As I shared recently, the Theatre Arts program is one of twenty-one programs being discontinued at the University of the District of Columbia. The recommendation for discontinuance came down in March of 2011. Phase I of the proposal to implement these recommendations was submitted to the Mayor and City Council on October 1, 2012.
As you can imagine, it was a challenging, lengthy and tenuous process. The level of uncertainly made for a stressful, disconcerting and somewhat hopeless environment. There was a lot of back and forth, but ultimately, final decisions were made. Along with Theatre Arts, here are the other programs being discontinued:
While, I never once envied those having to make these difficult and necessary for the sustainability and growth of the university, though seemingly incomprehensible decisions. I do wish I had had an opportunity to advocate on behalf of several of these programs. Mind you, I did my small part. When the news was first announced back in March of 2011, there had been hope we could move forward as a minor. I helped Assistant Professor Lennie Smith research and prepare a proposal for a minor program. In truth, I provided some research, but he deserves significant credit and praise for his time, energy and efforts. Unfortunately, this October decision has made all of that irrelevant. At least, for now.
What makes this harrowing is that UDC is a historically Black institution and "the only public university in the nation’s capital and the only urban land-grant university in the United States." The significance of discontinuing a theatre arts program in a city with 84 theatres is quite frankly a slap in the face of reason, sense and cultural understanding. UDC should be a pipeline for students coming out of the DCPS school system offering a training ground to those with the talent, skill, passion, drive and courage to pursue a career in the theatre arts, but who may lack the financial resources to attend a far more expensive college. This issue particularly hits home to me, because I was that student. Only, I had the University of Texas at Austin, another public institution.
To put this somewhat into perspective, the decision to discontinue these programs is part of the university's right-sizing plan, which also includes the abolishments of several staff and faculty positions:
"The Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia tonight approved the abolishment of 69 positions as part of its ongoing commitment to reduce operating costs at the University. The job actions, along with 28 other position eliminations, impact faculty and staff, including executive level positions and are estimated to save the University approximately $8.5 million in annual operating costs."
Now, Professor Smith and I are in a better position than many folks, because we're able to see our students through to the end of the semester. I'm very appreciative of that, because I love teaching at this university. Our current students will be allowed to graduate as majors. Professor Smith put the courses in for the schedule yesterday. However, we don't know who will be teaching the classes.
Despite all that happened/still happening, Professor Smith and I are focused, committed and working to create opportunities for our students. Fortunately, there are many wonderful, smart and powerful folks at the university who are supporting and encouraging us. Namely, our Chair, Dean, Provost, and Interim President. They've been extraordinary. They truly value the arts, especially the theatre arts. They believe that theatre is an essential part of our community, that it enriches, educates and entertains and that it can be used as a vehicle for positive change. When they learned that Professor Lennie Smith and two our graduating senors, Bakri Mohamed-Nur and Margaret Smith were taking part in the Intersections Festival, they were overjoyed with pride. They immediately purchased tickets and helped spread the word. Now, it's time I do my part and I couldn't be more thrilled to share this news with you!
On Thursday, February 28th, for the first time, theatre faculty and students from the University of the District of Columbia, American University, Howard University, Catholic University, George Washington University and Georgetown University unite to create new theatre. Share what these diverse students and their faculty mentors have discovered while working to build community and make theatre across perceived boundaries of race, class, gender and geography. What awaits this next generation as they step up to the plate? Experience a dynamic theatrical window into the future.
What: DC University Theatre Collective: NextUS at the Atlas Intersections Festival
When: Thursday February 28, 2013 @ 7:00PM
Cost: $5 General/Student/Senior. Click here to purchase tickets.
Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.
Tomorrow, I'm going to share interviews with UDC assistant professor, Lennie Smith, and graduating seniors, Bakri Mohamed-Nur and Margaret Smith. Stay tuned!
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!