Presidential Search

On March 21, President Elissa Tenny announced her intent to retire at the conclusion of the 2023-24 academic year. The letter below to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago community from Chair of the Board of Trustees Denise Gardner and Chair of the Board of Governors Anita Sinha officially launches the search for SAIC’s next president.

Thank You, President Tenny

Dear SAIC Community,

Earlier today, you heard  from Elissa Tenny that she will retire at the conclusion of the 2023–24 academic year. After seven years of transformative leadership as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s president––the first woman to lead the School in its 157-year history––and the prior six years as provost, Elissa will leave an enduring and far-reaching legacy. 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 School.

Elissa has been a lifelong champion of increasing access to an art and design education to anyone who has the desire and talent. As a first-generation student herself, she has a keen understanding of the challenges students without a family history of college face. Elissa often speaks about jumping from program to program, college to college, to find her path, and she launched the First-Generation Fellows program, the inaugural cohort of which will graduate in May, to help first-generation students find their path at SAIC. This program would not have been possible without her stewardship of the most successful stretch of fundraising in the School’s history. During her full 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.

Throughout her tenure, President Tenny has led initiatives like these to help create a place of belonging at SAIC. She helped initiate the School’s College Arts Access Program (CAAP), a three-year college preparatory bridge for Chicago Public High School students; since the program launched 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. Through increased investment and fundraising, Elissa expanded the scope and variety of health and disability services. She also stewarded incredible gains in the diversity of our student and faculty bodies over the last dozen years, including a 30 percent increase in hires of full-time faculty of color from 2016–19. In 2020, Elissa established the Anti-Racism Committee to address issues of diversity and inclusion broadly, bring changes to curriculum, equity to financial support, and inclusivity to facilities. This is a particular point of pride for us, the first women of color to chair the Art Institute of Chicago’s Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.

Meanwhile, Elissa has strengthened the School’s financial position through an increased endowment, reduction in debt, and more efficient and less environmentally impactful physical plant. Finally, we would be remiss if we acknowledged President Tenny’s achievements without mentioning her leadership throughout the pandemic, navigating significant challenges with empathy and grace.

Given all her important contributions to SAIC, finding a successor for President Elissa Tenny will be a difficult task. Anita, who will lead the search, will build a committee—including student, faculty, staff, and board representation—and employ a firm to conduct this national search. More details about the process will be shared in the coming weeks.

For now, please join us in heartfelt thanks to Elissa, who will be bestowed the honorary title of President Emerita upon her retirement.

With utmost gratitude,

Anita K. Sinha
Chair, Board of Governors

Denise B. Gardner
Chair, Board of Trustees