacing it with a rigid, standardized approach that threatens our agility and ability to respond to changing needs and circumstances–including yours.

Perhaps more than anything else, I’m worried that a union could create long-lasting division among faculty on our campus.

While there are just a few days for me and the administration to have direct conversations with you before the election period becomes active, I invite any of you interested in having a 1:1 meeting with me this week (Zoom or phone call) to please contact India Dunnington to schedule a time for us to talk.

As many of you know, I graduated from the Product Design department at ArtCenter in the 1990’s. In the years since, I worked here as a part-time faculty member, a full-time faculty member, chair of the Product Design Department, provost, and soon, as president. I have known many of you as friends, fellow students, colleagues, mentors and supporters over the past 25+ years. And I have always believed that ArtCenter is— and will continue to be— a center of excellence in art and design education, guided by an engaged faculty.

As I take the helm as president in July, my unique experience and perspective will continue to inform my service and leadership, guide my process and shape decision-making. In addition, I know how critically important it is to be open to hearing all voices and step into my new position with fresh eyes. I’ll be spending my first 100 days as president relistening and reengaging with our community as we continue to return to campus and build the next chapter of ArtCenter.

Let’s work together. I hope that you will give me that opportunity. I look forward to continuing this dialogue.

Wishing you all the best for the Summer term ahead. 



Karen Hofmann
Provost and President Elect
ArtCenter College of Design