Maryland Institute College of Art president Samuel Hoi will retire at the end of the year, opening the search for a new leader of the prestigious Baltimore arts institution still in the throes of strong economic headwinds, the college announced Tuesday.

Hoi, known by the campus community as “Sammy,” has led the school since 2014. He oversaw the campus’ response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the small college’s finances especially hard and led to an institutional “restructuring” effort that condensed the size of the school.

MICA, considered a cultural gem of the city, has long been considered a vital “brain draw” for Baltimore. It boasts a significant real estate portfolio in the Bolton Hill area and the area adjacent to the Station North Arts District, and owns property and equipment valued at more than $160 million as of 2022, according to its latest public audit. It also reports a more than $100 million endowment.

Hoi and the administration have endured frequent criticism from MICA faculty, staff and students since the start of the public health crisis and inspired a vote of no confidence from the college’s faculty assembly in 2020. The vote also took aim at then-provost David Bogen and COO Douglas Mann, with faculty alleging breakdowns in communication and shoddy planning ahead of the fall 2020 semester.

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Hoi, on Tuesday, said he felt motivated to retire for other reasons unrelated to campus morale.

“After 40 years in arts higher education – with 35 years in leadership positions – the idea of retirement has beckoned me,” Hoi said in a statement. “I am retiring from MICA with tremendous optimism about its community’s strengths and capabilities and have no doubt that MICA will shine brighter than ever in its third century.”

Online records list Hoi’s age at 65.

Former T. Rowe Price executive and Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller and T. Rowe Price Foundation and T. Rowe Price Charitable president John Brothers will lead a search committee to find Hoi’s replacement, according to the Tuesday news release. It said Hoi would continue to serve as president through the end of the year to assist with the leadership transition and will officially step down in January 2024.

Hoi arrived at MICA after a nearly 15-year stint as the president of Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. He has also served as dean of the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington D.C., and as as director of the Paris campus of Parsons School of Design. He serves currently on the board of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, which he once chaired, and the Baltimore Community Foundation.

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During his MICA tenure, Hoi took steps to affirm the school’s social justice mission. In 2019, he publicly apologized for MICA’s racist past, which barred Black students from entry until the 1950s. He also, during his tenure, shepherded a diversity, equity, inclusion and globalization mandate to advance diverse representation throughout the college and oversaw the school’s first public school-based pipeline program in Baltimore City to expose more young creatives to the college.

At the same time, MICA has continued to face criticism for how expensive it is to go to school there; it costs more than $60,000 for a full year of courses and housing. Hoi’s salary, at one point exceeding $600,000, has also been criticized, though he said he took a 20% pay cut in the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year along with other administrators and staffers.

Upon Hoi’s exit, the college said he would endow funds to campuswide initiatives for faculty professional development; staff professional development; and a city-focused community project grant for students.

Ahead of the current academic semester, Hoi convened the campus community to make public the plans for the institution’s “right-sizing.” He said while enrollment had ticked up, it has still not fully recovered from the pandemic and would need to increase for the school to be sustainable. Voluntary separation packages were offered to certain employees, and the college told both faculty and staff members to expect layoffs. The total number of cuts made has not yet been made public by the college.

In addition to job cuts, the college also consolidated its 18 undergraduate studies departments to about seven. Hoi also told students to expect more “applied practical” courses that teach skills outside art-making.

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The campus community experienced a round of cuts ahead of the 2022 fall semester, too. Administrators slashed about 20 staffed and unstaffed positions, covering both unionized and nonunionized employees. From 2021 to 2022, revenues increased at MICA by about 8% — and expenses increased by nearly 23%, according to MICA’s latest financial statement of activities.

MICA’s financial problems are not unique in higher education, according to those who study and advise institutions. And Hoi and other campus administrators have said the college may now be on a path to recovery after a challenging few years.

“I think there might be a perception out there somehow that MICA is fundamentally challenged right now,” Hoi said in an interview with The Baltimore Banner last year. “But that’s just not true.”

This article will be updated.

Hallie Miller covers housing for The Baltimore Banner. She's previously covered city and regional services, business and health at both The Banner and The Baltimore Sun.

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