At the end of last school year, the University of Akron theater program had two full-time faculty members and three staff members.
Now it has none.
The dance program had two full-time faculty members and one visiting assistant professor. Now, just the visiting assistant professor remains, if she accepts UA’s offer to return for a year.
James Slowiak and Robin Prichard, the two theater professors cut this week by the board of trustees, are now left wondering and worried about the future of those programs.
“My question is, who is taking responsibility for the curriculum and for making sure the classes get taught, and taught in the way they should be taught, and students are receiving what they need in terms of a theater major or minor?” Slowiak asked. “Who’s supervising the students?”
UA’s board of trustees last week, on the recommendation of President Gary L. Miller, cut 178 positions, including 96 union faculty members, to help balance a budget with a $65 million hole in it. An additional 84 employees retired or resigned in the last few months, many of them alerted by the union that if they did not retire, they or someone else could end up on the cut list.
The cuts hit several departments hard, especially so in the arts. While Miller said no programs were cut, some faculty are wondering how that can be possible if no faculty are left in some areas of study.
Slowiak, 65, said he was given the choice to retire by noon July 13 in order for his name not to go on the list of unionized faculty to be cut. But Slowiak, a 31-year UA theater department veteran, said he wants the public to know it wasn’t his choice.
“I want to let people know that the university is forcing me to retire; I am not voluntarily retiring,” he said.
Another theater professor, Adel Migid, retired earlier in the summer after being there 40 years, Slowiak said.
Also cut from the program are staff members Irene Mack-Shafer, manager of costume design; Chris Hariasz, technical director; and Danny Durst, master carpenter and technical assistant.
That leaves UA with no theater faculty or staff and no part-time faculty hired yet for the fall, Slowiak said.
A university spokeswoman said in an email this week that the dance and arts administration programs will be “revitalized with new direction and leadership” and the theater program, which has had “uneven or low enrollment, and while continuing, will likely be reviewed by the faculty this fall.”
Slowiak said he was expecting 25 theater majors this fall, including 10 incoming freshmen. Those numbers come three years after a revamped theater program began that created new degree tracks in applied theater and social entrepreneurship, applied theater and business entrepreneurship, physical theater, and theater and film studies.
“Seven years ago, theater was on the chopping block,” Slowiak said. “We were able to save the program at that point and we completely refurbished the program.”
He said after the changes, John Green, former dean of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, promised to give it at least five years. This fall would be year four, meaning they haven’t had a chance to matriculate a theater class from beginning to end.
“We’re right on track with what we said we would be when we did the new program” with enrollment, said Slowiak, who said he has always taught a full load of four theater classes and had planned the same for the fall.
The dance program is also losing assistant professor Valerie Ifill, who resigned earlier this month and is returning to Drexel University after working at UA for the last school year, Prichard said. She was brought into the dance program as an Africanist specialist.
“What was the criteria for Robin and me to be laid off,” Slowiak questioned, “when we had already lost the other two full-time faculty, which should have in some way made our jobs safe?”
Laid-off theater staff member Mack-Shafer, 49, who worked at UA for 23 years costuming theater, dance, opera and more, said she will receive no severance pay.
“Right now my entire department and my personal life has been upended, and it stings,” she said.
She spoke of the two years that the theater program was unable to recruit new classes when the major was in limbo and said the dance program needed extra support from the administration to rally from a declining number of majors.
“You have to have resources to be able to recruit. You have to have support. You have to have the faculty in place to create a draw to your program,” she said.
Prichard, a tenured associate professor of dance who worked at Akron for 10 years, said the university told her department in May that visiting professors would not be coming back. Now that visiting professor would be the only one left.
“They got rid of a tenured, union professor and replaced [me] with a nonunionized visiting person,” Prichard said.
“This is really I think about clearing out the program. The university says it [faculty cuts] doesn’t affect any programs. I don’t know what that means,” she said.
The School of Dance, Theater and Arts Administration has had seven changes of interim directors in eight years, Prichard said. Marc Reed is now director of the School of Music and the School of DTAA since May, 2019.
Reed, reached by phone Thursday, declined comment.
With the layoffs, the Arts Administration masters program has lost both Slowiak as interim coordinator and Hariasz as a senior lecturer. Slowiak said the masters program has about 15 students.
DTAA administrative assistant Lisa Hennessy also resigned in June.
Prichard said with no full-time dance professors, there is no one left to represent the program, including serving on honors or masters theses, making or voting on dance curriculum changes, or serving on any school or university committees.
Total dance majors were down to about 25 last year, Prichard said, with none graduating last year and 12 new majors expected this year. When she started at the university a decade ago, the incoming class was at about 25.
The dance program was in the process of updating from being Eurocentric, based in ballet, to a modern dance curriculum that was to include an Africanist dance program headed by Ifill, Prichard said. Now, it’s unclear if the curriculum changes will occur or who will teach the classes.
“I’ve never heard of it happening anywhere else, to gut the faculty but keep the degree,” she said. “That makes no sense.”