November 16, 2010

An Open Letter to President Skorton

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We are writing to applaud and support your recent statement that “it is time for Cornell to step up and advocate for the arts and humanities nationally as we recruit faculty locally that will define our university for a generation.”

We are writing as well to describe the current situation and apparent near-future of the Department of Theatre, Film, and Dance in the College of Arts and Sciences. This situation stands in sharp contrast to your most welcomed statement.

Our situation is as follows:

First and foremost: over the last two years the College of Arts and Sciences has reduced the department’s annual budget by over $1 million (approximately one-third of our personnel budget), with the following results:

1) A significant number of senior lecturers in the dance and theatre programs have been terminated;

2) The major in dance is being terminated;

3) The season of plays in the Kiplinger Theatre, and the dance performances and presentations by outside dance groups, as they have been presented over the last 20 years, are being drastically reduced or eliminated;

4) A significant number of our support staff — some of them crucial “teaching support specialists” — have been terminated in all areas of production, including sets, costumes and lighting, thereby creating seriously diminished working conditions for the faculty, staff and students alike; and

5) The unique Resident Professional Teaching Assistants (RPTA) program, in which professional actors teach undergraduates acting and perform in our theatre productions and student films, is being phased out.

These reductions have come at a time when the theatre, film, and dance alumni of this Department have been winning well-deserved accolades in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto.

Moreover, these reductions have come at a time when the new minors in theatre, film and dance have been attracting very significant numbers of students from throughout the University as a whole, not just from the College of Arts and Sciences.

At present, 1,200 students enroll in departmental courses each year, 500-700 participate in productions in one capacity or another, 14,000 persons attend performances, presentations and screenings in theatre, film and dance.

To quote further from your recent remarks, “Far from being irrelevant in the digital age, the arts and humanities not only teach the basic skills of critical and contextual thinking, communication and ethics, but also have value as disciplines of research and critical analysis in their own right. And on a fundamental level, they teach us what it means to be human.”

We respectfully request that you now advocate for the restoration of the funds taken from the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance’s budget, so that we can continue to provide Cornell’s students and the larger community with models for creative and scholarly excellence in our three distinct albeit related media of artistic expression.


Professor Richard Archer, theatre

Professor Don Fredericksen, film

Professor Kent Goetz, theatre

Professor Bruce Levitt, theatre

Professor Joyce Morgenroth, dance

Original Author: Dance