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Willamette merges with Pacific Northwest College of Art

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

Noah Dantes


The Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is merging with Willamette University, President Stephen Thorsett announced over email Thursday morning. The merger was approved by both institutions’ boards Wednesday, but talks began five years ago, according to The Oregonian. Thorsett said to The Oregonian that no money will change hands as part of the merger, since both institutions are nonprofits.

“Dean Ruth Feingold to serve as special assistant to the president and provost to help coordinate and introduce the PNCA faculty to the various Willamette faculties,” Thorsett said in his email to the student body. Sarah Kirk, professor of chemistry and director of the first year experience, will serve as the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). Both appointments will last through the end of 2020.

In an email interview with the Collegian, Thorsett said that Feingold plans to return as dean of the CAS next semester.

Thorsett also said that no changes to Willamette’s art department are planned: “I expect Willamette will always offer art majors in the College of Arts and Sciences. Once the merger is completed, though, there will be broadened opportunities for students in studio arts, theatre, music, creative writing, and other fields to also draw on the very broad expertise of their faculty and many of their course offerings, and I expect the faculty in CAS and PNCA will find many points of common interest and collaboration.”

In his email to the student body, Thorsett said: “In the coming months, and as our faculties begin to engage more closely with each other, we hope to design innovative new degree programs and pathways in fields such as arts management, museum studies, and more.”

However, there is a lot of work to be done in prioritizing areas of program development. New ideas for program development will emerge from faculty conversations: “[That] is one of the things that Dean Feingold will be helping facilitate through the rest of this semester. It is already clear faculty have lots and lots of ideas, the question will be what comes first and how fast can we move,” Thorsett said to the Collegian.

The Oregonian reported that under the merger agreement, PNCA will retain its name, faculty and campus in Portland. PNCA’s academic centers and collections, including the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, will become a part of Willamette. Regulatory and accreditor approvals for the agreement are expected in 2021.

Willamette’s new graduate school of data science is currently located in the Atkinson building but “both the data science and the management schools will eventually move into PNCA’s campus,” The Oregonian reported.

Thorsett clarified this planned move in his Collegian email interview: “An important goal of this merger is a consolidation of Willamette's presence in Portland, but the details of who moves where and when will be worked out in the months ahead. Certainly nothing changes through this academic year.”

According to the Willamette website’s official page on the merger: “PNCA students will have access to the breadth of curricular offerings at Willamette, including business and science courses, and benefit from its proximity to policymaking and government in Salem. Willamette students will benefit from the broader fine and visual arts and design offerings provided by PNCA, as well as the culture and creativity of its community in Portland.”

PNCA has been struggling financially in recent years. PNCA currently has 642 students, far short of its goal of 1000. In June, The Oregonian reported that the school was: “downsizing, laying off some professors and cutting other costs. It had borrowed millions from the city, the Meyer Memorial Trust and others to fund an ambitious expansion plan.” On top of previous struggles, COVID-19 also had a huge impact on PNCA’s finances.

Thorsett said that Willamette remains financially strong, even as it faces the same “demographic and cost-issues many colleges are encountering.”

In 2019, the Claremont School of Theology (CST) merged with Willamette University. PNCA will become Willamette’s fourth graduate program, joining CST, Willamette University College of Law and the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. PNCA offers 11 undergraduate and eight graduate art programs. Founded in 1909, it is the oldest arts and design school in the Pacific Northwest.

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Nice story!

Carson Hertler
Carson Hertler

Hi Spencer!

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