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Arts programs would be hit hard in recommended second round of cuts

Photo courtesy calvin.edu.
Photo courtesy calvin.edu.

The majority of the academic cuts recommended by President Le Roy’s cabinet are in the arts departments, according to Calvin’s new prioritization report released to faculty and staff on Monday morning.

Specific programs that are candidates for reduction or elimination include art history, theater, music specialities and the Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree.

The prioritization document says that conversations would continue with departments into the spring semester, and that final decisions would be made by the May faculty senate meeting.

President Le Roy said Calvin is cutting back in certain programs in order to balance enrollment trends with faculty numbers and class size, hopefully making them more sustainable.

“I hope no one would interpret the decisions we’ve made as arbitrary decisions because we don’t like something,” Le Roy said. “It’s quite the contrary. What we’re trying to do in making these prioritization recommendations is sustain what we are trying to do.”

The plans are not finalized, but leaders are approaching final steps in the coming month and a half: hearings are scheduled for community members on Friday, then the planning and priorities committee will recommend cuts to Le Roy, who will recommend them to the board of trustees in January.

Dean of Arts, Languages and Education Mark Williams explained how Calvin’s current financial situation requires its administration to pay attention to unnecessary costs.

“We need to shrink the number of courses that we offer so that we are within our teaching budget,” Williams said. “It’s a delicate balancing act.”

The cuts could include combining the B.F.A. with a Bachelor of Arts degree in art, turning the art history major into a minor and possibly linking theater, dance and music for arts performance and arts management degrees.

The art education program, which is currently run at a low cost because the faculty member teaches courses as uncompensated overloads, would be reevaluated in 2015, if the report doesn’t change before the board of trustees approves it. If enrollment didn’t reach at least five graduates per year, the program would be cut.

“These programs are being recommended for cuts because of low student-faculty ratios, low numbers of graduates over the past five years, and/or relatively low placement on the prioritization grids completed last year,” according to the prioritization report.

But Provost Claudia Beversluis said she hopes the cuts will not last.

“The arts have been hurting nationally, so Calvin’s not unique in that,” Beversluis said. “But I would love it if we developed a stronger reputation for the arts and … enrollment in the arts started rising. Then we would follow the enrollment trends again and add things.”

A newly-formed Arts Counsel hired a consultant, Dr. Teresa Reed from the University of Michigan, to look at the arts programs and make recommendations for growth and improvement.

He said hiring Dr. Reed points to the college’s commitment to the arts.

“This is a sign we want invigorated programming in the arts,” Le Roy said. “In general, I would say we continue to be very supportive of the programs that we retain.”

Music professor David Fuentes made a case for support of the arts in the new strategic plan during the faculty senate meeting last Monday, but said despite Dr. Reed’s support of his idea, it seems like it will not be accepted.

“I believe some of the people who are designing and overseeing the strategic plan don’t want to mention specific programs because they’re afraid that everyone will want to have their program mentioned,” Fuentes said. “But the prioritization document is all the proof we need that the arts are in trouble.”

The Arts Council has been working to build awareness of and interest in the arts programming at Calvin, according to the prioritization report. Because of their work, some flexibility will exist so that these programs can rebuild their student enrollment.

Fuentes said he hopes to rebuild the arts programs by stressing their importance to Calvin’s mission.

“We want to remind people that the arts are more than a pleasant relief from the troubles of the world,” Fuentes said. “We’re not just creating entertainment. The arts provide an essential way of knowing. And if we don’t fully utilize it, we’re missing out on a big part of our calling as an institution.”

This article has been corrected. A previous version incorrectly stated that faculty senate hired Dr. Reed; the newly-formed Arts Counsel hired her. The previous version also incorrectly stated that faculty senate would make final decisions at their May meeting; faculty senate will not vote on the matter but a decision will be made by the May meeting. Chimes regrets the errors.

About the Author

Ruthy Berends

Ruthy Berends is a Chimes on-call writer for the 2013-14 school year.

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