Updated: May 2, 2019 at 1:21 p.m.
The director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design will step down from his position in July, according to a University release Tuesday.
Sanjit Sethi, who became the first director of Corcoran in 2015, will leave the school to serve as president of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, according to the release. Sanjit’s departure will leave Corcoran the sixth school or college – out of 14 in total – without a permanent leader in the top position and is the second high-profile resignation this month, following Provost Forrest Maltzman’s decision to step down.
“Over the past four years, I have learned much from all of you and seen a remarkably diverse and resilient institution take shape,” Sethi said in an email sent to Corcoran students.
As Corcoran’s director, Sethi oversaw the merger between the school and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences in 2017. Several programs from CCAS moved to Corcoran during the merger, like theater and dance and interior design.
The merger came three years after the University acquired the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its School of Art and Design.
In summer 2016, Sethi also began yearslong renovations to the Flagg Building, Corcoran’s home located at 17th and E Streets, to create more classroom space, update the second-floor gallery, revamp the building’s mechanical infrastructure and seal leaks in galleries. At the time, Sethi said “essentially every aspect” of the building needed to be updated.
Under Sethi’s tenure, Corcoran officials introduced new course offerings to improve the school’s appeal to students. Officials launched an interaction design program last fall for students to study how to use design to improve product accessibility for users and announced plans to add several courses in the graphic design program and hire a new faculty member following increased student interest.
“This promotion is well-earned and a tribute to Sanjit’s tireless dedication to not only preserve the legacy and identity of the Corcoran School but also position the school for future progress and success,” University President Thomas LeBlanc said in the release.
But Sethi also led the school through challenging times. Officials only budgeted about $47.5 million for the 122-year-old Flagg Building’s renovations, but leaders at the school said in 2017 that they needed an additional $32.5 million to complete the renovations, delaying construction work and leaving classes in limbo.
Later that year, several students and faculty members expressed concerns and spoke with Sethi and other officials to complain about pests, noise and dust resulting from construction distracting them during classes. The Corcoran’s website states that a “multiyear, multiphase” renovation of the Flagg Building is complete, but “future work will be scheduled depending on funding.”
Sethi also led the Corcoran through downsizing of both students and faculty. Enrollment in Corcoran – which started to decline before GW acquired the school – continued to fall in the years following its merger with CCAS, dropping almost 30 percent from 2014 to 2016.
Faculty and students in Corcoran called for called for increased transparency from Corcoran officials after 10 full-time faculty members in the school were laid off in 2016.
More than a dozen students said in April 2018 that they were considering transferring universities because of the costs of the Corcoran’s programs, feelings of alienation and the inability to register for certain classes.
Last fall, Sethi said Corcoran officials would develop a strategic plan to address several issues facing the school, including the lack of community. He said the plan will outline several goals for Corcoran moving forward, like launching a fundraising campaign and improving ties between students and faculty and organizations in the District.
“Sanjit has done a remarkable job of reimagining the Corcoran School and how it can evolve to meet the needs of arts and design students now and in the future,” Provost Forrest Maltzman said in the release.
Sethi said he will work “to ensure a smooth transition” as he exits his position. Information about the selection of an interim director and the search for Sethi’s successor will be provided shortly, according to the release.
This post has been updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the University purchased the Corcoran Gallery of Art three years ago. The Corcoran did merge with GW, but there was no purchase agreement. We regret this error.