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Tuesday, June 18
The Indiana Daily Student


Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance cuts doctorate programs

Justino Brokaw, Tara Chiusano and Abby Lee play Vanya, Sonia and Masha in IU Theatre's 2016 production "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike." Lee, center, is a third-year M.F.A. acting student who expressed dismay at the Nov. 9 announcement that the Ph.D. program in Theatre History, Theory and Literature will be cut. “It’s like having an art program and cutting art history,” Lee said. “How could you make art if you’ve never heard of Warhol or Rembrandt?”  

On Nov. 9, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Larry Singell issued a letter to students in the theater department announcing the discontinuation of the current Ph.D. program.

“Increasingly, diminishing numbers of Ph.D. graduates are competing with growing numbers of MFA graduates for a small number of professional and academic positions,” Singell said in the letter. “Thus, we have decided to focus our energies on maintaining an outstanding MFA program and supporting our B.A. and BFA programs.”

The letter stated that the College will continue to honor all existing financial commitments and support for students enrolled in the Ph.D. program, and that this decision was influenced by an external program review.

The external review of the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance took place over the last year and a half. It evaluated different areas of research, creative contributions and instruction within the department, Dean Singell said.

"The review indicated that the curriculum needed to be modernized and broadened outside the canonical Western theater experience," Dean Singell said. "It recommended it needed to partner with other departments outside of theater and drama to have a more global perspective."

Last June, Singell considered a collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance to create a new M.A. and Ph.D. program titled Global Theatre and Performance Studies. This new program was proposed to come into effect Fall 2018, and would replace the existing Ph.D. Theatre History, Theory, and Literature program. Dean Singell had doubts as to its viability.

"We then explored whether there was sufficient faculty interest to offer that program," Singell said in an interview with the Indiana Daily Student. "We didn't really, I think, have enough faculty expertise and width. That was the conversation we were having over the summer and then into the fall."

The proposed program had been in development for over a year and had a list of faculty members who would be available to teach for the program. 

According to Greer Gerni, second-year Ph.D. student and associate instructor, on Thursday Nov. 2, Dean Singell met with Jonathan Michaelsen, chairman of the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance, regarding the decision. Gerni said Michaelsen called the doctoral and master's students into a meeting the following day to tell them the program would be discontinued.

“It’s stunting our evolution as a department, as a group of people, as practitioners,” said Rachel Pierce, first-year master of fine arts directing student.

The letter explained the reason for the program cut was due to budget restrictions within the college. Monetary restrictions were also a concern with the proposed program as well, Singell said.

"In order to execute this program, there would need to be substantial investments within the department, and other departments, in order to deliver it and deliver it a the level that was necessary," Singell said. "It didn't seem like the right place to make additional investments."

Right now, gradate students serve as associate instructors for more than 400 students in introductory theater classes, Gerni said. 

The external review recommended hiring additional faculty to teach those classes, Singell said.

"One of the recommendations was that in fact we needed more faculty in the classroom teaching undergraduates in these areas," Singell said. "Some of the resources freed up from this decision would allow us to do that."

Doctoral and master's students in the theater department expressed their discontent with the decision at an ART@IU meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8.

“We teach Intro to Theater, which is the most populous class,” Gerni said. “Is it now going to be cheaper to hire adjunct faculty to teach the undergraduates than to have graduate students teaching them?”

According to Whit Emerson, fourth-year Ph.D. student and associate instructor, Head of Design and Technology Linda Pisano and Director of Graduate Studies Ronald Wainscott had scheduled a meeting with Provost Lauren Robel concerning these decisions, which Provost Robel cancelled.

“It’s like having an art program and cutting art history,” third-year M.F.A. acting student Abby Lee said. “How could you make art if you’ve never heard of Warhol or Rembrandt?”

More than 95 percent of graduates from the doctoral program have found academic positions and career placement success, according to the new IU Global Performances Theatre brochure given out at the meeting. Of the alumni in the 70-year-old Ph.D. program is Marvin Carlson, theatrologist and winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship for the Humanities. Another winner of the prize, Oscar Brockett, served as a faculty member in the program.

“Some of the most foundational scholars in our field who have laid the tracks for all contemporary theater scholarship have served on this faculty or have been students here,” saidJoseph D’Ambrosi, second-year Ph.D. student and associate instructor. “There’s a huge legacy that is being demolished in terms of theater history, theory and literature.”

These cuts to the theater department programs reflects a nationwide trend of increasing disinterest in the arts, Lee said.

“To think that I will have less experienced people to work with that can help me research and put the best information to the actors and designers, then you have ripped out a key collaborator and someone we really value,” Lee said.

ART@IU will be holding an open discussion, “To Be or Not to Be,” at 5 p.m. Nov. 15 in the DeVault Lobby of the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center. The group aims to discuss the issues concerning the state of the doctoral program.

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