February 8, 2018
Posed to: Radha Pyati, President Faculty Association
“What needs to happen to create a Theatre department at UNF? Most universities over 15,000 have thriving theatre departments – not just a program in another department such as English. Can anyone provide the history of theatre at UNF?”
Response by: George Rainbolt, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Dear Friend Who Asked the Anonymous Question,
As I have been at UNF for less than year, I am not well placed to speak to the history of theater at UNF. The UNF library holds a collection on the history of UNF. There might be information there.
The study of drama currently occurs in various courses across several departments at UNF. These departments include (at least) English, Music, and Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. This appears to have been the case for many years in the past. I think (and hope) that it will be the case for many years in the future. However, the question is not about the study of drama but rather about the creation of a new Department of Theater. I assume that what is envisioned is a department that offers the standard theater majors (playwriting, acting, direction, stage design and production, costume design and production, stage management, etc.) and produces plays.
In the spring of 2017, when I signed my contract to become Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, UNF had a concentration in Theater/Drama within the English major. It also had a minor in Theater/Drama. Dr. Brian Striar (Chair of the Department of English) indicates that this concentration and minor date to the 1980s. Dr. Pam Monteleone ran this program for many years. Dr. Striar indicates that Dr. Monteleone taught all the courses on production of theater and directed all the plays offered as part of this program.
In the summer of 2017, it became apparent that Dr. Monteleone would no longer be teaching theater production. This occasioned a review of UNF’s theater program. I appointed a committee consisting of the chairs of English, Art, Music, and Languages, Literatures and Cultures. I asked them to look at theater programs at other institutions similar to UNF and make a recommendation as to whether COAS should (a) reallocate resources to make UNF’s theater program into an interdisciplinary program that was competitive with the programs offered at other SUS institutions or (b) close the theater program. (The idea of a distinct Department of Theater was never really on the table.) I asked Albert Colom (Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services) about the demand for theater and he indicated that, in the last three years, the recruitment database showed that only one student expressed an interest in theater. I passed this information on to the committee. The committee recommended closing the theater program. The faculty of the Department of English subsequently agreed with the committee and voted to close down the theater concentration and minor. The concentration and minor are currently accepting no more students as the students with that concentration and that minor finish out their degrees.
The question asks what would be required to have a Department of Theater at UNF. We would need a new building to house a theater. The building would need a scene shop located back stage. The scene shop would need appropriate height, ventilation, power, etc. We would need to equip this scene shop with the equipment and materials to build sets. We would need to buy a wardrobe of basic costumes and buy the equipment and materials to design and produce costumes. We would need to equip the theater with appropriate lights and rigging for those lights. We would need to hire several new faculty with the expertise needed to cover the standard theater majors. In sum, having a theater department that was competitive with the programs offered at other SUS institutions would be an expensive proposition. Class sizes in theater departments must be small. Therefore, theater departments do not generate much tuition revenue.
I think that UNF should do something well or not do it at all. If the committee of department chairs had indicated that they wished to make theater a priority and reallocate resources for theater, I would have been happy to take that recommendation to the faculty of the relevant departments for their input. If the relevant departments had decided that they wanted to make theater a priority, I would have been happy to undertake that (multi-year) task. However, the chairs of the relevant departments and the Department of English did not take that view. I concurred with the committee’s recommendation and the Department of English’s view that the resources necessary to start an interdisciplinary theater program that was competitive with the programs offered at other SUS institutions would be better used to strengthen existing programs.
I hope that this answers the question that was posed. I am happy to answer further questions either in person or through the Faculty Association process.
Yours in peace,
George Rainbolt, Dean
College of Arts and Sciences
University of North Florida.