Recently faculty decisions have motivated a desire amongst students to become more involved in Whitman’s hiring process. The dance department is no exception.
The decision not to renew Instructor of Modern Dance Vicki Lloid’s contract has provoked surprise and concern from Whitman students involved in the dance department. The department is currently entering a transition period; current Ballet Instructor Idalee Hutson-Fish will be retiring after this school year, and the administration has hired Peter De Grasse to take her place. The search for a tenure-track position in dance will soon begin, as part of the plan to create a dance major and minor at Whitman.
In light of department changes, Provost and Dean of Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn will be sending a letter out to students enrolled in dance classes to detail the courses being offered next year.
Beginning and intermediate courses will continue as before, but advanced ballet and advance modern will be combined into one advanced course. Each of these courses will remain a one-credit activity course. The department will also offer a four-credit course with a more academic focus called “Dance Performance and Composition”.
“This is a time of change in the college’s program in Dance. We are grateful for the long service of Vicki Lloid and Idalee Hutson-Fish, and we are excited to have Peter de Grasse come to Whitman next year and to be able to offer academic credit in Dance for 2012-13. The following academic year, 2013-14, promises even more growth for the program,” Kaufman-Osborn said in an email.
Lloid heard of the decision not to rehire her on Wednesday, Feb. 15 when she had gone to a meeting with Provost and Dean of Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn about an entirely different subject. She was not expecting the news. The administration declined to comment on the reason she wasn’t hired back.
When Lloid told students in her modern dance classes about the hiring decision, many were surprised. Junior Hensley Fradkin was especially taken aback.
“Vicki and I have developed a friendship. When she told us she was fired, I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
First-year Mcebo Maziya was especially surprised that Lloid’s dismissal occurred after so many years of service to the school.
“Everyone was in shock. She’s an asset to the college and a skilled choreographer. She has single-handedly created the modern dance program at Whitman,” he said.
Fradkin and several other students have written a letter addressed to Kaufman-Osborn, President George Bridges and Division Two Chair Rebecca Hanrahan. They have also set up a meeting with Kaufman-Osborn for this Friday, March 9 to express their concerns.
“I want to be careful about what we’ve said because we’re not attacking the administration. We just want to understand [their decision] better,” Fradkin said.
Students are particularly concerned with the manner in which this decision was made. Sophomore Geneva Bahrke wished that students were more involved.
“I feel that the lack of involving students and [current] faculty in the creation of a dance major is disrespectful and it hurts the development of the department,” said Bahrke.
Senior Emily Hanscam compared hearing about Lloid’s dismissal to finding out the Varsity Ski team was going be cut her during her first year.
“The department is undergoing a transformation without student input, and the process is done in a sudden and quiet way,” she said.
Kaufman-Osborn emphasized that the department’s changes will lead to more academic course offerings in dance.
“As we build on this first step in future years, the Dance program will attract not only students who wish to perform, but also students who are interested in dance as a subject of academic inquiry,” he said.
Though they feel that adding a more academic focus could strengthen the department, both Lloid and her students are skeptical of the possibility of creating a dance department with only one instructor.
“[It] means that there is more specialization and less opportunity for students to experiment in areas they haven’t had a chance to look into,” Lloid said. “For instance, students at Whitman have the opportunity to perform in a dance show, which can teach them a lot about themselves. I don’t know if where they’re headed is going to make the arts less accessible to students. It seems like that’s what they’re doing, that they want to make the arts more an academic pursuit and less a living art pursuit.”
Fradkin feels that dancers could have difficulty expanding their dance vocabulary.
“It would be great to draw a different group of people to Whitman, but my question is: How do we have a diversity of classes with just one style?”
Ultimately, Fradkin and several other students hope the administration consider give Lloid the opportunity to work with De Grasse during this transitional period for the program.
“I’m excited for the new program, but concerned that the sudden firing of Vicki shows a break from what’s currently happening, which is a good program,” said sophomore Kari Paustian.
Senior Chapman Strong also feels that the new program should incorporate elements of the old program.
“I think establishing a dance major is a great thing and it could bring diversity with new people, but that doesn’t mean we should eliminate the program we have already. They should build off of each other,” he said.
Patrick Henry, a retired faculty member, said that keeping Lloid on staff during the transitional phase would benefit the program’s future growth.
“Peter De Grasse will be an excellent addition to our dance program, but Vicki should be retained at her half-time level to work with Peter, show him the ropes and take the program to the next level,” he said in an email.
In their letter they wrote to the administration, students also emphasize Lloid’s cross-disciplinary style as an example of the liberal arts values Whitman strives to have. They feel that these values are an important contribution to the department.
It reads: “Rather than direct her classes towards the most experienced students, Vicki creates classes that bring together students of various dance backgrounds and levels of technical skill, while still challenging both types of students effectively, a perfect application of the principles of a liberal arts college which aims to foster a wide range of personal growth.”
Tess Gallagher, a poet who has worked with Lloid in many different performances, also cites Lloid’s approach to dance as truly collaborative.
“The students got to meet poets, musicians and artists in Vicki’s sweeping control of multiple mediums. They learned how these various elements could be woven into movement and overlapping voices and appearances. Their enthusiasm was so refreshing. Everyone seemed caught up in the dream of what was being given,” she said in an email.
Maziya and many other dance students hope that their voices will be heard.
“It’s concerning that we’re the last to know while it affects us students most.”