February 1, 2010

Theatre, Film and Dance Department Hit With Cuts

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Recent budget cuts by the College of Arts and Sciences could cause up to one-third of the Theatre, Film and Dance departments’ non-tenured faculty to be laid off, according to Leslie Morris, head of public relations for the Schwartz Center.

Students were “shocked at the news,” said Kaitlyn LeMoine ’11, a double major in theatre and psychology. “We’re really not sure what the department will look like.”

The budget cuts came as part of Cornell’s larger cost-cutting initiative. Each college must reduce its expenditures, which requires delivering the bad news to individual departments that they need to let some people go.

“There are lots of budget cuts still to come,” said Peter Lepage, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Lepage emphasized that the performing arts department, rather than College administrators, will ultimately decide how “significant” the cuts will be.

“I told them a range and asked them to get to work to figure out what kinds of changes they can make in the program,” he said. Although Lepage gave the department the goal of saving “1 to 2 million over two years,” it’s the “department’s business” to determine a specific plan of action.

“This is a discussion,” said Lepage. “We’re trying to figure out things we can do to save money while still maintaining a vigorous program.”

In contrast to other departments, Theatre, Film and Dance includes many staff members who do not hold tenure, such as production technicians and senior lecturers. This makes the department especially vulnerable to personnel cuts.

“The dean seems to be really focused on preserving tenure,” said Professor Bruce Levitt theater.

Because the theatre department is so small, with staff working intimately with students on productions, the cuts feel especially brutal.

“We get so close to the staff,” LeMoine said.

Kelly Durkin ’10 added that the lessons taught by untenured senior lecturers and production assistants — how to build sets, design costumes and direct productions, among other theatre skills — can hold just as much significance as lectures by more prestigious professors.

“They’re the people who have made the most difference to me in my Cornell education,” Durkin said.

Although the college continues to support the department’s academic program, Morris said that the “hands-on creative portion” of classes might disappear. The six plays produced each season at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts will also be affected.

“It’s heartbreaking for some of the students,” Levitt said, “particularly transfer students” who came to Cornell to study the performing arts and now face a diminished program with fewer resources.

But most members of the department would reject the idea that Dean Lepage was deliberately trying to sabotage creativity.

“I don’t think they’re targeting the arts,” Morris said.

Theatre students haven’t yet given up hope that their budget will be restored. Some plan to send President Skorton and other administrators an email expressing their frustration.

“We’re still hoping that there’s something we can do,” said LeMoine.

Faculty members aren’t concerned with the specific number of staff members to be let go so much as the overall impact that the budget cuts will have on the University’s creative environment.

“It makes Cornell a less rich place to live and work,” Levitt said.

Original Author: Elisabeth Rosen