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Elimination of theater department doctoral programs under review



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Theatre history, theory and literature Ph.D. students and candidates discuss the future of the graduate theater program after the decision to cut the program was announced Nov. 9. More than 50 Ph.D. graduate students and candidates attended the awareness and dialogue meeting on Wednesday night in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center. Steven Lin

The College of Arts and Science’s decision to eliminate the Ph.D. program in theater history, theory and literature will not happen immediately, according to a Nov. 15 announcement by Jonathan Michaelsen, Chair of the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

This follows an announcement Nov. 9 from Larry Singell,  Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that said the Ph.D. program in theater would be discontinued.

“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 announcement. “Thus, we have decided to focus our energies on maintaining an outstanding MFA program and supporting our B.A. and BFA programs.” 

The program, which has existed for nearly 70 years at IU, will still be discontinued for the next school year, but will not be eliminated, according to Michaelsen’s email. 

“The Department will have time to reconsider next steps in terms of the degree and the allocation of departmental resources,” Michaelsen said in an email. “It should be stressed again, that all continuing Ph.D. students will continue to be supported in the program during the time that the degree is suspended.”

The program will be discussed at the theater department’s December faculty meeting, according to the email.

In a meeting with Singell, Michaelsen outlined a two-step process in regard to the future of the Ph.D. program. This winter, the department plans to address the recommendations given by an external department review in regards to the theater BA and MFA programs. During fall 2018, the department will discuss the Ph.D. program again considering the recommendations from the external review. 

Singell and Provost Lauren Robel will be putting out a joint statement after Thanksgiving, according to the email.

There are 15 students currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in theater history, theory and literature. During fall 2018, one student of the 15 will be the only one still enrolled.

“I am even more concerned for our department, as the suspension indicates what, to me, could easily become a slow fade out of our program,” said Greer Gerni, second-year Ph.D. student and associate instructor. “One Ph.D. student left while a program is under suspension does not make a good case for lifting the suspension, but makes a great case for ending the Ph.D. in theater history, theory and literature.”

On Nov. 15, MFA and Ph.D. students held an outreach meeting, “To be or not to be: save the Ph.D.” The meeting, which was attended by about 40 people, included a brief visit by Michaelsen who gave a speech addressing the decisions in his email.

Action sheets were passed out that listed the contact information of academic decision makers. These sheets advocated for sharing information regarding the Ph.D. program on social media, doing independent research and spreading awareness. Form letters of support were also handed out to be distributed or emailed to academic administrators.

“Now, more than ever, we need continued support,” Gerni said. “We have transitioned to running a marathon on this issue, just when we thought we were at the end of a sprint.”

Action sheets and letters of support can be found on the ART@IU Facebook event page.

“These are the future minds of our theater history, our historians,” said Abby Lee, third-year MFA acting student. “We’re not going to get another Anton Chekhov if we continue in this way.”

A previous version of this story and headline said the Ph.D. in theatre would be discontinued. It is not certain the program will be discontinued, and it is currently under review. The IDS regrets this error.

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