Reconfiguring the arts: FSR proposes cuts and new programs

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

In the midst of getting back to in-person classes, students and faculty received a new source of stress and confusion: on Feb. 2, President Murray sent out an email containing the Financial Sustainability Review to everyone in the college. One of these documents, the academic program draft, contained recommendations for possible adjustments and cuts within specific departments, including the arts departments.

In Appendix A, “Elaboration of Re-Envisioned Academic Programs,” the committee proposes new areas of study in order to “enhance… current offerings.” These proposed new areas of study include offerings like Creative Arts and Digital Studies, both of which would involve input from a variety of departments in a way that the committee hopes will draw both new and current students.

According to the document, “Creative Arts focuses on the aesthetic, cultural, ethical and political dimensions of the contemporary arts across a range of related creative disciplines,” while “Digital Studies operates at the intersection of technology and the humanities/social sciences.” Both of these proposed areas of study include interested faculty from various disciplines and are designed to give students a fresh way in which to interact with the arts.

However, the documents also include proposed cuts to certain areas, including non-tenure track faculty. Amy Dodds, a Senior Lecturer of Music at Whitman College, explained that this will have a more severe impact than many people realize.

“As the [non-tenure track] faculty representative, I can say that these cuts appear to discount the work and contributions of many NTT faculty members who have served the college for 10 years, 20 years and longer,” Dodds said. “I think some in our community are not fully aware of the significant role of contingent faculty on our campus and the magnitude of the decisions under consideration.”

The loss of these faculty members would significantly impact the music department, in particular, Dodds explained.

“We are concerned that, under these cuts, we could see [a] dramatic impact in the areas of voice and music technology. Both of these areas arguably provide some of the most accessible, diverse and inclusive paths to musical study within our department,” Dodds said.

Music isn’t the only arts department that would be impacted by potential cuts. Laura Hope, an Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance and the department chair, explained that the Theatre and Dance Department has already sustained losses and is expecting more.

“Of the cuts that we have sustained already, the biggest one is that we will be losing one of our technical directors — we have traditionally had two, and there was an external review a few years ago that actually stated that we needed two because of the robustness of our production calendar,” explained Hope. “But… we did lose one of our technical director positions and that will go into effect at the end of this school year.”

Additionally, the costume shop lost its part-time assistant over the summer. Hope explained that both of these losses will affect student workers — with one fewer faculty member in both the scene shop and the costume shop, available work hours may also be reduced. 

The department is not only being cut from the technical side but from the performance side as well.

“We used to have multiple acting teachers, [but] one left at the end of last year and that salary line will not be replaced,” Hope said. “And then there was a recommendation that the salary line that is currently held by Peter deGrasse in dance… would go from being [a] full-time position to a .6 position, which means that we would have one full-time and one part-time position in dance — it’s hard to deliver the curriculum with two full-time people and I think the anxiety is that it’s going to have a really debilitating impact on the dance program.”

However, Lisa Uddin, Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Culture Studies and the department chair, pointed out that none of the recommendations — whether cuts or the addition of proposed programs — are final.

“The FSR documents have only recommended possible reconfigurations of the academic program — they are by NO means prescriptions or foregone conclusions,” wrote Uddin in an email to the Wire. “They were drafted — as drafts — by building on existing faculty conversations and expertise and working with the charge to find new areas of potential revenue for the College in the form of enhancing current offerings that we expect will attract students. These ideas are neither exhaustive nor binding.”

Uddin went on to say that as these recommendations will not be able to be considered for a few more months and through the general process of making changes to curricula, any comments would be purely speculative.

But no matter what happens, Hope is confident that the arts will continue to flourish. She also noted that the department does not intend to accept cuts without a fight.

“Artists are survivors. Artists are used to having what they do not be particularly valued, in American society at least, and yet the truth of the matter is that we always find a way to survive and adapt,” Hope said.