University officials said there is “no merit” to the allegations made in a lawsuit filed two weeks ago by former School of Art student Annabel Osberg ART ’09, who claims she was unfairly expelled from the Master of Fine Arts program in painting and printmaking.
Over the past several weeks, Osberg, 19, has told media outlets, including the News, that she is being expelled from the program because Yale considers her “too immature and too young” to receive her degree and because she “listened too much to her instructors’ advice.” She was admitted to the program — which has an average student age of 27 — at 17, which her lawyer John Williams said Yale was aware of when they accepted her.
But University spokesman Tom Conroy said this week that the decision made by the School of Art did not violate any protocols whatsoever.
“The Yale School of Art assesses the academic progress of its students carefully and followed its procedures in all respects in making its decision not to promote Annabel Osberg to the second year of the MFA program,” Conroy wrote in an e-mail. “We believe that Ms. Osberg’s claims have no merit.”
The lawsuit alleges that Yale did not follow the proper procedures when expelling Osberg after the first year of the two-year program. Osberg said in a press release that she received “no warning” of an impending expulsion during the previous term, even though the School of Art’s academic regulations states that, after an initial warning, students have a full academic term to “demonstrate a satisfactory level of quality and effort in their work” prior to a final expulsion.
In fact, she went on, she had “no idea that she might be expelled” until March 24, 2008, when deadlines for most other fine-arts programs had already passed.
“She was never given the warning she was entitled to,” Williams said.
After receiving the warning in March, Osberg said she met with Peter Halley, director of graduate studies of the painting and printmaking program, and School of Art Dean Robert Storr.
“In the meeting, I asked them what I could do to improve,” Osberg said in an interview. “I was told it was very likely that they were going to expel me. They were unwilling to help me.”
Last October, Osberg added, Halley suggested she leave the program and enroll in a Bachelor of Fine Arts program, which she said made her “feel like he did not want [her]” in the program, especially because she already has a bachelor’s degree.
In her press release, Osberg said Halley “admitted that he had misjudged her work when he interviewed her and made a mistake in accepting her.”
Halley did not respond to a request for comment this week.
Williams said he has had discussions with the University’s General Counsel’s Office in an attempt to settle the case out of court. After discussions with administrators in the School of Art, the General Counsel informed Williams that they would “not consider any compromise whatsoever,” he said.
“Yale behaved the way it seems Yale always behaves — ‘we’re Yale, don’t tell us what to do,’ ” Williams said. “They’re a stone wall. An ivy-covered stone wall.”
The lawsuit — which claims that the plaintiff “suffered ascertainable economic losses and emotional distress” as a result of Yale’s actions — seeks Osberg’s readmission to the M.F.A. program, including her studio and residence, as well as at least $15,000 in damages. Osberg is suing the University for breach of contract and lockout violations, claiming that Yale locked her out of the residence she rented from the University after being given only a few hours notice that she had to vacate.
Osberg said about 45 of her peers signed a petition opposing her expulsion from the painting and printmaking program that read, “It would be unjust and arbitrary to terminate Annabel from the program.” None of about a dozen of Osberg’s peers contacted by the News responded to requests for comment.
Osberg said her “ultimate goal” is simply to return to the program and earn her degree.
“All I want is my education,” she said.
Williams said he hopes to get a hearing on the injunction in late August or early September. Yale has until August 12 to respond to the complaint.