On Thursday, May 21, the Fairmont State Board of Governors (BoG) voted to enhance the community theater and music programs, including the programs provided by Academy of the Arts and discontinue the academic programs in theatre and music. These programs had been under review for consecutive years because neither academic program met minimum standards established by the WV Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) for continuation. Both programs were accompanied by large budget shortfalls.
"Over the past two weeks, we have listened, and we have heard the community's concerns as well as their outpouring of love and passion for these academic programs," said BoG Chair Dixie Yann. "We have also received and answered many questions about the decision to discontinue these programs and what that means to the cultural opportunities they bring to our campus and beyond."
"The Board understands the importance of the arts in a well-rounded education. Together with my peers on the Board and the administration of the University, I know the performing arts engage the mind, body, and emotions so students can learn through creativity and collaboration. Students build confidence, learn problem-solving, and develop empathy and insight into the human condition. We are committed to keeping the performing arts at Fairmont State through community theatre and music so that our students can continue to explore their creativity and be inspired through these outlets."
"Across the country and even within our athletic conference, we see the closures of higher education institutions that failed to make hard decisions to remain solvent. The Board has to balance its passion and respect for the arts with its fiduciary responsibility to our students, alumni, and community members. Beyond the Falcon Family, we have a responsibility to our entire county," said Yann. "As one of the largest employers in Marion County, our economic impacts are felt far beyond our 120-acre campus."
"Many of our board members are Marion county residents, alumni, or donors to Fairmont State, and decisions like these do not come easy," said Yann. "We share deeply in the tradition and heritage of our beloved University; yet, we understand that we were placed on this Board to make sometimes unpopular decisions that will ensure academic and financial stability for not only our University but the greater Marion County and North Central West Virginia."
During the 2018-19 program review for theater and music, faculty-provided data showed that neither program was meeting standards for viability. At that time, the Board voted to continue the program with corrective action. Another program review was then provided to the Board in November 2019. The programs were again discussed during the February 2020 board meeting. The Board listened and took into consideration the comments provided by the community about these programs at that time. The Board has also listened and considered the written comments and phone calls that have been received since the February meeting.
An aspect of programmatic viability is cost-effectiveness. Information submitted to the Board, for the current FY20 budget showed expenses for theater and music academic programs of $917,042. This figure includes employee salaries and operating expenses. Subtracted from that number is the estimated tuition and fee revenues of $195,720. This results in a net loss to the institution of $721,322 annually.
"We (the BoG) understand the importance of access to theater and music education, but we also know that access must be weighed against the cost," said Yann. "Not unlike institutions throughout West Virginia and the United States which look to survive and thrive during unpresented times of change and declining enrollments, we cannot continue to provide costly non-viable academic programs. We appreciate and acknowledge the value of the performing arts; therefore, it is now time to reimagine theater and music access to our students and our community. During the coming year, the departmental leadership will listen to the aspirational needs for these community programs, and provide a plan for their growth."
In addition to the expansion of the community theatre, community music, and the Academy for the Arts, the Marching Band will continue to be an integral part of our campus community. The Marching Band at Fairmont State serves not just as a showcase of the artistic talents of our students; it supports our musical identity as a campus.
"The Marching Band provides support to Athletics, represents the institution at community events, and enhances student, family, and community attendance at many of those events," said Yann. "At Fairmont State, the majority of our band members are majors in disciplines other than music or theater. Our goal is to continue to grow the Fairmont State marching band."
In addition, said Yann, "a study of the effects of marching bands on university recruitment found that the option of participation in a marching band at a college was a factor that drove many students to enroll at that institution."
Discussions also are underway to create plans for expanded community choir and community theater. College and departmental administrators are working with faculty, staff, and the Academy for the Arts on a plan so that Fairmont State Students and the greater community will have access to participate in these cultural opportunities.
"In order to move forward, we need to take our sadness and redirect it into a passion for what can be created. We will reimagine how we can successfully stage productions, offer community concerts, and allow all parts of our community to continue to find a home in Wallman Hall. Our future will be different when it comes to the academic programs in theater and music, but music and theater will not disappear from our campus.”
"It is also important to note that as the academic programs in theater and music are phased out, we will continue to teach courses and engage in performances, as scheduled, during the next academic year," said Yann. "All scholarships and financial aid previously awarded to music and/or theater majors will be honored."
Music and theater have not left Fairmont State. Instead, these majors are being adapted into programs that will continue to bring the community and University together through theatrical performances and concerts.
More information will follow in the months to come.