February 9, 2010

The Value of My Education: A Response to Dean Lepage

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“The college must remain competitive.” That is the reason that Arts and Sciences Dean Lepage gave in response to the mass outcry concerning the disproportionate budget cuts that the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance is currently facing. According to Lepage, “the Arts and Sciences deans decided to invest strategically across our departments,” reasoning that the College would “emerge stronger than we would if we uniformly reduced everything we do”. In other words, the Arts and Sciences deans ranked the departments in order of “importance,” protecting those departments that ranked closest to the top while sacrificing the “expendable” departments that came in at the bottom of the list. This is a horrible strategy! What makes the College of Arts and Sciences great is the vast amount of different studies that a student can choose from in equally strong departments. If you severely cripple the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance to protect another, you are losing out on the many applicants who would apply to Cornell for the arts. Without a strong performing arts program, what separates Cornell from John Hopkins, Northwestern, Yale, Harvard and every other school that boasts outstanding science and research programs?

To be honest, I was offended and hurt by Lepage’s comment about “strategic investing.” It made me feel like the administration saw my degree as less valuable than, say, a biology or math degree. Every student in the College of Arts and Sciences is paying the same amount of tuition to go here, so shouldn’t every student’s education be treated with the same level of respect? Why are the deans “strategically” choosing to protect one department over another? I am sure that they will argue that this is not the case; that they are not in fact ranking the departments on “value”. But then how do they explain the large cut that the T.F.D. department is being asked to bear, out of the 27 departments in the college?

Lepage attempts to dodge the responsibility that he has to us as students, by saying that it is up to the T.F.D. department to make the budget cuts work. He has given us the numbers and now it is our responsibility to “propose new models for the future.” In my opinion, it is easy to give out numbers and say — now go re-imagine yourself. The deans don’t seem to understand that they are not simply asking us in the T.F.D. department to re-imagine ourselves with a cut of $1-2 million. They are asking us to re-imagine ourselves without the staff, designers, technicians, performing artists and lecturers that make up the majority of our faculty and mentors. It’s like taking away a man’s legs and asking him to walk. If you take away the foundation of the T.F.D. department, how do you expect the students to receive the practical education that is necessary for a career in the arts?

I am graduating this May and it kills me to think that the underclassmen (my friends and colleagues) might not get the opportunity to receive the life changing education that I did. Second semester freshmen, like Amanda Martin (theatre major/dance minor), have to watch as their newfound home and major is being destroyed. These students came to Cornell to study the arts, only to discover that the education they were promised may no longer be available. Martin let me know that she is in the process of applying to Columbia University. When asked why, she told me, “I want to do theatre and if I can’t do it here — I love Cornell with all my heart, but without this program I don’t want to be here.” It’s a sad day when Cornell students feel that they have to leave the University to get the education that they deserve. And it is definitely a sad day when Cornell students feel that their education and choice of study is not valued or respected by the administration. And that is how many of us feel.

These disproportionate cuts and Lepage’s comment about “strategic investing” show that the administration does not value or understand what we do in this department. What goes on inside the Schwartz Center is not extracurricular. It is our education and our future — two things that Cornell should be protecting, not suppressing.

The performing arts are always the first thing on the chopping block, and I sometimes ask myself why I am pursuing a career that will guarantee a lifetime of battling against those that don’t understand what I do. But then again, why do any of us pursue the careers that we do? Why are we theatre majors, biology majors, government majors and math majors? Is it for the love of the field, the dreams of success, the pursuit of wealth, the longing to make a difference, or the pressures of society? As Cornell students, we all study different things for different reasons. However, as Cornell students, we have the right to equal support and respect from the University, no matter what major we choose to study.

This is my plea for a more proportionate disbursement of budget cuts across the College of Arts and Sciences: Every major matters!

And if you would like to support the performing arts on campus, please visit www.savecornellarts.com.

Amanda Idoko is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Amanda Idoko