Graduate dance program suspended due to wider university budget cuts

The dance department in the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance has suspended its graduate dance program, and administrators say that they do not know when the program will return.

The decision to cut the three-year master of fine arts program is a reflection of the effects of wider budget cuts being imposed by the UO. The cuts include laying off faculty members and cancelling some school and department programs.

The cost of employing graduate employees was the main challenge facing the graduate program, said Steven Chatfield, the head chair of the dance department. GEs were formerly known as graduate teaching fellows and teach lower-division courses in exchange for a tuition waiver and monthly stipend.

Tuition waivers guaranteed that at least three dance students who would not otherwise attend UO would enroll in the graduate program each year, Chatfield said. The program needed at least three students to sustain itself.

And at the same time, the department will try to integrate more academic theory into some of its one-credit courses to turn them into four-credit courses.

A mathematical formula calculates how many credits a course should offer and is based on the number of hours a student would spend studying outside of class.

However, the department’s new void of graduate dance employees means that the dance department must cut some introductory courses, hindering its ability to garner more student credit-hours.

“It’s the serpent chasing its tail,” said Chatfield. “You don’t have people to teach, you’re not going to be bringing in student credit-hours, so it’s a catch-22 of sorts.”

Chatfield did add that GEs typically taught one-credit courses that all together did not bring in a comparable amount of credit hours to faculty who taught four-credit courses.

Aspiring graduate dance students probably would not decide to attend UO’s dance program outside of “larger and more prestigious” dance programs without a financial incentive, said Chatfield, listing the dance programs of New York University, the University of Washington and Florida State University, places where he said there are “much bigger” populations of up-and-coming dancers.

“So that’s one of the things we’re trying to retool,” Chatfield said. “It’s to figure out how to come back and compete for the best students with those schools.”

Other strategies that the department is attempting to reshuffle its curriculum also include reducing the number of courses that are required of dance majors and minors, proposing a new bachelors of fine arts degree and adding a dance teacher certification program in fall 2018.

“That’s actually a growth opportunity for us,” said School of Music and Dance Dean Sabrina Madison-Cannon, referring to the new degree options.

Continuing dance students will have the option to fulfill either the new or old curriculum, while students who begin studying dance in September 2018 or later must fulfill the new curriculum.

“It’s all a matter of finances. It’s a numbers game,” said Chatfield. “What we need to demonstrate to the campus is that we are serving the campus and that our student credit-hours demonstrate that students think we’re valuable to the campus.”

But not all dance students aspire to become professional dancers. Former graduate dance employee Darion Smith said that the program was “life-changing.”

Smith, 41, co-founded Janusphere Dance Company in New York in 2007 but wanted a chance to refine his teaching and academic skills.

“I had a lot of experience coming in but really not a lot of experience as a scholar,” said Smith, who will begin working as an assistant dance professor at Howard Community College in Maryland this fall.

Chatfield said that it is important to experience multiple parts of the creative arts.

“In the arts, we expect people to create new knowledge,” Chatfield said. “They learn how to think out of the box. We give them tools. We train them to do that. That’s invaluable, no matter what kind of career you move into.”

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