Walter Massey as President of SAIC

Op-ed by Fruzsina Eordogh

There has been some controversy over Walter Massey’s appointment as the new President of the School of the Art Institute. Many view him as a “corporate tyrant”, or someone hired just to drum up some cash.  Christopher Hudgens writes at “Bad At Sports”:

How is this even close to the needs of the SAIC and Art community in the 21st century other then he is a warm body that I am sure has a Rolodex (a literal Rolodex I mean) full of moneyed contacts.

Walter Massey

Massey’s lack of experience in the art world is troubling to many, and in the beginning, I was with them. McDonalds, Bank of America, and BP are far from popular right now, and Walter Massey happens to be associated with all three corporations. However, once I learned the nature of Massey’s job at SAIC, I quickly came to realize that Massey was the perfect man for the President of the SAIC.

Massey was appointed as President in an effort to help the SAIC’s less talked about but just as equally important appointment of Elissa Tenny as Provost. The Art Institute has not had a Provost in 20 years, and Presidents,  various Deans and Board Members worked overtime to fill that position. The role of the Provost at a university, specifically the School of the Art Institute, is primarily academic: designing academic programs, recruiting faculty and coordinating with students. Elissa Tenny is coming to Chicago after having been the Provost at Bennington College for the past 8 years, and Walter Massey was hired to provide some breathing room while she makes the transition. You might say that since the SAIC hasn’t had a Provost in so long, why would they need one now? In the last 5 years, the School of the Art Institute has increased their enrollment by 25%, and their faculty by 17% , all while managing to maintain its high level of academic excellence.

Elissa Tenny

The President’s primary duties are to manage finances, coordinate fundraisers, overlook and maintain the physical facilities of the university, and act as an ambassador to the city on SAIC’s behalf, so that the school can become better integrated into the city of  Chicago.  SAIC Chairman of the Board Cary McMillian, during a recent phone interview, explained he was looking for a President with superior academic skills, good business and civic contacts in Chicago, as well as someone with a “mature, patient personality” to help Elissa Tenny get situated- all qualities  Walter Massey possesses in spades.

Walter Massey has been called an “interim President” because at the age of 72, Massey is a retired university President.  Says McMillian: “If Walter can stay for two years, or three years, that would be great too. Walter really gives us flexibility, so we don’t have to hurry to find a president. But we are not in a hurry to replace Walter- Walter will be able to give advice and council, help us figure it out too.”

As for Walter Massey’s reputation as a businessman, McMillian calls it “impeccable”. The School of the Art Institute in Chicago actually does not have a budget defecit- for the last 3 years the school has had a surplus of at least one million, and has managed to pay back half of its debt from its recent expansion. Any fundraising money Massey drums up would be for further expanding the school and for scholarships to “reduce the risk of losing top students due to money”.