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Dramatic Arts cuts

The drama department will be phased out by 2004 under a budget proposal going to the board of trustees next week.

The proposal, created by the faculty executive committee and last semester’s interim provost in response to a trustee demand for an approximate $2 million budget cut, will also include the elimination of the German department as well as cuts to other departments and programs.

“We went where we could find reductions [and] came up with a set of reductions that were better than alternatives,” said Paul Shulman, government professor and member of the faculty executive committee. “We felt that if we could, as an academic division, propose these cuts we could make a case for the board to make cuts on the administration side.”

The dramatic arts department has been at Mills for nearly 100 years. The department is composed of four faculty on either notice contracts (three year contracts) or term contracts (per course contracts). Lecturer and artist Richard Battle has been at Mills for thirty years. Deborah Sussle, lecturer, has been at Mills for 27 years. Martin Berman, lecturer, has been at Mills for 24 years. Gemma Wheelan, acting chairperson of the department and director of theater has been at Mills for two years and has been associated with the college for 15 years.

According to the dramatic arts department, there are currently 17 drama majors and seven minors. This number, they say, has increased more than threefold from their enrollment several years ago. In a letter sent to Mills faculty following the proposal of the cuts, Berman stated that the dramatic arts department has had a “successful turnaround” in the last few years. Berman notes that in 1997 there were 19 students enrolled in the dramatic art 7 course. Over the years, that number has increased and in 2002 a total of 37 students had enrolled in the course. Berman adds that this is just one example of the enrollment increases in the department.

By cutting out the drama department, which according to Mary-Ann Milford, provost and dean of faculty, is a “very expensive program to run,” Mills would save over $300,000.

Milford said that she is very concerned about the $2 million budget shortfall and the pending budget proposal. “Any decision to cut any program hurts,” said Milford. “It’s like going to a mother in a family and asking her, you have five children, which one do you want to dispose of? Drama is like one of my children.”

Milford said that the proposals were made before she took office as provost this spring. Milford said that she is invested in the department both as dean of fine arts and through seeing the department as an integral part of the college’s curriculum.

Wheelan, told students that the cuts were purely financial. In reference to her department’s lack of tenured faculty, she said, “they’re cutting us because they can.”

Although the faculty will vote on the proposal, Wheelan said, the vote may not affect the outcome. “I don’t know if in fact it makes a difference if faculty vote yes or no on this proposal because President Jan [Holmgren] says that we have to make these cuts,” said Wheelan.

Professors in the drama department said that the notice to cut the department wasn’t announced to them until late December, when all students were gone. And they weren’t encouraged to discuss the plan at a faculty meeting. “They hoped we might be quiet about it,” said Wheelan.

News of these cuts has left both the Mills community and the larger Bay Area concerned, with coverage of the proposal appearing in the Oakland Tribune. According to students and faculty in the drama department, the Eastbay Express and Channel 7 News have been making attempts to contact students via telephone.

At a meeting last week held by the drama department at Lisser Hall where the possible cuts were discussed, emotions were running high as faculty, alumnae, and approximately 25 students voiced their concern.

Erika Rickard, ASMC academic board chair, said that the ASMC will present the board of trustees a petition stating student interest in the drama department as well as a statement saying that drama students will leave Mills if their department is cut.

Information about the possible cuts was sent out to students on the ‘student-news-digest,’ an e-mail posting site.

That is how freshwoman Sara Laufer found out. Laufer, who is planning to be a drama major, said that she feels betrayed by the school and will leave if she cannot continue to pursue her drama interest at Mills.

“What’s so frustrating is that they have kept it so hush-hush, so that by the time we found out there really is nothing we can do,” said Laufer.

Faculty in the drama department said they feel that the cuts are offensive because new programs are currently being implemented. Wheelan added, that as of yet, Holmgren has failed to make an announcement, which she was supposed to have made last month.