The University of Akron should bring down the curtain on its theater program at the end of the academic year, an Ohio State consultant has advised.
Mark Shanda, divisional dean of arts and humanities at OSU, cited a drop in faculty, suspension of the master’s degree in theater and the program’s lack of accreditation.
His recommendation is part of a larger campus review of the cost-effectiveness and popularity of all academic programs and the ability of their graduates to get jobs.
“We’re in the final stages of reviewing a lot of input,” UA Provost Mike Sherman said Tuesday. “We’ll begin to roll out our recommendations in January.”
Those recommendations will advocate phasing out some programs and changing others, Sherman said.
While those reviews continue, Chand Midha, dean of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, also sought independent input from the Ohio State consultant about four programs that he supervises: dance, theater and arts administration; art; family and consumer science; and music.
Shanda met with UA faculty and administrators in October “to help the upper administration in thinking creatively about the future,” he said in his eight-page report to UA in November.
He reported that faculty in all four programs were concerned about their ability to make critical hires and complained that UA does not invest in faculty and staff.
Though they “were quite positive about their specific work, the overall uncertainty of the college and its direction is wearing on all involved,” Shanda wrote.
He generally was positive about the music and art programs, but said the university needs to decide what it’s doing with family and consumer science.
He wrote that an April internal program review that recommended dissolving the school “has raised an extremely high level of anxiety for the current faculty” and that, “Remaining ‘in limbo’ is not tenable.”
Shanda reserved his strongest criticism for theater, which UA said has 18 undergraduate majors, 10 of whom are expected to graduate this year. Three students are enrolled in the master’s program in theater and 24 in theater arts administration.
Ten years ago, the undergrad program had 22 students; five years ago, 20 students, UA spokeswoman Eileen Korey said.
Shanda said the program has only three tenured faculty members, each of whom has been at UA for 25 to 34 years. In the next few years, retirements will force UA “to seriously consider the future of the program,” he said.
He also cited an internal 2011 report that the program has been plagued with internal strife for years — so much so that faculty in related disciplines don’t want to merge with theater faculty.
The dysfunction “has the potential to ‘poison the well’ of the new host,” Shanda wrote.
In addition, the theater program is not accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre, the only art unit at UA not to be validated at the national level.
Still, the possibility that the theater program might close has raised the ire of faculty, students and alumni.
“I think the report is highly irresponsible,” said professor Jim Slowiak, who teaches acting, directing, movement and voice, and contemporary theater. “There is a lack of leadership and lack of communication and lack of understanding about the arts.”
UA alumna Jennifer “Zhenya” Lavy launched a Facebook page — savethe atreattheuniversityofakron — to rally support for the program. By Tuesday afternoon, it had more than 1,000 members.
“It is my hope that we can persuade the administration to delay decision-making about the theatre program for two years in order to take a closer look at the department,” wrote Lavy, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at UA and was active in the theater program. She now is a doctoral candidate in theater history and criticism at the University of Washington.
Input from graduates
Lavy wants to develop an alumni caucus that would help steer the program “in a direction the university would agree is productive and valuable.”
A UA student group, the Theatre Guild, was to meet Tuesday night about the prospect of the program closing.
Theater professor Adel Migid said he never expected the program’s future to be in such doubt. He called the report “vicious. It’s not professional.”
If the university decides to shutter theater, Sherman, the provost, promised that all majors would be allowed to graduate in their field and that the university would “follow the appropriate process to create opportunities” for theater faculty.
Midha, the Arts and Sciences dean, said the university paid the Ohio State consultant his expenses only.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.