You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

AFI Faculty Calls for Firing of Dean Jan Schuette

The faculty union at the American Film Institute today called upon the administration to fire Jan Schuette, the dean who took command of the elite conservatory in 2014.

In a letter to CEO Bob Gazzale and the AFI board, the union warned that the school is “on the brink of unraveling.” The letter alleged that Schuette had failed to consult with the faculty and created a culture of “fear and intimidation.”

Though the conflict has been brewing for at least a year, the union decided to go public with its concerns when five union members were dismissed this summer. The union accuses the AFI of retaliating against its membership, which the institute denies.

“The dean has lost the faith and trust and support of the faculty,” said Rob Spera, a directing instructor who led the effort to form a faculty union this spring. “He no longer can lead us. We’ve gotten past the point where we can sit in the room together and discuss.”

AFI issued a statement in response to the union’s letter: “The AFI Conservatory embraces change to ensure its peerless educational experience evolves with the art form. This march to the future is often driven by passionate disagreement, and we have received conflicting opinions from within the faculty and are currently ensuring that all voices are heard in this process.”

Over the last several weeks, several instructors have resigned in protest of Schuette’s leadership. Spera said the conflict now threatens the quality of instruction at the conservatory.

The union has presented itself as defending the rigorous program at AFI. Students — known as “fellows” — do three projects in their first year and a single thesis film in their second year. Spera contends that Schuette has made the program less demanding.

“There’s talk of streamlining, of less supervision,” Spera said. “Those have been the buzzwords. They want to ‘cut the fellows loose.’ … Basically there are going to be fewer people doing more work with less experience.”

The administration has pushed back on that claim. Marshall Herskovitz, an AFI alum who serves on the Board of Trustees, strongly defended Schuette’s commitment to a rigorous program.

“The hallmark of AFI is that when you go there, it kicks your a–. That’s what makes it a great place,” Herskovitz said. “No one is a stronger proponent of the idea that your world should be rocked when you go to AFI than me. And no one is a stronger proponent of that than the dean.”

Some of Schuette’s supporters noted that he has made efforts to diversify the faculty in order to serve a more diverse student body. Stephen Lighthill, the head of the cinematography discipline, said that Schuette has tried to improve the educational experience by finding instructors who are better at working collaboratively.

“I think that sometimes there are people who are esteemed in their profession, but actually do not hit the right note when they’re in the classroom,” Lighthill said. “They feel like they’re still on set when they’re in the classroom. Different rules have to prevail.”

Schuette has taken a more assertive role as dean than his predecessor, Bob Mandel, Lighthill said.

“There’s always changes a new leader is going to want to initiate, and there’s a lot of resistance to a new, more proactive person in the dean’s position,” Lighthill said. “That resistance has been the vocal minority from the beginning.”

Tal Lazar, an AFI alum who teaches cinematography, said that the union was reacting emotionally to the dismissal of the instructors.

“Some of these people have a very good reason for not teaching here any more,” he said.

Lazar said the union had not engaged in adequate internal discussion before calling for Schuette to be fired.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a problem, but there needs to be a conversation about it,” he said. “That is not happening here. The emotional reaction will not get us what we want.”

Spera said he hoped that relations would improve after the faculty voted overwhelmingly in April to join the American Association of University Professors. Instead, he said relations have only deteriorated. He said that Schuette has failed to communicate, and that the board has failed to recognize that the dean is “not up to the task.”

“You have to be in a room having dialogue to have disagreement,” Spera said. “They have shut this down and hoped it would go away by itself.”

Two weeks ago, the union voted 35-8 in support of a resolution of no confidence in Schuette’s leadership.

“We are left with no choice,” Spera said. “We feel we’ve been backed into a corner.”

Lighthill contended that the union has pursued a “nuclear option,” and has shown by talking to the press that it does not have a real strategy for settling its differences with the administration. He also said the conflict would not derail the new school year at AFI, which began on Monday.

“Our fellows are going to classes. Our faculty is jumping into a new year with new energy,” he said. “I think most of us are really trying to ignore the chatter and do our job.”

More Film

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Film Review: 'Avengers: Endgame'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.” The culmination of 10 years and more than twice as many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” promises closure where its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” sowed chaos. That film — which revealed that the cookie-cutter uniformity of all those MCU movies had [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Why a $300 Million Opening Could Be Impossible

    “Avengers: Endgame” is preparing for a staggering debut between $250 million and $268 million in North America alone. Unprecedented anticipation surrounding the Marvel juggernaut has some particularly optimistic box office watchers tossing around even higher numbers, estimating the superhero tentpole could clear nearly $300 million in ticket sales in its first three days. If any film [...]

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Nightmare Alley

    Leonardo DiCaprio in Talks to Star in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leonardo DiCaprio is in negotiations to star in Fox Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water.” Del Toro will direct the pic and co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. “Nightmare Alley” is being produced and financed by del Toro and J. Miles Dale with TSG Entertainment, with [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck to Star in and Direct World War II Caper 'Ghost Army'

    Ben Affleck will star in and direct the Universal Pictures caper “Ghost Army,” based on the book “The Ghost Army of World War II,” written by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, as well as the documentary “Ghost Army.” It’s unclear when the movie will go into production as it’s still in development and Affleck is [...]

  • Britney Spears Musical

    Britney Spears Musical 'Once Upon a One More Time's' Film Rights Land at Sony

    Sony Pictures has won screen rights to the Broadway-bound “Once Upon a One More Time,” a fairy tale featuring classic songs from Britney Spears, sources have confirmed to Variety. John Davis’ Davis Entertainment will produce the film along with Spears and her manager, Larry Rudolph. Neither a writer nor a director has yet been attached. [...]

  • ‘Girl on the Train’ India Remake

    ‘Girl on the Train’ Indian Remake Set at Reliance Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    India’s Reliance Entertainment will produce the official Indian remake of Tate Taylor’s 2016 film “The Girl on the Train.” Ribhu Dasgupta, who is currently completing Netflix series “Bard Of Blood,” being produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, will direct. Parineeti Chopra (“Kesari”) will star. Production will commence at U.K. locations from mid-July. Based [...]

  • 'Avengers: Endgame' Cast Gets Hands and

    Watch Live: 'Avengers' Cast Gets Hands and Feet Cemented at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood

    The Avengers have left an indelible mark on popular culture and now they are doing the same to the cement floor outside of the TCL Chinese Theater.  Watch the livestream video of “Avengers: Endgame” cast Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans,  Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige imprinting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content