Dance, Theatre departments merge as chair steps down


G-Jun Yam

The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. houses the college’s dance majors. 

By Editor-in-Chief Digital Content Manager

The Dance and Theatre departments will be combining this fall as John Green, chair of the Theatre Department for several years steps down and Peter Carpenter, acting chair of the Dance Department, becomes interim chair of the new department.

The merger, announced in an unexpected July 25 collegewide email from Onye Ozuzu, Dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, stated that combining the Dance and Theatre Departments and creating a single “administrative unit” will allow for more collaboration and interdisciplinary work between students. She also said in the statement that the programs will stay “distinct” and no “immediate” changes will be made to the programs.

The statement did not address any budget issues or prospects for faculty or staff layoffs. However, pre-enrollment statistics for Fall semester indicate that while Theatre enrollment is likely to be up from last year, Dance enrollment would be down slightly.

Spokeswoman Cara Birch declined requests for an interview with Ozuzu as of press time. Carpenter also declined to comment as of press time in order to discuss the changes with department faculty and staff.

“We see tremendous opportunities for theatre and dance students by combining these departments into one administrative unit, given the overlap in the types of learning and performance spaces,” Ozuzu said in the email.

Green, however, said the merger was a financially-driven decision, rather than an enrollment issue. This summer the college laid-off more than 15 staff members due to budgetary constraints, as reported June 6 by The Chronicle.

“It is going be important that we find areas where dance and theatre can collaborate on programs from an interdisciplinary perspective and balance that with keeping a clear identity of the two departments,” Green said.

Many of the departments’ faculty and staff members were not informed of the change before Ozuzu’s collegewide email.

Bonnie Brooks, an associate professor and former chair in the Dance Department, said the departments do not know many specifics yet about the decision to combine departments, besides possible “administrative overlap” with the different departments’ employees.

“They are trying something new,” Brooks said. “It is interesting to test an idea and see if it works, and that seems to be what they are doing.”

Albert Williams, senior lecturer in the Theatre Department who said he was not aware of the idea of combining departments until the July 25 email, added that interdisciplinary collaboration is not new to Columbia.

“The thing about Columbia compared to other performing arts schools in Chicago is we are small enough that we can foster that kind of interdisciplinary collaboration,” Williams said.

Evan Szewc, a junior theatre major, said he was “shocked” by the decision, especially after recent budget and staff cuts in the Theatre Department over the summer.

“Merging the departments, although there might be more opportunities for collaboration, it is spreading two art forms,” Szewc said. “Students will be losing the opportunity to get as much hands on training as they were once able to.”

Ozuzu stated in the email that the college will conduct an internal search for a permanent department chair during the upcoming academic year.

Green, who has been at the college for about eight years and also served as interim dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, said his new position will mainly focus on supporting the department’s first graduate degree program—a Master of Fine Arts program in Devised Performance Practice, that will partner with the London International School of Performing Arts and launch in the Fall 2017 Semester. Green said he has been working on the degree and partnership for about six years.

As chair, Green also played a major role in creating the comedy writing and performance partnership with Second City, international partnerships with theatre programs in various countries, hosting two national conferences at the college and the creation of the theatre foundation program that requires first-year theatre majors to be introduced to “contemporary theatre making.”

“John has been instrumental in bringing devised, intentionally hybrid theatre-making to the department and to the proposal and imminent launch of the MFA program in Devised Performance Practice,” Ozuzu said in the email.


Update: 2:30 p.m., July 29

An update on the administrative shift of the Theatre and Dance departments was sent in a July 28 collegewide email after department employees expressed concerns regarding whether the decision complied with the college’s Faculty Manual.

Though there is no set faculty bylaws for the combination of departments under one administrative unit, there are set sections of the Faculty Manual outlining employee consultation before hiring administrators, said Greg Foster-Rice, an associate professor in the Photography Department and Faculty Senate president in a July 27 interview with The Chronicle.

He added that after several faculty members in the Theatre Department communicated concerns to him about the July 25 announcement, he spoke with Dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts Onye Ozuzu hoping to see a “slight revision” in order to “accommodate” the Faculty Manual.

“Even if there’s a sense that shared governance may not have initially been followed, we have the opportunity to go back and find a shared governance moment and find a better resolution,” Foster-Rice said.

In the July 28 collegewide email sent by Ozuzu, she acknowledged that her initial announcement did not include information about mandatory “consultations with faculty.”

“The omission of communication about the upcoming consultation was an oversight on my part, and I take responsibility and do apologize for it,” Ozuzu stated in the email.

She added that as a year-long consultation occurs starting Aug. 15, the departments will still be overseen by Carpenter.

“This engagement will be facilitated under the single administrative unit as we explore new possibilities for deployment of our resources in the best interests of our students,” Ozuzu stated in the email.

After the college’s Curriculum and Academic Policy Review Manual was finalized during the Fall 2015 Semester, the Senate’s Academic Affairs committee created a section that would create bylaws for the termination of programs after the sudden elimination of the First-Year Seminar program during the Spring 2015 Semester.

Following the July 25 announcement, Foster-Rice said the termination policy will now likely expand to other program changes, including administrative changes and other reorganizations in order to create clear procedures and not leave faculty at a “disadvantage.”

However, while the committee was charged with creating the policy regarding program termination during the past academic year, Foster-Rice said it has yet to be completed. He added that the Senate hopes to complete the discussions during the summer and into the Fall 2016 Semester while also discussing the new additions.

Alton Miller, associate professor in the Communication and Media Innovation Department and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee during the past academic year, could not be reached for comment.

“I feel remiss that we haven’t written the policy for termination of programs and included [administrative] mergers and all these possibilities, but sometimes you don’t know you need a law until something happens, and you realize you need a law to back up a process and [possible] procedures,” Foster-Rice said.


Update: 9:30 a.m., Aug. 5

Alton Miller, associate professor in the Communication & Media Innovation Department and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, said once the termination policy is created it may include information about major department changes.

The Curriculum and Academic Policy Review Manual is subject to alteration as changes are made to the college, especially with the continual development of the Strategic Plan, he added.

“[The CPM] is a dynamic document,” Miller said. “It’s continually evaluated and reevaluated. The idea is that we have clear cut policies and are consistent, but the actual development of the document is still in progress.”