Petition in Support of A.R.T./Harvard Graduate Theater Training Program
July 30, 2017

Dear President Faust,

We present this petition to Harvard to request that it address the needs and concerns of graduate students of need at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.

In January, the U.S. Department of Education determined (https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater/dance/2017/01/17/harvard-art-institute-suspends-admissions-after-failing-student-debt-grade/28mvKiBLFCBYtZBCgnuvRP/story.html ) that the Institute has failed to meet the standards of the Department’s Gainful Employment Rule (GER). The ruling indicates that upon graduation, students from the Institute are too burdened by student loan debt to make a living in the field for which they have trained. The Department of Education has determined that graduates of this program typically devote nearly half of their monthly income to repaying their student loans. Students of need, who must fund the cost of their education with loans, leave this program with up to $150,000 of debt.

Since this determination was made by the federal government, Harvard and A.R.T., being faced with the consequences of their years of neglect and reliance on an antiquated financial aid model that leaves students of need almost entirely dependent on federal loans, have decided to suspend admissions to our program for three years (https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater/dance/2017/07/16/harvard-theater-school-three-year-hiatus/RQChvuCSJ3OSUL7YdPH1tL/story.html ). This decision, combined with the GER determination, have greatly tarnished the reputation of our program, which consistently ranked in the Top 10 amongst the world’s graduate actor training programs until this year, when it fell off that list as a result of it suspending admissions and burdening students with too much debt.

When we entered our program in the summer of 2017, little did we know of the upheaval that was in store and of the damage to the school’s reputation that was forthcoming. We did not know our program’s policies were remiss, its reputation would be dragged through the dirt, or that its future would be so uncertain. We thought we’d have a class below us to bond and collaborate with, as graduate theatre training is also about building lasting professional networks. We believe that though our training itself is world-class and worthy of the Harvard name, this program has financially failed students and must repair the damage caused by its mistakes. It is especially incumbent on the university to do this given how their continued willful neglect has harmed us as students both financially and professionally.

We call on Harvard to do the following:

1. Total tuition and living expense repayment to students of need (students who fund the vast majority to the entirety of their education with federal student loans) in the Class of 2018 for both the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. Harvard University sold students a bill of goods substantially different from what we have received. We committed to getting a degree from an Institute that was ranked highly, with a sterling reputation in theatre and in academia, and one that would continue after we left, providing us with an ever-expanding network. Instead, we will be getting a degree from an Institute that has been lumped together by the federal government alongside brazenly predatory schools like Corinthian, DeVry, and ITT Tech in terms of its financial aid offerings, is no longer top-ranked in the theatre world, and will close its doors for at least the next three years. While every A.R.T. student (past and future) has been affected by this fallout, our class is forced to sit amid the chaos of this failure and live with the consequences of this Institute’s historically poor choices. We did not sign up for this.

2. Confer retroactive Masters of Fine Arts degrees to all students who have received Master’s of Liberal Arts from the Extension School via the American Repertory Theater and A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theatre Training. As said in the 2008 Harvard Task Force on the Arts report (http://www.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/content/arts_report.pdf ), the University’s next step in becoming an international leader in arts education is to offer the terminal M.F.A. degree. In light of our program closing its doors for three years to retool its structure, upon reopening, it is likely they will begin offering an M.F.A. from Harvard. We request that when Harvard University begins to offer M.F.A. degrees, that all students who have received Master's’ of Liberal Arts from the Extension School via the American Repertory Theater are retroactively granted the M.F.A. degree. Our current training is of M.F.A. caliber but due to Harvard’s slow-moving bureaucratic structure, the university has been unwilling to confer our training as such.

If Harvard takes these steps, it will demonstrate clearly that the university is not only committed to the future acting students who are not yet even enrolled but also to the living, breathing acting graduate students who are on its campus now.

To read more about the petition, please click here: http://harvardgradunion.org/american-repertory-theater/.

(Note: If you don't want your name to appear on the public list, please email us at katierich001@gmail.com, melisa.sellers.actor@gmail.com, or shawnjain@gmail.com, and we will add it to the list we give President Faust and the administration.)

Most sincerely,
Members of the Class of 2018
A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University

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