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Catawba College places musical theater major on hold

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY – One of the majors in Catawba College’s theater program will be placed on “hiatus” and not accept new students for the foreseeable future.

The department has received acclaim via the North Carolina Theatre Conference’s 2013 College/University award in 1995 and in 2013. Catawba College has also been ranked on The Princeton Review’s best college theater list in the past, which compiles the 20 best college theater programs in the country.

This week, the college confirmed the bachelor of fine arts in musical theater major will be placed on hiatus. Any student in the program will be able to complete it, but no new students will be accepted.

The “hiatus” won’t affect other theater majors offered by the theater program, including a bachelor of arts in theater arts, a bachelor of fine arts in theater arts and a bachelor of science in theater administration. All classes offered as part of the musical theatre program will still be offered by the college, but their frequency may change.

A faculty member with musical theater expertise took another position in May 2018, and that position was not filled. Another faculty member in the department left in May and that position was also left unfilled. The courses taught by those faculty members are now covered by other faculty in the department.

In a meeting for those in the major last week, which included Provost Constance Rogers-Lowery, students were informed the program would be placed on hiatus. Department Chair Beth Homan asked Rogers-Lowery to attend and discuss change with the students. The Post arranged an interview with Homan, but was later told communication needed to pass through Dean of Students Jared Tice.

Tice said the cause of the reduction was a decrease in enrollment in the theater arts programs at the college, 20.3% since 2014, as well as “budgetary reductions and reallocations across the entire college.”

The hope, Tice said, is to bring it back from hiatus “at the earliest possible time, pending enrollment growth in the other three major programs.”

He provided a spreadsheet showing enrollment in theater programs since 2006, when there were 108 enrollments during the spring semester. Of those, 88 were theater arts majors, 14 were musical theater and six were theater arts administration. At the beginning of the 2019 fall semester, there were only 40 enrollments in the college’s theater programs. Tice noted the number of major enrollments does not necessarily translate to the same number of students due to double majoring in the department.

Elizabeth Lackey, a musical theatre major at Catawba, said she has been optimistic about things changing, but has spoken with other people who are worried about the department.

Lackey said she is concerned about how her degree will look if the school no longer supports the program.

Lackey is still hopeful she can affect the major’s hiatus status.

Brielle Jobe, a junior senator with the college’s longstanding drama club The Blue Masque, said  students were abuzz ahead of last week’s meeting because they had heard the provost was coming, which was unusual. The Blue Masque is also open to non-majors.

Jobe said she is worried about the future of the department and the impact the change could have on the value of her degree.

The college said all of its programs of study are reviewed for trends in enrollment and costs.

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