Provost Rick Ostrander recently announced that the academic Theatre program will be discontinued at the end of this semester. That is, theatrical productions at CU will now be funded as extra-curricular activities, but the academic major will no longer be offered. Theatre has a rich history that stretches back to the 1968 student production of "Seven Keys to Baldpate." It has been a valued part of the Cornerstone University community, from the days of "informal" productions to the birth of the academic minor, the major in 2006, and the robust program that it has become under Jennifer Hunter's leadership. As alumni, we are all proud of the program and those "pillar" traditions, like Beneath the Willows and Center Stage.
The recent news is especially disappointing when we reflect on the formative experiences the program has afforded to students, and the treasured memories that alumni carry with them. In addition, the quality of the Theatre program has grown tremendously as a direct result of the hard work, dedication, and skilled leadership of Jennifer Hunter, along with a deeply committed group of volunteers and staff members. For those who have invested themselves - professionally and personally - the end of the academic program is accompanied with a deep sense of grief and loss.
This long, rich history of CU Theatre has added value to the campus, the surrounding community, and the lives of students and alumni. So, with all of that success, why is the academic program ending?
The financial turbulence of 2008 and the ongoing challenges to higher education have caused colleges across the U.S. to be keenly attentive to the financial sustainability of individual programs and initiatives. In fact, you might remember that there was a significant cut in pay for all Cornerstone University employees in 2009 in an effort to put CU on a financially sustainable trajectory. The good news, as described in a recent MLive article, is that CU continues to make adjustments that reflect "financial responsibility." Thus, the painful decision to end the academic Theatre program is an effort to steward the resources of the university toward fulfilling the mission that God has for us. In the end, we will be returning to a more "grassroots," student-driven model of theatre at CU starting this next academic year, with one full production each semester.
A number of good questions have surfaced in the past few days. For instance, why not pursue funding for theatre instead of a baseball stadium or stained glass windows for the chapel? In short, donors often have particular interests that do not initially and/or fully align with the list of institutional desires. CU addressed a university need and honored the donor’s wishes by integrating a 90-bed dormitory into the baseball stadium. Similarly, a donor that Dr. Stowell pursued for Christ Chapel is only interested in funding stained glass window projects – and generously so! The donor would not have interest in other opportunities for CU if it were not for the windows.
A forum for Theatre alumni took place on April 22. The handout from the forum is available here: Theatre Alumni FAQ
I recognize that you may still have questions after reading this letter. If so, please contact me directly (616- 254-1669; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Nate J. Clason
Director of Alumni Relations