Sonoma State continues to face frequent budget cuts, which have sparked conflicts over program funding between Dean of Arts and Humanities Hollis Robbins and theater and theater faculty and students. dance.
Although the Arts and Humanities program has suffered financial cuts along with many other SSU programs, it has one of the highest budgets on campus. The Center for Performing Arts is one of four permanently funded programs supported by education related activity funds, or IRA funds, which are paid out of student fees. Through IRA, course fees, and donor funds, SSU’s drama department receives more than 8 times the amount of funding than other campus departments, such as Philosophy, English, Art , communications, etc. This represents 15.91% of the entire IRA budget, or just over $ 565,000 this year, making it the second largest performing arts budget at California State University. .
Students and professors in the program have repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction, anger and fear over the cuts, which has led to the creation of two petitions against the budget cuts and reallocations last month. “Save the Sonoma State Theater Arts and Dance / Music Departments From Unjust Use of Student Fees” was initiated by dance student Sierra Parkhurst and garnered 550 signatures of support, and “Statement of Support” was initiated by the faculty theater and dance arts and collected 154 signatures.
Students and faculty in the department say they are angry with Dean Hollis Robbins for slashing their budget and fear losing their program. In the description of the petition, Parkhurst wrote: “The undisclosed decision of the Dean of Arts and Humanities to transfer large operational salaries from the United States to IRA funds (teaching-related activities) has have a direct impact on the education of theater arts and dance / music students … She says theater and dance students struggle with a lack of resources to support “fully realized” productions, including costumes, tech support, design team and guest artists. She also adds that there has been a reduction in several staff members resulting in overload of faculty work which impacted students’ ability to feel supported by faculty. Finally, she calls for transparency on student funding, and explains her fear of the ability of the program to exist under these conditions.
Dean Robbins, on the other hand, defended her actions and said she was facing a cut in IRA funding due to a lack of registrations and made the decision to move, not reduce , part of the program funding with the most financial support to SSU and instead use the talents of students on productions instead of hiring expensive external professional services
Drama and Dance Arts Department Chair Christine Cali has expressed her displeasure with recent budget cuts in her department, and she, along with other theater and dance faculty members. dance, claim that Dean Robbins is the only one to blame.
The Faculty of Theater and Dance Arts issued a statement on the use of student fees and the need for administrative oversight, which said: “Since well before the pandemic, [theatre and dance] students have come to feel that their education is in jeopardy because their dean has repeatedly restricted, denied or reallocated IRA funding … These students fear that there is no publicity to bring in the public to attend their work; that there will be no guest accompanists or creators, which is the norm for theater / dance programs; and that the dean will announce outright the cancellation of the season. At the end of the statement, they added, “Unless the university honors the trust of students, Dean Robbins’ actions risk becoming the model for managing IRA funds throughout the university. ” The statement was signed by 9 different faculty members from the Drama and Dance Arts Department.
According to the statement released by the Faculty of Theater and Dance Arts, Dean Robbins, “… [Center for Performing Arts] The IRA will pay permanent full-time staff and executive salaries.
These salaries have historically been paid for out of state money, but with this new arrangement at least half of the money will come from IRA funds, reports the Faculty of Theater Arts.
Cali says the department has “… experienced not only the reassignment, but also the withholding of IRA student fees that directly support students in the creative process and performance.” It also has a greater impact on our ability to present live performances for the campus community. Cali also stressed that the Department of Theater and Dance Arts “calls for transparency and accountability in the management of funds.”
Students and other faculty members are also voicing similar concerns – which is clear from the two petitions that have been created.
“[The budget cuts are] super disappointing, ”says Packhurst. “We have to ask ourselves if there will even be a production and how can we create work without money. It’s really frustrating and disappointing, and it makes us, as students, feel like we’re being undervalued.
“We find it difficult to work in this environment because we don’t know what tomorrow can bring,” said Tony Bish, director of the technical theater program.
In response, Dean Robbins said his decision to withdraw some funding from the theater and dance arts was based on a careful review of their finances and his work on the Tuition Fee Advisory Committee.
“I have been the subject of very painful allegations… I have worked for transparency and clarity on the proper use of tuition fees for over three years on the Tuition Fee Advisory Committee. education… There is nothing I can do with funds without the approval of all members of this team, ”said Dean Robbins.
Assistant Vice-President for Student Affairs Laura Monje-Paulson added, “This committee is not complacent about how funds are spent … We are prepared to be transparent and honest about it. There is proper accountability here.
Dean Robbins raised questions about how the Center for Performing Arts spent funding student registration fees for three years with the committee.
Robbins asked, “Why do geologists or painters at SSU have to spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket on classes while theater students get free costumes?” The theater arts department receives more funding from the IRA than any other program on campus.
When comparing SSU Theater Arts program IRA funding to other CSU campuses, the SSU program receives more funding than almost any other CSU, even though we have fewer registrations than most other CSUs. The only CSU that has more performing arts funding than SSU is Fullerton, and they receive $ 657,831 compared to SSU’s $ 560,000 in funding. Information regarding funding for the theater arts program was provided by Tai Russotti, executive director of the School of Arts and Humanities.
“I think I paid roughly $ 200 to $ 300 for art supplies for my classes this semester and I’m just a minor in art,” said Jenna Zager, fourth-year SSU student. She agrees that it is unfair that the arts department receives much less funding from the IRA than theater and music programs.
Robbins said the theater and dance arts department hired professionals to build sets, make costumes, perform music for shows, etc. She argued that the students who study these things at SSU should be more involved in setting up the shows – not the professionals. She also suggests it could increase attendance at theater shows, which typically saw attendance below 10% of theater capacity, according to ticket sales data shared by Russotti.
At a student forum on September 30, Robbins asked students, “Who decides whether musicals have student performers or professional musicians?” The students said they should be able to decide that.
Additionally, the Dean pointed out how many people are working on this funding issue alongside her as a team, and wondered why it is specifically the subject of allegations. The Executive Director of Student Affairs, Erik Dickson, explained the long process of these reallocations during a recent training meeting on the management of IRA funds. “Election brochures with electoral pros and cons written by various students are presented to all other students by email, who then vote on the issue. The results then go to President Sakaki, and the decision is ultimately up to him, ”Dickson said.
“I know I did the right thing for the students. I’m trying to make funding fairer for all arts and humanities programs, ”Robbins said. She then quoted California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro as saying: “‘You have to do the unpopular thing, even if you are going to get clubbed.'”
The administration continues to face an outcry from students and faculty in the theater and dance arts over budget cuts and campus-wide reallocations. In order to address these concerns, they will organize open forums with students and faculty who wish to express their opinions on the matter. On October 11 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., Dean Robbins will participate in an open zoom forum to discuss funding for theater, dance and music programs. Students are invited to join the conversation.
Jessica Sternfeld contributed to this report.