Following several months of discussions, Tufts announced that the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (SMFA) is due to become a part of Tufts University by June 30, 2016 pending final approval, in a Dec. 22 statement.
According to the statement, written by University President Anthony Monaco and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser, the two institutions have signed a memorandum of understanding, which projects a plan for the SMFA’s transition under the Tufts umbrella.
While the plan has received initial approval from both bodies’ Boards of Trustees, the agreement still requires final approval after further study and review, according to an article about the acquisition in Tufts Now. If this final approval is granted, the transition will begin over the summer.
Tufts and the SMFA have maintained a close partnership since 1944 when plans to create a dual-degree program between the two schools began, according to the Tufts Now article. This program has allowed students to receive degrees from both institutions in a five-year program. The partnership between the two schools has also allowed students from both institutions to attend classes at both schools, Monaco and Glaser explained in the statement.
From a logistical standpoint, both Glaser and Sarah McKinnon, the senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the SMFA, said that the finer points of the acquisition remain to be ironed out in the coming months. Both added that the process will be complex.
“There are a huge number of details to be worked out and they lay in all kinds of areas–admissions and financial aid, faculty affairs, human resources, information technology, student affairs, student services, space planning, operations curriculum, etc.,” Glaser said.
McKinnon explained that negotiating teams representing both schools will be entering into a series of discussions to address some of the loose ends. These talks will likely culminate in a March 1 signing of a second, revised document on the acquisition, she said.
The merger will bring about several changes for SMFA students, according to McKinnon. New Bachelor of Fine Arts, Masters of Fine Arts and dual-degree students are slated to enroll in classes at the SMFA as members of the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences beginning Fall 2017.
“There will still be studio classes at The Fenway and academic classes at Tufts—both will be expanding,” McKinnon said. “There will be more elective options for Tufts students … [and] more non-curricular opportunities for SMFA students too. Eventually we will be planning some new degree programs.”
McKinnon explained that part of the motivation for the merger was the allure of combining a one-of-a-kind art school with a major research university.
Glaser echoed these sentiments, stating that the acquisition has the potential to create a unique opportunity for students interested in fine arts.
“We had the opportunity to obtain the SMFA and it was an attractive opportunity to us for a variety of reasons,” Glaser said in an email to the Daily. “We believe that the new SMFA at Tufts, geographically and programmatically [sic] connected to a great art museum but embedded in a major research university, will be a very distinctive school of fine arts, perhaps one of a kind.”
McKinnon said that the acquisition was based on the mutual desires of Tufts, the SMFA and the MFA to combine resources and expand student opportunities.
She explained that prior to the merger, the SMFA went through a process to become fully accredited by National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and was in candidacy for accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the school’s respective national and regional accreditors. This independent accreditation meant that the SMFA gave their whole degree at their school, including both studio and academic courses, she said.
McKinnon explained that following the merger, it is “not clear if we will do something different, but we will be accredited under the Tufts umbrella.”
Maureen Hilton, a fifth-year dual degree student, said she thinks that the SMFA may have been motivated to complete this merger for greater financial security. During her five years in the dual-degree program, she said that the SMFA has been demonstrating signs of instability and has been struggling to attract enough applicants. Hilton said she believes that joining Tufts was a last practical recourse for the SMFA.
“The SMFA has been struggling for years to be made financially viable, and there have been questionable decisions made along the way,” Hilton said.
However, McKinnon said that the merger decision was not about financial or organizational struggles on the SMFA‘s part.
“SMFA has a fine staff organization and faculty,” she told the Daily in an email.
Though the implications of the acquisition will not impact Hilton directly, since she will have earned her degree before the agreement would become effective, she sees the potential for the merger to benefit students and allow students who take classes at the SMFA more overall flexibility.
However, Hilton said she believes the merger might not advance the SMFA in the long term as much as it will benefit Tufts.
“I think this takeover is a beneficial move for Tufts, but may be a death sentence for the SMFA,” Hilton said. “Tufts is gaining a huge resource … they can use to have a true art department. Tufts currently only has a single room … as their studio space, but now they can tout the entire SMFA as available to potential students.”
McKinnon, however, said that the opposite is true for SMFA‘s future. She explained that based on her understanding, the merger may lead to greater popularity for the dual degree program, an increased likelihood of a fine arts major at Tufts and an increase in the availability of studio art courses at Tufts.
Following the merger, she explained that there will be expanded opportunities for students on both campuses, including more studio art offerings on the Medford/Somerville campus and more transportation opportunities between the schools. She also added that the SMFA will likely increase admission to its program, since in recent years, there has been growing interest in the Museum school’s programs.
Hilton also noted that while Tufts is gaining a brand-name art program and a cluster of resources, the SMFA will likely have to increase tuition for its students and shift admissions requirements to match Tufts’ standards.
McKinnon said that post-merger SMFA tuition still needs to be set, but that it will “likely eventually line up with Tufts — though there will also be more financial aid opportunity.”
Hilton added that she is also worried that under the Tufts umbrella, the SMFA will no longer attract art students like those currently studying at SMFA.
“An art department at a liberal arts university is not the same as an art school environment,” she said. “Tufts and the SMFA have vastly different student bodies and… one of the greatest benefits to the dual degree program was being able to be a part of both of these worlds: the academic-focused and the artistic focused.”
However, McKinnon said that while it is hard to say whether or not there will be fewer purely art students at SMFA, the school “will still offer a BFA and an MFA” and eventually plans to “develop new programs in curatorial and conservation studies – these we think will appeal to art students.
Glaser said he believes that integrating the SMFA into Tufts will enrich both academic communities.
“It will create many educational opportunities for students (and research opportunities for faculty) that weren’t really possible before,” he said. “We’re very excited about deepening our relationship with the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s one of the country’s most important art museums and it’s a real point of pride that we will be in partnership with them.”