UCC affirms commitment to the arts amidst rumor mill backlash

Published by Faith Byars on

Plans for making music and theatre programs more sustainable are supposed to be drawn up by the end of spring term and implemented in the fall.
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UCC affirms commitment to the arts amidst rumor mill backlash

Even the best laid plans can go awry. When those plans are nascent, controversial and frightening, that planning might lead to disaster or gossip. The UCC Board of Education and the UCC President’s Office were recently pressured to address rumors about cuts to Music and Theatre programs after a letter was leaked to the public allegedly containing misleading information.

The board passed a resolution at their April 14 meeting to support the arts at UCC and agreed with the college president’s agenda to set up two taskforces to examine funding of music and theatre programs. Students, faculty and the community voiced concerns at the board meeting, but many are left wondering who in these taskforces will be making plans for changes to the programs and how.

The new taskforces will be given directions by the college’s provost, Kacy Crabtree, who, according to Thatcher has experience in the performing arts. These taskforces, one for music and one for theatre, are to complete action plans by the end of spring, implement said plans in the fall and then reevaluate these plans this December. There is no current information available on who is making up these task forces specifically beyond having members from the leadership, faculty, student body and community.

After hearing letters from the community expressing concerns about cuts to UCC arts, UCC President Debra Thatcher addressed the complaints.

According to Thatcher, the college has been concerned about enrollment in the music and theatre course for over two years. While these concerns were not eased by COVID-19’s challenges, the pandemic has only added to these worries.

“Several possible solutions were in the works, but before we could fully develop a plan, a message was sent to the community with incorrect and incomplete information. There is no undoing what happened,” Thatcher said. “Instead, we looked at the community reaction to the message and talked with faculty to determine next steps. I have to say that I am saddened that so many community members got the impression that we are simply going to eliminate music and theatre. I am disheartened that the story got twisted and some people claimed that the board of education actually approved such an untenable action.”

Board member Doris Lathrop explained that she had received messages from faculty who were concerned about this letter, especially since they had not received adequate communication about the insinuated changes. Lathrop noted board members received many angry messages by members of the public over the incomplete and misleading letter.

“I spent the weekend and into this week fielding questions from phone calls, emails, text messages about the community’s disgust with the lack of support for our music and theatre program. I am extremely frustrated with the letter that went out that was inaccurate and premature, and I just appreciate this report,” Lathrop said during the meeting.

In addition to addressing the concerns over these programs, the college now also has concerns about the possible damages to a relationship of trust with the community, especially members of the community who are passionate about the arts.

“My biggest concern is that community members will persist in believing that the college tried to eliminate these programs, and that their belief in and trust of the college is eroded,” Thatcher said.

Still, the larger issue at hand is concern over the arts.

Thatcher said that UCC Theatre and Music programs are unsustainable in their current state. However, she said the college has no intention of eliminating the arts at UCC. In fact, that is the opposite of their stated goals.

According to Thatcher, the programs and courses have seen consistently low enrollment in the past years with 86 percent of theatre courses not meeting the enrollment requirements and few, if any, of the second-year music courses meeting the enrollment requirements.

Thatcher expressed concern about the equity of some current music groups led by UCC instructors which have only one or two students who pay tuition for the group, while the rest of the many other community members in the group receive free instruction. In the past, the college received some state reimbursement for offering these groups to the community, but that financial assistance was cut off in 2006.

Thatcher said UCC will continue to evaluate how to streamline music and theatre programs and course offerings where classes have been low enrolled for multiple years.

The goals of examining these programs, according to Thatcher, are to determine what courses are attractive to theatre students, what courses are attractive for general education, what courses will transfer and contribute to an associates, how to better partner with the community and how to balance faculty workload expectations for teaching and directing. The main goal, however, is determining how to realistically and sustainably fund music and theatre programs and courses that will actually benefit students while not damaging the college’s finances.

Additionally, Thatcher’s full statement can be found online on the college’s website.

The board stressed during this meeting that as changes are made, the arts must continue to be available for students and community members to enjoy.

This was due to a resolution for the continued support for performing and fine arts proposed and drafted by Board Member Erica Mills.

The college is creating two new taskforces for music and theatre to address issues within the programs.
Photo by Faith Byars / The Mainstream

“Resolutions are not binding, but it does show a good intention in what you would like to see have happen, and in that regard, I do think it is a great statement,” Thatcher said.

Twila McDonald, also a board member, said in the meeting, “We are not mandating anything; we are publicly declaring that we are supporting all these initiatives to look for sustainable funding and promoting.”

The motion was unanimously approved by the board.

The full resolution can be heard by watching the board’s Facebook livestream. Per the resolution’s provisions, a copy of the resolution is to be inserted into the official board minutes as well.

This does not mean that difficult challenges will not need to be faced nor does it mean that these programs will not see major changes.

“It really is aspirational. It’s become abundantly clear in the last week what strong support there is in the community for the arts, including music and theatre,” Board Chair Steve Loosly said in his closing statements during the meeting. “This is about just helping us trying to imagine a future where we are utilizing all of the resources that we have on our beautiful campus.”

Board member David Littlejohn also stressed, during the meeting, the importance of supporting the arts while also being practical and realistic: “I would certainly commit publicly that the board always wants to be reasonable and grounded in economic reality.”

“I would be perfectly comfortable allowing the public to know that it was at no point that the college had any intention of throwing the arts out of the community recognition, nor does the board have any intention of crippling through reckless policy,” Littlejohn said. “It is a commitment to our community that we are hearing you.”

There are already changes being made to these departments. The UCC theatre program specifically has faced challenges due to COVID-19 which changed many operating procedures.

Jesika Barnes, ASUCC president and a UCC theatre student herself, said, “One of the big things, I think, is that we need to look at new ideas. We need to innovate. Theatre and music programs must evolve, and I think this last year has really kickstarted that evolution because we’ve been forced to think outside the box and imagine things differently.”

UCC students are impassioned about protecting the performing arts as well. This passion is what inspired many to reach out to UCC’s board of education.

“This is about just helping us trying to imagine a future where we are utilizing all of the resources that we have on our beautiful campus,”

Board Chair Steve Loosly

“Theatre has been an incredible healing force in my life, especially over the course of the last year,” Barnes said. “I figured that if there was even a small grain of truth to the concerns facing the theatre community, then it was worth speaking up and letting the board know how much this program means to me and other students like me.”

Even with the possibility of cuts, there is still hope for students who wish to study the performing arts at UCC. According to Barnes, helping with the regrowth of programs like this can actually a much more personalized experience and an outlet for exerting one’s passion about the arts.

Funding for these programs is still unclear. However, Barnes points out that without the community’s active involvement and support, there is little chance for the arts to thrive.

“As wonderful as it is that the public cried out at the thought of losing theatre and music at UCC, it’s not enough,” Barnes said. “We have to show up and support these arts in big ways, as a community we need to back our words and emotions with action. Ultimately it is the community and student engagement that keeps these programs going, without that all the money and support in the world will be ineffective.”

According to the April 14 board meeting, 86% of theater courses fail to meet UCC’s current enrollment requirements for courses.
Photo by Faith Byars / The Mainstream
Letter from Jesika Barnes to UCC Board of Education

Jesika Barnes, ASUCC president and a UCC theatre student, addressed the UCC Board of Education in a letter which was read aloud during the April 14 meeting. Barnes provided The Mainstream with a copy of this letter.

Good afternoon Chair Steve Loosley, Dr Thatcher, and members of the board,

My name is Jesika Barnes and today I would like to address some concerns over the theater and music departments. I understand that the letter that went out to students was not entirely accurate, but I also know that these concerns are not entirely unfounded. As campuses across the country deal with the effects of covid-19, we see a major impact to arts programs, and it is natural that the arts community here at UCC would be nervous and afraid for their futures.

I would like to preface by saying that I have been involved in theater here in the Roseburg area for many years. When I was deciding whether or not to return to this area to restart school the theater program at UCC was a large contributor to that decision. I was thrilled at the prospect of getting back on stage and performing. Much to my dismay, I arrived at UCC during the transitionary year for the theater program when no classes or productions were being offered. Instead, I was obliged to turn to community theater with UACT, which while fulfilling, is not as well set up for student actors.

It was here that I started to realize that there was a wound in the Roseburg theater community following the loss of Stephanie in the theater director position. Across my work with various people, I recognized that many of them felt betrayed and hurt by decisions that had been made at UCC. I do not pretend to have any insight into the decisions made by the campus at that time, it is only the ripple effects that I was privy to.

Fast forward to the start of the 2019-2020 school year and I was ecstatic to see theater return to UCC. I have personally worked hard to warm the theater community at large to the return of theater at UCC, but the new program has been working against the pain and wounds that the community felt before. It has taken time, dedication, and a lot of work to slowly start to turn that perception around, but I do see that good work is being done and that the theater community has started to heal.

With the introduction of covid-19 to our daily way of life, it is to the arts that so many of us have turned for comfort. Virtual museum tours, virtual productions, at-home premiers of anticipated movies, these are the things that keep us going day by day in what has been a dark time for so many. For me personally, this last year has been filled with immeasurable grief and loss and without theater I know I would not have come out so well on the other side. Auditions, rehearsals, classes, and performances were my moments of sanity and elation during an otherwise dark time. This program kept me from the deepest depths of depression.

I know that UCC has heard the community’s cries in response to the possibility of losing or drastically reducing these programs and that we are already taking steps to address it. I plan to join the theater task force myself to put in the hard work necessary to see these programs flourish. What I ask for from you now is an equal commitment to the success and longevity of theater and music programs at UCC.

While the rest of the country slashes and cuts at the art programs I challenge UCC to instead double down and reinvest in these truly life-saving programs. Let us be an oasis for the arts across this beautiful state where students can come to us because we have not cut down these programs and these options. Let us stand proudly behind them instead and use them as the recruitment resource they could be.

Thank you for your time and my deepest respect,

Jesika Barnes

Letter from Joe Ross to UCC Board of Education

Board Chair Steve Loosly read an email from Joe Ross, a member of the community, to the Board of Education: “I note there has been a disinvestment in UCC by the state legislature. I understand that there has been a decline in enrollment. I know you can’t do everything and are stiving to do more with less. At the same time, I am very strongly in support of UCC’s Music and Theatre programs. They provide opportunities for significant artistic growth of UCC students as well as much community enrichment and pleasure. A great indication of a community’s health is the vitality of its artistic programs and the provision of thriving programs for artistic expression. UCC’s Music and Theatre programs have many inherent, far-reaching benefits, some direct to make students, some indirect to the community at large. The staff are top notch, and the programs are always very enjoyable. Many generate income and are largely self-sufficient. The pandemic had taken its toll, but recovery is expected. I urge you to not suspend the music program, discontinue community performance ensembles or eliminate the theatre position. I urge you to clearly articulate any prosed changes to your programs. Once these are laid out, I urge you to provide more opportunities for public discussion and input.”

Upon Ross’ requested, these comments were made a matter of public record. This message was not read in full as Loosely noted skipping the introductory information in the message.

Letter from Daniel Robinson to UCC Board of Education

In a handwritten card sent to and read by Board Chair Steve Loosley, Daniel Robinson, a long-time member of the community, addressed her concerns over the future of performing arts at UCC: “Dear Steve, nothing represents UCC more than Music and Theatre. Performances by students and community members bring us to campus and remind us of what a wonderful asset UCC is to our community. Please do not make cuts to these programs that will reduce our opportunities to enjoy UCC. Keep community in our local community college.”

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