MESSAGE FROM THE NERMAN FAMILY PRESIDENT
To members of NASAD site visit team for the 10-year re-accreditation of the Kansas City Art Institute, April 2022.
Greetings, and a warm welcome to KCAI.
We look forward to your visit, and to extending the excellent relationship this College has had with NASAD for many years. I believe we can guarantee that you will find this visit especially interesting – you are coming to a college at a crossroads in its history and a moment of transition. The college paraphrases a Gaugin title - “Who are We, Where Did We Come From, Where are We Going”?
To add to this litany of inquiry, NASAD comes to Kansas City in the same year as a very successful Higher Learning Commission site visit in September 2021. In my Introduction to the HLC team I noted that the KCAI they were visiting in 2021 was very different from that of 2017:
I can report to HLC, with credible confidence, that the college now has a solid team of experienced and effective managers with whom I am honoured to work, a strong faculty, fine support staff, a conviction of increased enrollment, quite extraordinary success in fundraising, a renewed sense of purpose, and belief in a definable and durable future. It is for others to remark upon, but I believe we share a sense of much-improved morale and certainty in that future.
We are much heartened by the outcome of the HLC visit, and its conclusion that “All conditions met. No monitoring required”.
Our documents are focused on current conditions, and we have chosen this approach for the following reasons: the college is at a crossroads, has come to the end of a sustained burst of expansion, the 2021-22 academic year will include two reaccreditation visits (HLC and NASAD), a new Board Chair has just taken office, and the current President is stepping out in June.
In summary, NASAD will see a college that:
… is in very good shape, but not in the slightest bit complacent.
… just completed a dramatic five-year expansion and renovation of its facilities.
… completed a major fundraising initiative via capital and project-led campaigns.
… has seen its endowment grow to record levels ($102 million at the time of writing).
… secured a 14.8% growth in enrollment since 2016. Given that the campus has been a churned-up building site for most of that time, then fell victim to the chaos of COVID, this is a remarkable success.
… is taking a breather from an exhausting series of major building projects, while planning for new facilities and capital campaigns based on the outcome of internal discussions of asset allocation ( “we move from the physical to the fiscal” ) in a spirit of shared governance as we determine priorities.
… has set about asking difficult questions about identity, mission, operations, to lead to a new strategic masterplan.
… is overhauling its academic programme, bravely tackling difficult questions ( no holy bovines here ).
… is considering a major new building within three years, as part of a plan to consolidate programmes closer to the main greensward core.
… is intensely reviewing student needs, ranging from more on-campus housing to expanded counseling, internships, financial support.
… continues to develop new DEI strategies to build on its good platform.
… is leading an institutional review of how the college will operate going forward ( by creating a clinic on “Small College Economics” ).
… has just appointed a new Board Chair.
… has a strong Board and management team that is working with the incumbent President as he transitions into retirement.
… is working with a new President ahead of her arrival - she will take office in July 2022.
In 2011 KCAI had a successful ten-year NASAD reaccreditation visit, and long-serving KCAI President Kathleen Collins retired; she was succeeded by Dr. Jacqueline Chanda, who left three years later. Steve Metzler, Chair of the Board of trustees was appointed as an ‘emergency’
Interim President. Thus, in late 2014, NASAD and AICAD (Association of Independent College of Art & Design) suggested that KCAI not hurry to conduct a search, but instead invite an Interim President to serve for a fixed term, help stabilize the college, and begin the search for a permanent President. I had retired from my long tenure as President of the School of the Art Institute and Co-CEO of the Art Institute of Chicago. I had been twice elected as Chair of AICAD, and worked closely with NASAD and WASC as an evaluator on 15 site visits; they recommended me to the KCAI Board, and I joined KCAI as Interim President in January 2015, with a contract scheduled to expire in June 2016. I’m still here.
The college had some excellent senior staff, and with the Board, we together crafted a plan for a complete overhaul of operations of the college, to put the institution back on track. The college was in quite good shape, despite the turmoil and unfortunate publicity over the departure of the former President, and a lawsuit brought by the college against a donor who had reneged on a major pledge.
But, there were no ‘trailing issues’ from the last NASAD re-accreditation, everyone was positive, forward-thinking, and committed to the students and the college. However, enrollment in 2014-15 had declined steeply (from 810 to 610), and fundraising was sluggish. The college had twice suspended annual pay increases. The physical plant was scruffy, with serious issues of dilapidation and deferred maintenance, the overall sense was of tired buildings that no longer met programmatic needs and were hindering the good plans and good work of the faculty and staff. Morale had ebbed, and there was a lingering question in the KC business and philanthropic community about the college’s long-term viability. There was a ‘Strategic Plan’, which was ‘sketchy’. Most alarming was staff turnover - there was no CFO or COO in place. The HR Director left, the senior Executive Assistant left, there were transitions in Security, Physical Plant, and the Registrar resigned. The President had an unmanageable number of direct reports. The senior team worked to develop a tactical plan to get us through the calendar year 2015, the emphasis being on consensus, shared governance, and best practice. To add to this rather turbulent picture, Mr. Metzler died (in February 2015) - he was truly much loved, and his passing cast a pall across the whole campus.
However, later in that semester, KCAI secured “The Great Gift”, one of the largest donations made to an American college of art and design - $25 million – from an anonymous donor, given through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. This was swiftly followed by gifts of $10 million and $5 million, etc., – which lifted spirits and fueled inspiration and energy (“the gifts were not just a cushion against hard times, they were a pillow on which to dream, knowing that dreams could come true”).
We worked through reorganization and put in place critical initiatives, which included: structural reorganization of management, the appointment of a first-class CFO, a new Director of Admissions, a new Director of Human Resources, new Director of Security, implementing significant salaries increase for the faculty (followed by staff), building a new fully-funded
technology studios complex, defining and implementing a three-year plan for deferred maintenance and campus improvements, launching a new Master Plan process, led by Ayers St. Gross (ASG) as external consultants.
In short, the guiding principle of the Plan was to make KCAI a centre of excellence with state-of-the-art facilities that served the everchanging population of students, but also well served the faculty and staff who spend much of their professional lives within its friendly confines.
The core of the new plan was a strategy known as ‘SEWing’ - Sleep Eat Work. This meant Sleep (replace the aging dorm), Eat (replace the miserable student dining hall), Work (new studios and classrooms).
The key was to secure a solid foundation for KCAI going forward by prioritizing a rational plan for facilities, overhauling inadequate or unsuitable studios and classrooms, and erecting new buildings, appropriate and relevant to the overhaul of the academic programme.
To fund these physical improvements, the college needed to advance fundraising - increasing donations to the Annual Fund, and design successful Capital Campaigns.
Securing enrollment growth, in part tied to new state-of-the-art residential and dining facilities, and new studios were of the essence, providing a highly professional and welcoming campus, appropriate for the contemporary student of art and design.
Thus, while KCAI builds the future, it respects the past. In 2017 we implemented Phase One of the restoration of our 1895 Vanderslice mansion, an ongoing project that will complete in Summer 2022 (and which has been fully funded by Kansas City supporters, notably the William T Kemper Foundation). The EVP for Academics (Dr. Burgard, with Dean of the Faculty, Dr. Katz) and their colleagues started a full academic review, matched to a rolling programme of improving studios, classrooms, and technology support. Keeping great faculty and attracting new is a priority - we have created five new endowed faculty Chairs, an endowed and named Presidency, increased scholarships, and financial aid, worked to improve morale, and commenced in-depth reviews of the general health of our community and our duty of care to individuals.
Simultaneously, the EVP for Academics launched a thorough review of the Foundation and Upper-Class programmes of the college, focusing on quality, student learning assessment and outcomes, and developing academic partnership opportunities with other institutions. This led, for example, to the teaching-out of Interactive Arts and the introduction of a new BFA in Product Design and electives like
Entrepreneurship in Art & Design (with the Bloch School of Business at UMKC), and the new Beals Studios used by every student in the college, and the new DeBruce Hall for Liberal Arts & Art History, with a “one-stop-shop” for all Student Services.
KCAI of today holds an enviable national reputation in several studio disciplines, has a lovely 16-acre campus, excellent facilities are sited between two major museums, has no troublesome debt, growing enrollment, and a very healthy endowment – $102 million at time of writing.
The EVP / CFO began an internal efficiency audit, and the EVP for Advancement reviewed our fundraising strategy, and prepared a capital campaign, which was launched with a $23 million target, and closed having successfully netted $25 million.
It is worth noting that the college then decided to test itself by inviting Standard & Poor’s to conduct a bond rating, to secure a positive report – which might lead to bond issuance. The rating was excellent - investment grade - and the bonds were snapped up upon issuance. This powerful vote of confidence has very recently been reviewed (January 2022) by our bond counselors, who gave an impressive restatement of their view that KCAI was in strong condition on all fronts.
These many initiatives have been manifested in physical forms – new buildings and dramatic overhauls. The Vanderslice mansion is now home to the core senior management team (for the first time), Beal and DeBruce successes have already been referenced herein, the old student dorm was converted to provide 30,000 sq ft of new studio space as the Tony Jones Studios for Illustration and Animation, a new support studio for Ceramics was built, the historic Mineral Hall has become the Herb Kohn Centre for Social Practice, new facilities for Sculpture / Bronze casting, etc. The new Barbara Marshall Residence Hall, attached to the Wylie Dining room and Nerman Café has been an extraordinary success and is impelling the college to study adding yet more new-build residential space for Sophomores and Juniors.
The college does everything it can to support local and regional industry and professions and is particularly pleased that all its new buildings were commissioned from KC architects, were built by local contractors, and that every project has won major design awards, including the American Institute of Architects “Project of the Year”, for the Barbara Marshall Residence Hall / Wylie Dining / Café Nerman, by Helix Architecture of Kansas City. While the college was buoyant over the opening of the new Café Nerman, Wylie Dining, and the Barbara Marshall Residence Hall, the surrounding Rockhill and Southmoreland communities were also delighted and became significant users of the café and the dining hall. Sadly, the euphoria was short-lived. Within three months of the opening, COVID-related issues forced the closure of the entire complex ( in March 2020 ) until a reopening for Autumn 2020 (KCAI reopened with a hybrid teaching model with full studio class operations – with lecture courses online). These facilities are now fully operational again for the Spring 2022 semester.
While the focus of KCAI’s efforts may seem to have been almost exclusively about facilities, we also addressed concerns about faculty ranks and salaries. In 2016-17 the college undertook a comparative study of faculty salaries, using apples-to-apples data, to better position faculty about AICAD. The resulting significant uplifts in salary. Salary is but one component of overall remuneration and benefits, and the college remains committed to high ranking in the ‘great place to work’ perception. Until this year, KCAI was one of only two AICAD colleges that provides faculty and staff with medical coverage 100% free, along with other excellent benefits – but whether that is sustainable going forward is the subject of much internal discussion.
The college is fully committed to becoming a more diverse and inclusionary institution and has made significant progress – but what is in place is not enough, and the college presented a forward plan to the Board at its June ’21 year-end meeting that lays out the courses of action in DEI to be taken in the coming year and beyond.
As the college has wound down its facilities projects, it has turned increasingly to creating working parties and consulting groups from within the institution to study and prioritize developments in the academic programme. Examples of this are what stance will the college take regarding academic disciplines that have sharply declining enrollments? How to strengthen and consolidate? On the other hand, how does the college feel about having 50% + of its upper-division enrollment in just two disciplines (Illustration and Animation) and with student demand for those courses increasing every year? What is the appropriate balance between tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct part-time faculty? How does the college address the increasing and costly demand for student support (welfare, mental health, counseling)?
On a personal note, I intended that I retire in the Summer of 2021. However, I felt that if our leadership team could work through the successful conclusion of the capital campaign, secure funding for Summer ’22 building projects, and have happy conclusions to the NASAD and HLC reaccreditations, I could hand over to a successor with the decks cleared, the college solid and solvent, to allow that person to begin designing KCAI’s future from a positive position of great strength. The KCAI board accepted that as the logical way to transition, and I stayed an extra year.
Thus, NASAD is visiting KCAI at a very interesting moment – much has been done to get us to a crossroads. The coming year will analyze the possible directions, gather yet-more data, and place it before the new Board Chair, and the new President, who will lead informed discussions and turn aspirations into policy, and a redefined mission.
Will the NASAD team find a sophisticated data-driven Board-approved shared-governance strategic plan for the college? Candidly, it will not. It is yet to be established. So for KCAI, the NASAD visit is of very special significance as the observations and counsel that you give will be at the core of the college’s new strategic plan.
I have been privileged to work with an exceptional team of professionals while at KCAI - it will be my pleasure and honour to introduce them to you as we together welcome NASAD for a candid and lively visit at this turning-point moment in the college’s development!
Professor Tony Jones CBE
MFA DFA DLitt LLD HonAIA FRCA FRSE FRSA
The Nerman Family President, KCAI