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Closure of Philadelphia Art School Spurs Review by State Attorney General

The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office and state lawmakers said Friday that they were reviewing the abrupt closure of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which blindsided students and faculty members.

“We are very concerned by the sudden closure of the University of the Arts,” said Brett Hambright, a spokesman for Michelle A. Henry, the attorney general of Pennsylvania. “We are reviewing the circumstances of the closure and any transfer or loss of assets.”

Other state lawmakers are calling for additional investigations into the university’s collapse.

“We are looking into holding a hearing and seeing what broader investigative powers we can use in the state legislative committees to investigate,” State Senator Nikil Saval said. “It should wake many of us up to the fragility of the arts infrastructure in Philadelphia, which is extraordinary given how little support it gets.”

The University of the Arts, a nearly 150-year-old institution, was a cultural hub for the state, where many local painters, musicians, composers and actors found work training future artists and arts leaders. The announcement last week that the university was closing left the future uncertain for more than 1,100 students and 700 employees. A few days later the university’s president, Kerry Walk, resigned.

Now, state and local officials are looking for answers. The Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution on Thursday to hold hearings about the closure.

“The answer that this came all of the sudden is not acceptable,” Mark Squilla, the council member who introduced the resolution, said in an interview. “We are not willing to take their word for it at this point.”

Representatives for the university, including the chairman of its board, Judson Aaron, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Students and faculty members have filed class-action lawsuits against the university because of the closure, which was first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ben Waxman, a state representative whose district includes the university, said that his office has been overwhelmed with requests for support from affected students and faculty. He said that he had recently helped the university apply for state grants and that he had been involved in contract negotiations.

“I was actively trying to help them,” Mr. Waxman said. “At no time was it said there was any financial issue.”

Officials said that it remains unclear how dire the university’s financial problems are. According to at least one report, university trustees have said they were facing a financial crisis that required up to $40 million to resolve.

Friday was the official closing day, one week after the shutdown was announced. Several institutions have offered to help to stranded students, including Point Park University and Temple University.

There are also concerns about what will happen to the university’s campus in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, which includes nine properties, with nearly 600,000 square feet. The market value of those properties is about $162 million, according to a city tax assessment from two years ago.

Mr. Saval called the closure “a disaster.” “Under no circumstances should this have happened,” he said.

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