On Uncommon Ground

Angie Dolan is uncertain of her future at USF. A freshman majoring in dance education, Dolan originally came to USF because her private dance instructor attended and raved about the dance program. But since administrators announced the phasing out of her major, she has had to weigh her options carefully. She is not unlike many students who have had to make difficult decisions recently about their educational futures.

During the summer, the state issued a budget cut of 3.5 percent, which affected every department at USF. Due to the tightening of the budget, USF had to cut several degree programs, including a bachelor of science degree in dance education.

Ronald Jones, dean for the College of Visual and Performing Arts, met with approximately 30 students to field questions about the program in early February. Since that meeting, the theater and dance departments have merged, and a variety of reactions and rumors have come forward.

Senior Rita Turner, who did not go to the meeting, said she is concerned about the rumors that are still flying around the dance department.

“I am afraid that all the dance majors will be weeded out and the dance department will dissolve,” Turner said.

One rumor was that the dance department would be eliminated completely, she said;and another was that no students would graduate with a degree in dance education.

Dolan said she heard students could stay in the dance education program as long as they are already taking their major classes. She said she might switch majors but is concerned that the transition will take a long time.

“I think I am going to try to stick with the dance education major, but I might switch to dance studies if I have to,” Dolan said.

Turner echoed the uncertainty, “Everything is in the air, and once the department threw the decision to merge departments together, it was shocking to the students because we were not prepared for it with facts,” she said.

But the facts vary depending on who is being asked. The dean, faculty, staff and students of the dance department each tell a different story.

Jones said the dance department cuts have affected the faculty and staff.

“The impact has been clearly a morale issue with the way the information was received, perceived and how it has been internalized,” Jones said.

He has not spoken with the students since the March 5 meeting and has not discussed the issue since the theater and dance departments merged.

Jones said Barton Lee, director for the School of Theater and Dance, would make most of the contact with the students now. Jones said the dance department is healing and positive things are beginning to take place.

“We have had meetings and have constantly addressed the issues, and now we would like to work on putting it behind us,” Jones said. “We want to focus on continuing to give a quality education with less money to work with in the department.”

Lee said he has had positive interactions with the students. “I have had two meetings with students in the dance department and they have been good sessions for the students to ask questions,” Lee said. “They mainly asked where the dance department was going and where it went.”

Lee, who has spoken with both students and faculty, said current students in the dance program would be able to graduate with a dance education degree.

“The suspension of the dance education degree will only affect those new to the college of dance and future students,” Lee said. As for the merging of the theater and dance departments, Lee said better things are in the cards.

“There are greater potentials that lie ahead and will allow for collaboration in curriculum and production,” Lee said.

Since the merge, Lee said a dialogue has developed in the department now that both units work closer together.

“Based on the course program offered, I have seen enthusiasm, support and an excellent attitude from the faculty and the students. In the end, both departments will grow together as it might not have originally,” Lee said.

Janet Moore, associate dean for the College of Visual and Performing Arts, said the decision to merge departments was logical.

“Each decision was carefully considered from all angles for a long time. It was done in a way to not impact the students immediately,” Moore said.

Lee said he would like to end all speculation about losing the dance department. He said the dance department is not going anywhere.

“If the dance department was going to be cut, I would not be in this job,” he said. “Both the theater and dance departments will expand and grow within the area they currently inhabit. The initial reason for merging departments was the budget cuts and to keep the department moving the way it had been growing.”

Jones said USF received numerous phone calls from people asking if the entire dance program had been shut down.

“After the articles came out in The Oracle, many phone calls were received specifically in the admissions office about the dance education cut. People had the impression the entire department was closed,” Jones said.

Many people thought “dance department” was an umbrella term and that the entire department had been eliminated, whereas in reality, just one degree program was removed.

One faculty member, who asked not to be named, said that the instructors would have to take on a double load in teaching next year because of the cut. According to her, USF has one of the best dance programs in the country, despite the lack of administrative support. She is also concerned about how this has affected the students and acknowledged that the most important challenge facing the department will be letting students know that the program still offers two degrees and the program has not been shut down completely.

As for the students’ points of view, they see the dance cut as being unfair.

Senior Jody Kuehner said that she is still in disbelief about the announcement.

“It’s so sad. I cannot believe it. Our department is so great, and we have so many resources,” Kuehner said. “The faculty is known everywhere, and they always give us one-on-one attention.”

Kuehner has traveled out of country because of the dance program and said major dance companies come to teach at USF regularly.

“How would this university want us to not have a dance program? It’s an extreme tragedy because our faculty is so great. All these kids aren’t going to have this opportunity to enjoy,” Kuehner said.

Junior Erin Taylor said she specifically chose USF for its strong dance program.

“I’ve looked at every school in Florida, and only USF had a great educational atmosphere. The faculty – it’s just a great group of people to be in a learning environment with,” Taylor said. She said she feels strongly about dance studies, and she didn’t want to go to a conservatory, but a real university. Taylor originally went to the University of Florida for one year and said its program was fairly new and had problems because of it. She added that USF sees its dance program as serious business.

“There should be some fighting for us. It is such a good program. But we are always the first to go, the arts,” Taylor said.

Contact Kelly Icardi at oracleicardi@yahoo.com