March 2, 2010

Theatre Department Weighs Budget Options

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In the wake of the College of Arts and Sciences’ charge to the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance to cut between $1-2 million of their budget over the next two years, the department has begun the process of considering exactly how it will go about the restructuring process. No timetable for the decision, however, has been set, as the cuts will not go into effect until the 2011-2012 academic year.

“This entire semester will be spent making restructuring and considering options. We really don’t know anything about what’s going to happen,” explained Allen Fogelsanger, director of undergraduate studies in dance.

The administration in the College of Arts and Sciences hopes to work with the department on determining the effects of any changes.

“I’m not playing any role in generating the plans because I don’t have the expertise to do it, but I [do] want to…have a discussion about the plans’ impact on the college and impact on teaching and on students,” said Peter LePage, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

LePage is confident, however, that the department will be able to make do with the cuts. The department was chosen for severe cuts, among a couple others in the College of Arts and Sciences, mainly because of the large expenses required to run the programs in theatre, film, and dance. He pointed out that the costs to run the theatre program are three times the average cost of other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In spite of LePage’s optimism, less funding will likely affect the department greatly. Prof. Don Frederickson, professor of film and director of undergraduate studies in film, is concerned that the cuts will hamper the unique way in which the department teaches its programs.

“Our whole program is predicated on a combination on doing analysis and practice. We’re educating in the arts within the context of the liberal arts, [which] makes us different from conservatories,” he stated.

Hannah Bombelles ’12 agreed. As a double major in film and economics, the combination of learning theory as well as practice appealed to her, and played a large role in her decision to enroll in Cornell over other colleges with strong film departments, such as UCLA and USC.

“Those schools are more technical…[they don’t] offer as much film theory,” she said. “You can do film theory all day but if you don’t get to take what you’re learning in the film class and apply that to the profession, then you’re at a real disadvantage when you’re looking for jobs.”

Josef Moro ’12, a theatre major and transfer student from the University of Buffalo, also expressed concerns about the restructuring process.

“Generally a subject is taught on two levels, theoretical, and applied. Applied theater, putting on productions, is an integral part, if not the most important part, of a performing arts education. Without it, what are you?” he stated.

Although LePage acknowledged the department’s unique curriculum structure, he did not believe that any one part of the process would neccessarily need to be cut.

“I’m confident…[the department] will have the ability to cover both of these bases,” he said.

Another obstacle the department will struggle with is the lack of tenured professors in the three programs. Fredericksen pinned dance to be the most vulnerable of the three, as the program consists of one tenured professor and five lecturers.

“[It is] ironic, because film has the most majors, but dance has the most students taking classes,” he explained, “Because the department contains so few professors, senior lecturers who do not have tenure will be at risk for losing their jobs.”

LePage agreed that there should be great stress on retaining professors in the department.

“Professors are extremely important to a department and determine whether a department is famous,” he said. “[They are the] most important reason for coming to Cornell.”

As a native of Ithaca who is familiar with the local theatre scene, Moro is also concerned of the impact the cuts will have on the programs at the Schwartz Center.

“Those at Cornell’s Schwartz Center had always been some of the more impressive of the venues in the area,” he explained.

The department will be working towards creating and finalizing the plans for the restructuring over the course of the semester. Foselganger noted that many of these changes will depend on what the students and faculty envision for the new form of the department.

“It will take time to consider how the dance area should change, and depending on how we answer those questions, the area that emerges from the restructuring will be different,” he stated.

Until then, the only thing to do is to be patient. One of LePage’s concerns is that so much publicity has been given to the department cuts before any permanent decisions have been made.

“[This is] unfortunate because it raises all sorts of questions when we are in no position to give all the answers,” LePage explained.

“The bottom line is we don’t know [what will happen] yet. But it’s clear that whatever model we settle in on, the department will not look the same,” Fredericksen warned.

Original Author: Cindy Huynh