Photo courtesy of Jenifer Holden
By Jennifer Cooper
A crowd of students gathered around the SAC during campus lifetime on Wednesday, May 3. Strawberry fest was in full swing laughing with their virgin strawberry margaritas. Others held up signs in protest of the recent decision of the University to defund the Theater department due to budget issues.
In addition to the Theater Arts program at Stony Brook University, Dean Sacha Kopp recently sent an email to departments stating the $1.5 million budget shortfall will affect many smaller humanities departments.
The following two statements are excerpts from this email:
“First, we seek to maintain and enhance excellence in research, scholarship, and artistic creation in as many programs as possible, especially those for which we have a demonstrated record of excellence and/or an opportunity to excel. Second, we seek to impact the fewest number and the programs serving small(er) numbers of students; our resources must be prioritized to those programs that ensure timely completion of degrees for the largest number of students. Third, we seek to work within our financial constraints, reducing our expenditures by $1.5M.”
“In brief, it is proposed to:
- Combine the Department of European Languages, Literature, and Cultures, the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature, and the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature in to a single department.
- Suspend the doctoral programs in Cultural Studies, Comparative Literature, and Hispanic Languages and Literature. We will suspend admissions to these programs, redirecting TA lines to other programs within the College.
- Suspend the undergraduate majors in comparative literature and in cinema and cultural studies, redirecting faculty effort toward language-based majors.
- Suspend the undergraduate major in Theatre Arts, redirecting faculty effort towards serving the arts general education requirement and interdisciplinary humanities and social science programs.”
Between all of the affected departments, there are about 50 faculty and staff members. These departments are likely to be condensed and restructured.
The Stony Brook University Operating Budget from 2015-2016 school year was $2,595,040,856. Even though the budget usually grows from year to year, $1.5 million of that older budget only counts for 0.06 percent. The university’s operating budget consists of salaries and wages, supplies and expenses, equipment and utilities.
Dean Sacha Kopp and other university administrator’s offices were closed during the writing of this article.
Majors in Theatre Arts, Comparative Literature, and Cinema and Cultural Studies will not be admitting any more new students; however, continuing majors and minors will still have classes, but much smaller. The Theatre Arts classes will primarily exist so students can fill their SBC arts requirement.
“This decision is bigger than just for majors and minors,” said Sabrina Kazmi, a junior psychology major. “This is supposed to be a diverse school and cutting arts decreases that value.”
One of the organizers of the protest, Digby Baker-Porazinski, is organizing committees for students to do research on the University’s budget. They plan to present this information at the Lunch with the Dean event on Friday so students can voice their frustrations.
“The University is moving towards a business model,” Ellion Tanha, senior psychology and Cinema and Cultural studies major, said. “The University knows that students are going to be in debt from college so they want to advertise ‘marketable skills.’ What they don’t realize is that it’s not just STEM skills that are marketable.”
Even STEM majors like Jennifer Esch show solidarity with affected students.
“I can’t imagine my major getting taken away,” Esch said. “All I can do is by as empathetic and support these students as much as possible.”
Another organizer of the protest, Amanda Murphy, a senior theater arts major, said that this cut was “symbolic of the larger favor of STEM.” Students and organizers held this protest in an effort to make more students aware of these issues. By having it during the busy strawberry fest, they did.
“There are other ways to solve the budget problem,” Murphy said.