The Sudden Demise of the Theatre Graduate Program at Regent University

The Sudden Demise of the Theatre Graduate Program at Regent University

Erin Fossa

Nestled in the popular vacation city of Virginia Beach, Virginiais a thriving University founded by well-known Christian broadcaster Dr. Pat Robertson. In 1977, he founded the then Christian Broadcasting Network University - a nonprofit graduate school that is known today as Regent University’s School of Communication & the Arts…

At least… it was… until last week.

I should first explain that I received my M.A. in Theatre Studies from this very reputable (and very expensive) school in 2012. This accelerated degree, which took one year to complete, doubled my total student loan debt, but also enables me to teach theater at a collegiate level or go on to pursue my doctorate. What I paid for (and will be paying for for the next 20 years) is the Christian liberal arts education I received, the connections I made there, and maybe a little of the eyebrow raise I get when potential employers read over my resume. Just being honest.

So on May 9th when I received an e-mail from the alumni association containing an announcement from the university, I had an immediate feeling of impending scandal. And boy was I right.

The announcement was this: “The School of Communication & the Arts (graduate) will be integrated into Regent’s College of Arts & Sciences” (undergraduate) effective July 1st. The School of Communication & the Arts name will remain and house three new programs. “This will be a seamless transition, as we’ve already enjoyed very positive collaboration among our undergraduate and graduate programs, with award-winning outcomes and industry connections for students.”

Doesn’t sound too bad right?

Regent University Theatre

Regent University Theatre

But then we discovered what this actually means.

Basically, it appears the school administration is slowly trying to phase out the graduate theater program altogether. They’re calling it an integration, but many are convinced the program’s days are numbered. 

A total of 8 graduate faculty have been fired or are not being replaced. The “three new programs” mentioned in the email are all various undergraduate performance degrees, none of which contain the word theater. And the upcoming theater season has been entirely reworked, leaving third year MFA students scrambling to take on new thesis roles.

The students, faculty, and alumni were broadsided by this announcement. Most were left shocked and confused with tons of unanswered questions - Why? Who made this decision? What’s going to happen to current students? How do I tell potential employers that my graduate degree program no longer exists?

And my first thought was Oh. Sweet. Jesus… prepare them for the backlash. They know these are DRAMA students right?

Sure enough. Regent alumni have begun an absolute revolt. A closed Facebook group has been formed as a sort of “basecamp” for planning. The alumni are outraged at the sudden, unexpected demise of the program they came from, and the firing of professors and designers who mean so much to them. Current and former students are bombarding the senior leadership with emails and phone calls demanding answers and change. But so far, they have received only vague and often canned responses with little to no information on why this is happening and who is responsible.

And yes, Pat Robertson himself has been contacted and replied, “The university, the Board, and I support this integration. It is part of the plan to achieve fiscal sustainability, for each school and prepare our students to change the world.”

What we have inferred from the responses is that this was probably a financial decision. Of course it wasn’t personal, it has something to do with a plan for the school as a whole. What that plan is is still a mystery.

The way I see it, there are three perspectives here:

1.    There is the perspective of the students/faculty/staff who are directly affected by the integration. These are artists whose current endeavors are being disassembled before their eyes. They feel insulted, helpless, and are fighting to be heard.

2.    There is the perspective of the school administration and the powers that be who made and support the decision. They have a vision for their school as a whole. That vision must take into consideration financial matters, student enrollment, and a host of other issues involved with a growing and thriving university. The enrollment for the fall of 2016 was nearly 9,000 students. They offer 128 areas of study in everything from religion to law to nursing. The School of Communication & the Arts is just a small part of this large (and growing) university. They are seeing the bigger picture, knowing that no matter where cuts are made, someone is going to be unhappy.

3.    And then there are the people like me who have a foot in each position - us INFJ peacekeepers who understand both perspectives and are trying not to take the decision too personally, while our friends are heartbroken and fighting with all they have to reverse the decision.

But who is in the right here? Is this an injustice that needs rectifying or is this just the nature of educational theater? The school must do what is best for the school, even if it means cutting programs that aren’t bringing enough to the table in terms of enrollment and finances. Are my friends who are outraged and crafting a well-executed peaceful protest going to change anything with their efforts? Or is it going to be a wasted effort given the fact that everyone they’ve contacted supports the decision?

We’ve probably all experienced the frustrating scenario where the arts program is the first to be cut. But we’re not dealing with high school kids here. These are graduates of an MFA program who paid $895 per credit hour, and are now holding a degree that (they feel) has no value, because it comes from a now non-existent school. Don’t they have the right to be outraged and make their voices heard?

Only one thing is for certain, although the theater departments at Regent University are diminishing, there is still no shortage of drama there.

~~~~~

Erin is a wife, mother, actress and musician living with her husband, son, dog, and cat in North Carolina. She has a B.A. in worship arts from Spring Arbor University and an M.A. in theatre studies from Regent University. In addition to acting for stage and screen, she is also a voice actor with her own home recording studio. From that studio, she has narrated more than 20 books available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. You can learn more about Erin and connect with her through her web site -  www.erinfossa.com

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