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Theatre and media production: reviewed and revived

Program proposals accepted and certain cuts withdrawn

By Emma Melling and Jasmine Johnson

Since the Sept. 17 announcement of departments affected by budget cuts, the atmosphere within those departments has been bleak. However, there was a bit of hope and joy Oct. 25, as President Jay Barnes emailed the community to say that a theatre arts minor and a media production major will be reinstated at Bethel.

In his email, Barnes explained that according to the Faculty Handbook, faculty members whose positions are eliminated for strategic reasons, along with their department chairs and program directors, have 30 days to meet with the president and provost to discuss “the missional impact of the decisions; and propose alternative methods to achieve final financial or strategic goals.”

Faculty from the theatre and communication studies departments met with Barnes and Harless to discuss and review their proposed alternative methods to achieve the financial savings without completely eliminating the theatre and media production programs.

“Our department compiled some data…and created an economic, as well as a disciplinary, argument for why [the media production major] is critical to our discipline,” communication studies department chair Ripley Smith said. “We presented that proposal to the administration.”

Theatre proposed simplifying the shows performed and giving up their current space in the academic buildings if it meant keeping the program. They were overwhelmed with the amount of support they received from the rest of the community.

“There was such a huge outpouring from alum, current students, faculty from every department saying, ‘Theatre is important,”” theatre department chair Meg Zauner said.

As a result, Cabinet voted to accept their creative proposals and reinstate a theatre arts minor and a media production major.

The theatre department will retain one full-time faculty member and stage three productions (as opposed to four) each year: one in the fall, a musical during Interim, and one in the spring. The productions will be staged in Benson Great Hall and the Underground, but not in the current theatre department space.

The ability to move forward with this alternative proposal was made possible by theatre faculty along with the dean’s office. The CAS Academic Affairs office identified another way of reaching the financial goal: not filling some faculty replacement positions. These positions had not been included in the previously announced eliminations.

For the department of communication studies, the media production major will be reinstated by using courses offered for the current minor. The full-time faculty position that was cut will not be reinstated.

CAS students will also be notified about this change, along with prospective students who had previously expressed interest in these two areas and alumni who graduated from the programs.

“Just hearing that there’s a theatre minor that’s staying is so encouraging and exciting,” freshman theatre student Olivia Schwab said. “I’m really really happy that it got changed.”

With these new changes, Schwab will still be able to participate in productions and take theatre classes her senior year, which would not have been available to her through the initial teach-out process.

“I was pretty happy that our efforts worked out,” junior media production student Matt Flynn said. “They told us to write a short little story about how we got here and why we were in media production and I’m glad that worked.”

For both the theater and the media production departments, students and faculty came together to form proposals that led to these positive changes. Barnes expressed his gratitude toward those who helped with the process.

“We appreciate the dedication and creative thinking put forward by our faculty to help us find different solutions that allow us to offer these programs and maintain the same cost savings needed for Bethel,” Barnes said.

Though the cuts still hit hard, Smith expressed joy and gratitude at the reinstatement of the media production major.

“As a department, we really appreciate the administration following the process that they had set up so that we could make an argument for a valid major,” he said. “We are all kind of on cloud nine today.”

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