Dear Central Connecticut State University, It's Time to Shut Your Theatre Program Down

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Dear President Dr. Zulma Toro of Central Connecticut State University, 

As much as it pains me to say this, it's time to shut your theatre program down. It's incredibly rare for me to make such a declaration, however, given the turmoil surrounding the program and its faculty, it's become clear that student safety apparently is not a primary concern within the department. Therefore, in good conscience, I cannot recommend students to major in theatre at CCSU for the foreseeable future. 

Shut it down. 

This is an email that I sent last week to the President of Central Connecticut State University. I haven't received a response and I don't expect one. But the issue needs to be addressed.

One of the big aspects of this site has been to research and recommend college theatre programs for prospective students. When looking into these schools we take everything into account. Whether it's the facilities, rigor of curriculum or performance opportunities, no stone is left unturned. Other major factors we take into account are the strength of faculty and student safety. When a college fails in either of these categories, it's a problem. When they fail in both, it's apocalyptic. 

Such is the case with Central Connecticut State University

In case you haven't heard, the school's theatre department is embroiled in two different scandals involving two different faculty members. In both of which, student safety had been, allegedly, compromised. 

 Joshua Perlstein

Joshua Perlstein

The first involves theatre professor Joshua Perlstein. Earlier this year, it was reported by the school's newspaper that multiple women, current and former students as well as colleagues, had come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct. Further investigations by local news show that there are 168 pages of complaints, dating back more than a decade with at least five separate people coming forward. In at least one case, the university says Perlstein violated their sexual harassment policy, but still got away with a warning.

As of the time of writing this piece, investigations are occurring. Perlstein has been placed on administrative leave but still employed and listed as a full-time faculty member of the department's website. 

Then, just last week, a second issue emerged from the department. Former theatre professor, Thomas Callery was arrested for interfering with a police officer and second-degree reckless endangerment after a student was hurt during a theater class. 

According to a report from the Hartford Courant, "the charges are connected to an accident involving a student that occurred in Maloney Hall’s Black Box Theatre on March 28. Callery was placed on administrative leave soon after the incident while the investigation was conducted but retired before it was completed."

Accidents in the theatre often happen. However, it's rare that criminal charges result from them. To hear that possible reckless endangerment was occurring in the theatre with students and then issues of reporting it to the authorities, that's an egregious error. It's a shame that Callery was able to put in for retirement before the investigation was concluded but that's collective bargaining for you. 

The details of the incident aren't being released due to confidentiality policies involving students and collective bargaining agreements protecting faculty. However, as the court case begins, we will update you accordingly. 

However, that's two major problems for a small theatre department at a state university in just a couple of months. Given the number of full-time faculty in the program, it's not a good thing when almost half of your staff is under investigation both internally and criminally. Also, both issues with Perlstein and Callery put the university in enormous liability risk.

 Thomas Callery's mugshot. 

Thomas Callery's mugshot. 

It's a shame too because up until now, CCSU has had a strong theatre program. I consider them right up there with UCONN and Western Connecticut State as the best that the state university system has to offer. I've seen several productions there and all were top-notch. I know many people who have gone through the program and are working successfully today. This is also not an indictment on the good faculty at CCSU, whom I know a couple. But just a couple bad apples spoil the bunch and that's been certainly the case at CCSU. 

And just in case anyone questions this, I would feel the same if these issues were occurring in the biology, history or any other department. 

This also obviously stains the legacy of previous President Jack Miller who had been in charge when the issues with Perlstein occurred. 

But how can a parent trust this department with their child right now? Given what's apparently occurred within the department, the fact that the school was made aware and failed to act appropriately, no parent can. 

So while it's always been the mantra of this site to encourage more theatre than less, it's clear that if CCSU is compromising the safety of its students, as they apparently have for the past decade, they shouldn't be allowed to have a program anymore. 

If President Toro, is serious about turning the page and trying to rebuild the damage that's been done and regain the trust of prospective students and their families, it's time to shut down its problematic theatre program. 

UPDATE: Apparently, the President of CCSU, Zulma R. Toro, sent the following message to theatre students at CCSU:

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So, I'm thrilled that President Toro wrote this for a couple of reasons. The first is obviously that it acknowledges the blog and shows that the message was received. But secondly and most importantly, it shows that the school's leadership is at least listening, communicative with its students and committed to change. If my article unites the theate department and forces real change at CCSU, I'm thrilled with that result.