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Woodruff to review art college merger

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As freshmen arrive on the Atlanta College of Art's Midtown campus for orientation today, members of the art school's board of trustees will meet to again discuss its uncertain future.

The board narrowly approved a plan in July to fold the college into the much-larger Savannah College of Art and Design, a decision that quickly drew fire from surprised faculty and students.

Board chairman John Spiegel said more of the ACA's 43 trustees will attend today's meeting, where members are likely to vote again on whether to recommend the merger plan.

Either way, the proposal will go before the larger Woodruff Arts Center board Wednesday, which ultimately will decide the 100-year-old art school's future. The college is one of five divisions of Woodruff, which also comprises the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre and Young Audiences of Atlanta.

In the month since the plan was announced, angry students have picketed outside the school, created a Web site opposing the merger and circulated an online petition that has received more than 400 signatures.

The plan has created tension within the staff and faculty. Last week, a school librarian was placed on administrative leave after posting information about the merger on a computer listserv.

ACA sophomore Maria Joyner said she and other student organizers felt left out of the decision-making process.

"We are going to fight this until the bitter end," Joyner said. "We were promised a future with ACA, and that's not what we're getting."

Spiegel said he understands the students' sentiments.

"If I were one of them, I would feel uncertain, too," he said. "It is natural to think more about the risks than the opportunities."

Spiegel said the merger would give ACA students more majors and create "the most vibrant arts community" for the city.

"It's a small school," he said. "This is an opportunity to work with SCAD and build something that is very significant."

Jim Fagan, an Atlanta attorney representing members of the Atlanta College of Art faculty who are concerned about the merger, said the summer timing of the announcement put students and faculty at a disadvantage because they were not on campus.

"We are hoping that Woodruff carefully considers this proposal because we believe it could be harmful to students," Fagan said Sunday.

Faculty members say they worry the two schools are too fundamentally different to combine.

SCAD, which started in 1978, now has more than 7,000 students enrolled in classes at its flagship Savannah campus. About 150 students have signed up for fall classes at the Atlanta location, and the school projects that 600 students will be enrolled there by 2008.

About 350 students attend Atlanta College of Art, which was founded in 1905.

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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