Fairmont State votes to shelf degrees in music and theatre

From left, Emily Grierson, her grandniece Meredith Wyatt and her beau Homer Barron played by Bailey Kershner, Jacqueline Jelacic and Kyle Stemple act out a scene of “A Rose for Emily” that was staged at Fairmont State in February 2017. The university’s board voted May 21 to end offering degrees in music and theatre education on grounds they are under-performing.

FAIRMONT — Fairmont State University is discontinuing its academic programs in music and theatre, including music and theatre education.

According to a press release from the university, the Board of Governors voted Thursday to no longer offer degrees in the discontinued programs, but will continue classes in the arts department.

Professors in the School of Arts received an email about the vote Thursday evening.

“We had received an email saying that the board had voted to discontinue programs in music and theatre,” said Fran Kirk, professor in the theater department at Fairmont State. “We knew our program was under review, and we have been under scrutiny for the last several years for low enrollment. We have been doing yearly reviews, maybe the last three years.”

While these programs will be discontinued, the press release says Fairmont State will continue music and theatre education through the next academic year, in order to “teach-out” its current students. Kirk said the faculty has been made aware their jobs are safe for the next year.

“Throughout the United States, universities like Fairmont State are making tough decisions to avoid financial exigency. Institutions are canceling non-performing and under-performing programs in an effort to avoid closing their doors. Regrettably, consecutive years of focused review confirm that the academic programs in music and theatre have had consistent low enrollment for a number of years at a very high cost to the university,” states the university press release.

Fairmont State did not publicly disclose a dollar amount that would be saved by cutting the two degree programs.

“We were told at a meeting earlier in the semester that for a year, everyone’s job was safe,” Kirk said.

The board also made a vote to continue community theatre, community music and Academy for the Arts programming. This includes vocal concerts, theatrical performances and the school’s marching band.

However, Kirk said the absence of the music and theatre degrees could impact the programming available through the Academy for the Arts.

“The faculty in the theater program works very closely with the Academy for the Arts,” Kirk said. “The instructors are community people who have arts degrees as well as students in the theater and music programs who are finishing up their degrees.

“The Academy for the Arts is possible because there are people with degrees who teach in it.”

Having been a professor in the program for years, Kirk said the decision by the board to discontinue music and theater programs saddens her, although she understands the difficult choices that have to be made.

“We know that it is complicated,” Kirk said. “I think it’s an important issue, I personally am just incredibly disappointed.”

Troy Snyder has been a theatre professor at Fairmont State for 15 years, and said that the small, close-knit aspect of the university’s theater program made it a destination for many students.

“Our theater majors, they’re stars from day one in our program,” Snyder said. “We put them right to work and in bigger programs they don’t get that. I think that’s one of the things about our program is the opportunities they would have they might not get in a bigger program.”

He also said the students are the ones who will be missing out, because they will not be able to graduate with degrees in either discipline.

“As far as our students go, it certainly is upsetting to them and to us because we’re a small department,” Snyder said. “The things that affect our students emotionally affect us as well. They’re shocked and saddened by the news and I still feel for them.”

She said the pandemic has in some ways demonstrated the importance of the arts, through mediums of entertainment that would not exist without the ability for individuals to pursue their passions in college.

“I think during the stay-home order, so many of us have turned to movies and television shows and reading books and going online to watch theater productions — the arts,” Kirk said. “I think it’s very hard when you live in a rural area where people are struggling to make a living to recognize just how much of your enjoyment, and I’ll even go so far as to say your humanity, is tied up in these things that we have a hard time placing a value on.”

Kirk listed a number of students she has known over the years who have gone on to work in multiple positions all the way up to television programs and touring theater productions.

“People who have arts degrees have all kinds of jobs,” Kirk said. “Our students do really well, there’s just not a lot of them.”

Without a small program offered by universities like Fairmont State, some of these aspiring artists will have a more difficult time evolving, Kirk said.

“The sad thing about losing a small program is those students will have a harder time finding their place,” Kirk said.

Email Eddie Trizzino at etrizzino@timeswv.com and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

News Reporter

Eddie Trizzino has been a reporter with the Times West Virginian since August of 2017, covering the entertainment, business and health beats. He spends most of his time listening to records, going to the movies and strolling through the town.

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