Theater department responds to termination of Kevin Walker’s position as part of FSR recommendations

Mo Dow, A&E Reporter

Kevin Walker, Senior Lecturer for the theater and dance department, and Master Electrician and Sound Engineer for the Harper Joy Theater, will be leaving Whitman College after his contract was terminated as part of the recent FSR budget cuts.

In his 13 years at Whitman College, Kevin Walker has served as a senior lecturer for the theatre and dance department and as the master electrician and sound engineer at the Harper Joy Theatre. Photo by Nathaniel Martin.

Walker has been with Whitman for thirteen years, working within the Harper Joy Theater and helping to run the technical side of productions. He says that he has really enjoyed being able to work so directly with students and spend so much time on theater. Now as he prepares to leave, Walker knows that he is going to miss the Whitman community and the connections he has made here. Most of all, Walker will remember the work he was able to do, and the productions he helped put on.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here in the past few years. I really hope we can maintain the quality of that education for the students,” Walker said. However, Walker fears that the elimination of his position, and other similar cuts, might harm the student experience at Whitman. 

“I fear there won’t be as big a chance to experience lots of different fields. I think that would be a shame … If I hadn’t had that type of an education coming up through college, I might’ve ended up being something completely different in my life and probably wouldn’t be as happy with what I was doing,” Walker said.

When he first heard that his position was being cut, Walker reached out to the administration to propose some alternative timetables that would allow him to help train students to lessen the impacts of his departure. With some positions, a professor leaving or having their contract terminated might mean cutting the classes they taught. However, when Walker leaves the college, the work he does for the Harper Joy Theater will still need to be handled. 

Most of Walker’s responsibilities will be taken on by Nate Tomsheck, another Senior Lecturer for the theater department. Having this workload taken on by one person isn’t totally new — Walker handled the responsibilities of both jobs for about five years before Tomsheck was hired. But Walker had several teaching assistants and theater department veterans to rely on. With Walker leaving so quickly, Tomsheck won’t have the chance to train students to help him.

Furthermore, the pandemic has placed many parts of the theater department on hold and caused a shortage of well-trained theater students. Tomsheck knows that the department will need to make some adjustments going into the next season. 

“Things are gonna have to change — I’m not a martyr, I’m not gonna just simply absorb all of Kevin’s duties. I have a family, I already work many, many weekends out of the semester,” Tomscheck said. 

How this change will be implemented has mostly been left up to the theater and dance department itself. Although next season hasn’t been announced yet, many in the department are expecting the number of performances to be reduced. Despite the difficulties of this transition, Tomsheck doesn’t hold any ill will towards the college or its administration.

“I’m a technical person at the end of the day, and I understand numbers on a spreadsheet. Whitman College is a business, all colleges are … But I will say, you have to be really careful making cuts just based on the bottom-line,” Tomsheck said.

Alzada Tipton is Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Whitman College and has been in communication with members of the theater and dance department. She also agrees that the theater and dance department will be shifting as they move forward.

“The elimination of Kevin Walker’s position will mean that the department will need to rethink what and how it does some things in the technical theater arena,” Tipton said.

Although using major enrollment as the selection criteria for cuts has been controversial, Tipton disagreed with the assessment that the theater and dance department was disproportionately impacted by the FSR’s cuts. 

However, Tomsheck has a different perspective. Working within the theater and dance department puts him in a unique position. He was hired for, and only teaches, one class each semester. Combined with the lower major enrollment in these classes, Tomsheck and Walker both found themselves in a precarious situation when these financial cuts came around. 

“On paper, I’m a really good employee to cut. But that doesn’t really reflect what I do: I interact with a lot of students through our productions and a lot of non-majors through our productions,” Tomsheck said.

Kevin Walker will be leaving Whitman after this semester and plans to go into early retirement. Although he hadn’t intended to retire for another few years, he has decided he doesn’t want to start fresh at a new college but will find other work until his retirement fund is accessible.