Doubts cast on credibility of American arts school

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am

The arts community has questioned why the government offered public resources to Savannah College of Art and Design instead of local arts institutions.

Many in the local arts scene told the South China Morning Post that they had never heard of the college, which beat the Chinese Artists Association's bid for the historic North Kowloon Magistracy in the Development Bureau's partnership scheme to revitalise historic buildings.

The college, which came to the city with the help of InvestHK, recruits students today at the Trade Development Council's Education and Careers Expo.

Its background was in the news years ago, when The New York Times ran an article on August 23, 1992, claiming it operated like a family business disguised as a tax-exempt institution. The newspaper, in another article dated November 1, 1993, said the college was censured that year by the American Association of University Professors, which accused it of sacking faculty members without cause and teachers for backing a student movement aimed at setting up a student government.

Art critic Oscar Ho Hing-kay claimed the college was not of world-class standards and was known for ambitious expansion.

'We welcome foreign businesses, but we should not use public resources to sponsor them,' Mr Ho said. 'A system is required to monitor [the college's] operations closely so that [it] will not abuse our resources.'

Film director Vincent Chui Wan-shun said the public should be given more information about the college, which was to offer courses related to digital media and entertainment. Many local institutes offered similar courses, Chui said.

Bernard Chan, chairman of the advisory committee on the revitalisation of historic buildings, said both his panel and the government had verified the college's background and talked to its students. 'The college did win a number of awards and it recruited large numbers of students. The college may not be the best in the US, [but] it has some reputation.'

He said he was unaware of the criticism. Teaching ability was a consideration in vetting its application, he said, but the panel did not dig up its 'old history'. One of the five vetting criteria was an applicant's history and management experience.

A bureau spokesman said last night that it was not fair to judge the college's performance based solely on The New York Times articles. He said the bureau was fully satisfied with the college's track record.

Savannah's marketing vice-president, Tony Dammicci, rejected the claims about it being a family business and said the controversies should remain in the past. 'We are celebrating our 30th anniversary, that happened almost 20 years ago ... We are focused on the growth and the success of our students.'

He said that at the expo today, the school would not make its Hong Kong campus the main focus as it hoped to recruit students for various campuses around the world.