September 25, 2008

Art Center President Leaves Position

By Janette Williams

PASADENA - Art Center College of Design President Richard Koshalek's nine-year tenure with the world-renowned school ended Wednesday.

At his request, he was released by the Board of Trustees 15 months before his contract ends in December 2009, and about three months after their decision not to renew his contract.

Koshalek will leave his post immediately. The trustees announced Wednesday that an interim appointment will be made as soon as possible, while the search for a permanent replacement continues.

"It has been a great privilege to lead this important institution and to work with the College's talented students, faculty and staff," Koshalek said in a written statement. "Throughout its history, Art Center has been a leader in art and design education, and I have no doubt this will continue to be the case well into the future."

Iris Gelt, Art Center's vice president of marketing and communications, said that no one at the college would have any comment beyond the written statement. That included Koshalek and John Puerner, chairman of the 16-member board.

In his statement, Puerner said: "We honor Richard's request to leave early and want to thank him for the hard work and dedication he has shown over the past nine years ... We wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

When Puerner announced in June that Koshalek's contract would not be renewed, he said the president would stay for the remaining 18 months.

At the time, Koshalek said he was "truly excited" to continue to work on several projects begun during his tenure, including "ongoing efforts of Designmatters, a unique International Initiatives education program" and expansion of fundraising efforts.

Koshalek, known as a hard-driving personality, came under fire earlier this year for the direction he was taking the school.

For months, students and alumni worldwide conducted an online debate often critical of the college's $150 million expansion plans that, some argued, diverted the focus from students' education.

The cost of tuition at Art Center is about $117,376 for an undergraduate degree.

Koshalek's pet project, a $50-million Design Research Center planned for the Linda Vista campus and designed by his friend, Frank Gehry, came in for much of the criticism.

The buzz intensified in the weeks leading up to the board's June meeting to discuss extending Koshalek's contract; before the meeting the board was handed an open letter and an "Education First" student/ alumni petition with more than 1,000 digital signatures asking the administration to restore priority to the 1,200 students' education and drop the ambitious expansion.

In June, when he confirmed Koshalek's contract would not be renewed, Puerner listed the achievements made during the president's tenure, including increasing the college's scholarship endowment from $16 million to $43 million, opening the South Campus in downtown Pasadena, expanding graduate education and launching the Art Center design conferences and Designmatters.

Puerner, in Wednesday's statement, said the trustees are "moving swiftly" to put an interim leader in place, and ensure a smooth transition.

"This will also enable the search committee to focus their full attention on finding a permanent president who can lead Art Center into the future while meeting the curricular and programmatic needs of our students," he said.

The search committee is headed by Board Trustee Robert Davidson.

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