J. Thomas Reeve, president of the Art Institute of Southern California in Laguna Beach since March, has resigned.
Reeve could not be reached for comment. In a prepared statement he said, "It has been a very good learning experience for me. I believe AISC is in good order at this time for a leadership transition." However, in an interview three weeks ago, Reeve gave no indication that he was dissatisfied with his position or was planning to quit.
Around the same time, disagreements over spending priorities developed between Reeve and the school's board of trustees.
As president, Reeve succeeded Patricia Caldwell, whose two-year tenure at the Art Institute was marked by stormy relations with faculty members before she resigned abruptly in November, 1986.
An Art Institute spokeswoman said Reeve, who left Friday, would be returning to Minneapolis, where he had been dean of admissions at the College of Art and Design before coming to the Art Institute. His background also includes a nine-year stint as dean of campus programs and activities at UCLA.
"He made a very personal decision," Board of Trustees President Herta Anderson said Wednesday. "It had to do with family and a preference for being (in Minnesota)."
Asked about the impact of the departure of another president so soon after Caldwell's resignation, Anderson said, "We've made a quantum leap from a little tiny school . . . to a full-fledged, accredited, degree-granting school. As each one of the changes take place, you do have a different set of needs. If you'll check with any other school . . . you'll find it's normal to have a change in leadership.
"I do think we've had more than our share (of changes in leadership)."
Last month, Reeve said the school would embark on a program to raise $1 million for new facilities and equipment, higher faculty salaries and a financial-aid program that would support all students with demonstrable need.
But Anderson, asked at the time for her thoughts about the fundraising campaign, was surprised to hear the $1-million figure. She said Reeve had not yet presented the idea to the long-range planning committee of the board.
"The committee felt for us to raise that big a chunk at this time was a little bit more than we could undertake," Anderson said. "There was a difference of opinion (between president and board) of what were the important goals . . . what he felt we needed and what we could accomplish."
Reeve said in September that the Art Institute's intent was "to get 200 (bachelor of fine arts program) students and get the best environment for learning we can possibly have." The school, which has a budget of $712,000 this year, enrolls 75 full-time students pursuing the BFA degree, in addition to about two dozen part-time students.
"Our primary motive is to be one of the top colleges of art and design in this country, no matter how many students we have," he said, adding that "in 10 years we want to be one of the top, in 15 years, No. 1."
"We keep getting gifts," he said. "Almost a quarter of (the funds) are already in." (The Art Institute recently received an unrestricted bequest of $210,000 from a Pasadena resident and about $60,000 from a September fund-raiser organized by Designing Women, the school's fund-raising arm.)
Anderson, who said the trustees became aware of Reeve's decision to resign about 10 days ago, praised the former president for hiring "a very able staff." His appointments included a full-time director of admissions and records, directors of financial aid and communications and a full-time dean of faculty.
Reeve also devised an illustrated supplement to the school catalogue that was sent to 9,000 U.S. high school students and worked with the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges on accreditation for the institute, which is still pending. (The Art Institute was accredited by the National Assn. of Schools of Art and Design in 1985.) Anderson said the search for Reeve's successor would focus on the same leadership qualities "we've always been looking for." She said she would prefer "someone very very familiar with fund raising in Orange County."
During the search period, she added, "I think the school is in good enough shape; both faculty and staff are professional enough now, so no trustee is going to sit in the president's chair."