St. Thomas, St. Catherine to dissolve joint Department of Theater

The University of St. Thomas and the College of St. Catherine have decided to dissolve their joint Department of Theater.

St. Thomas will move to eliminate the majors and minors offered through the joint department and will not establish its own department. Because St. Catherine is moving to university status and reorganizing its academic structure, conversations are ongoing about the future of theater at St. Kate’s.

The 11 St. Thomas students who are theater majors and the six who are theater performance or film studies minors will be able to complete their courses of study, but no new students will be accepted into the program.

St. Thomas will continue to offer theater courses to allow students to complete their fine arts requirement, and there will be no changes in the 2008–2009 schedule of the four plays that will be produced on the two campuses.

Behind the decision

The mutual decision by St. Catherine and St. Thomas to dissolve the joint department came after a review involving faculty and administrators from both schools.

"Unfortunately, there simply is not the critical mass of student interest in majoring in theater that is necessary to be able to maintain and enhance the quality of the program," Dr. Marisa Kelly, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at St. Thomas, and Dr. Alan Silva, dean of arts and sciences at St. Catherine, said in a letter to majors and minors this summer.

Kelly said it also is not financially feasible to establish a stand-alone theater department at St. Thomas at this time and that limited resources must be used as effectively as possible.

"These have been difficult decisions because the Department of Theater has had an important presence on this campus for many years," she said. "But we just don’t believe a theater department is viable today at St. Thomas."

Three different committees reviewed the issue on one or both of the campuses:

  • The St. Thomas Academic Priorities Committee, an ad hoc committee that regularly reviews annual reports filed by department chairs, expressed concerns about the theater program in a fall 2007 memo to Dr. Thomas Rochon, then executive vice president and chief academic officer.
  • Deans Kelly and Silva subsequently appointed a second committee of four St. Thomas and St. Catherine faculty and staff members to respond to questions about the program. The committee examined the program’s quality and finances, identified strengths and weaknesses and stated that theater is an important part of a liberal arts curriculum. After reviewing the committee’s report last spring, Kelly and Silva recommended to Rochon and Colleen Hegranes, senior vice president at St. Catherine, that the two institutions dissolve the joint department.
  • Rochon asked the St. Thomas Faculty Affairs Committee to create an ad hoc committee to address the question of whether the joint department should be eliminated. The Committee on Faculty Nominations and Elections then appointed six faculty members to serve on the ad hoc committee – four from the Educational Policies and Planning Committee and two from the Academic Priorities Committee. One academic administrator also served on the committee.

In a non-binding action, the ad hoc committee recommended that the joint program should be dissolved and also called for consideration of a stand-alone theater department at St. Thomas. Rochon accepted the recommendation to dissolve the program and chose not to consider the establishment of a new theater department at St. Thomas.

Rochon conferred in June with Father Dennis Dease, St. Thomas president, and Dease concurred with Rochon’s decision to dissolve the joint department. After reviewing the issue this week, Dease said St. Thomas will not consider a stand-alone department at this time.

Kelly said that Dr. Amelia Kritzer, the only full-time theater faculty member at St. Thomas, "has much to contribute to student learning and the intellectual and creative life of the university." Kritzer will continue to be employed at St. Thomas as a tenured faculty member teaching in her discipline and will be reassigned to an appropriate department.

St. Thomas still has a strong commitment to the fine arts. Kelly cited thriving undergraduate and graduate programs in music and art history and how those departments have become engaged in the community through projects such as the Christmas Concerts (which will be broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television in December), ensembles, exhibitions, art tours and the American Museum of Asmat Art.

Other options for students

In addition to maintaining theater courses for the fine arts requirement at St. Thomas, faculty already are in conversation about the creation of a new film minor.

Deans Kelly and Silva said the two institutions are exploring other ways to maintain performance experiences for students. These efforts include conversations with other members of the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities about options for theater majors and co-curricular possibilities.