Elissa Tenny Announces Retirement as President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elissa Tenny Announces Retirement as President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elissa Tenny Announces Retirement as President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

March 21, 2023

President Tenny will retire at the conclusion of the 2023–24 academic year, after seven years as the first woman president in the School’s 157-year history

CHICAGO—After seven years of transformative leadership, Elissa Tenny today announced that she will retire as president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) at the end of the 2023–24 academic year. President Tenny will leave an enduring and far-reaching legacy as the first woman to lead the art and design college in its 157-year history. With a career in higher education of more than 45 years, she has been at SAIC since 2010, previously serving as the School’s provost.

“Since beginning as provost, and since 2016 as president, I have seen so many at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago contribute to making our School more responsive to today’s challenges and exemplify an art and design college for tomorrow,” said President Elissa Tenny. “I am so thankful for the collaboration with students, alums, staff, faculty, board members, and supporters who have embraced my contributions to the School, sharpened our work with constructive critique, and continually envisioned a college that will train the next generation of artists and designers for at least another century and a half.” 

As a first-generation college student herself, President Tenny brought a wealth of lived experience to her position and had a keen understanding of the challenges students without a family history of college face. This experience helped her launch several important initiatives, including the First-Generation Fellows program, created to help first-generation students find their path at SAIC.

As president, she also led several other initiatives to create a place of belonging at SAIC, including helping to create the School’s College Arts Access Program (CAAP), a three-year college preparatory bridge for Chicago Public School students. Since the program’s launch in 2014, it has had a 100 percent college acceptance rate, with 96 percent of CAAP alums attending college within one year of graduating high school. Programs such as the First-Generation Fellows and CAAP were made possible through President Tenny’s fundraising stewardship. During her tenure, the School raised more than $102 million, and is currently fundraising for student scholarship, wellness, and paid internships through the Make Way: A Roadmap to Student Access, Equity, and Affordability initiative.

“As Board chairs, we speak for many when we offer our sincere gratitude to Elissa for the tenacity with which she advanced the School’s mission of providing a world-class art and design education while making SAIC a more diverse and accessible,” said Chair of SAIC’s Board of Governors Anita K. Sinha and Chair of the Art Institute of Chicago Board of Trustees Denise B. Gardner in a statement to the School community.

President Tenny also helped to expand the scope and variety of health and disability services at SAIC through increased investment and fundraising. She improved the diversity of the School’s student and faculty bodies over the past 12 years, including a 30 percent increase in hires of full-time faculty of color from 2016–19. In 2020, President Tenny established the Anti-Racism Committee to address issues of diversity and inclusion, including changes to the School’s curriculum and improving access to financial support and inclusivity at the School’s facilities. 

Over the past six years, President Tenny helped to strengthen the School’s financial position through an increased endowment fund, debt reduction, and invested in initiatives to cut the School’s environmental footprint. Her leadership during the pandemic should also be commended for how she navigated this significant challenge with empathy and grace. Board chairs Sinha and Gardner will bestow the title of president emerita on President Tenny upon her retirement.

The School will begin a nationwide search for a new president and will employ a firm to conduct this national search. 

Click here for President Tenny's announcement, and here for a note from Anita K. Sinha, chair of the Board of Governors, and Denise B. Gardner, chair of the Board of Trustees.

Media contact: 
Rowan Beaird
Associate Director of Communications
rbeaird1@saic.edu

About School of The Art Institute
For more than 155 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has been a leader in educating the world’s most influential artists, designers, and scholars. Located in downtown Chicago with a fine arts graduate program ranked number two in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, SAIC provides an interdisciplinary approach to art and design as well as world-class resources, including the Art Institute of Chicago museum, on-campus galleries, and state-of-the-art facilities. SAIC’s undergraduate, graduate, and post-baccalaureate students have the freedom to take risks and create the bold ideas that transform Chicago and the world, and adults, teens, and kids in our Continuing Studies classes have the opportunity to explore their creative sides, build portfolios, and advance their skills. Notable alumni and faculty include Georgia O’Keeffe, Nick Cave, David Sedaris, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Cynthia Rowley, Michelle Grabner, Richard Hunt, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Jeff Koons.

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