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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

‘A slap in the face, actually’: Quinnipiac sunsets theater major

Administration pushes theater program toward final curtain call amid low enrollment, high costs
Aidan Sheedy
A wall in Quinnipiac University’s Theatre Arts Center displaying images of past productions. Quinnipiac’s Faculty Senate voted Jan. 22 to discontinue the university’s theater major after 15 years.

Quinnipiac University leaders have for years contemplated the future of the school’s dwindling theater program. And in late January, administrators came to a bleak but expected consensus: it does not have one.

The Faculty Senate on Jan. 22 unanimously voted to sunset Quinnipiac’s theater major, formalizing what was effectively a forgone conclusion. 

“Quinnipiac is not a destination for students who want to pursue a career in theater and our faculty and staff spend an inordinate amount of time unsuccessfully recruiting students,” Provost Debra Liebowitz wrote in a November 2023 memo to the committee responsible for academic programming decisions. “Regrettably, we cannot provide the enriching cohort experience our students deserve.”

The university’s theater program has faced consistent enrollment challenges since its 2009 establishment. Even at its height, the program was only graduating an average of four students per year. But over the last six years, the major’s enrollment levels have fallen to all-time lows. Case in point, of Quinnipiac’s roughly 6,000 current undergraduate students, there are just 10 primary theater majors and four theater double majors — only one of whom is enrolled in the class of 2027. 

“The Theater Major is consuming a disproportionate amount of resources relative to the number of students in the major and compared to other majors in the CAS,” Liebowitz wrote. “Those resources take away from experiences that would build the arts at QU and impact a greater number of students.”

And according to the provost’s Nov. 27 memo, the theater major suffers not only from declining interest but also from “numerous structural (and) institutional deficiencies” that make its enrollment struggles impossible to overcome.

But many of the students in the program attribute the major’s low enrollment levels to something else entirely: a lack of advertising.

“They cited a loss of interest as one of the reasons that they were sunsetting the program, but I feel like that’s an issue entirely manufactured by the university,” sophomore theater major Qadira Shaw wrote in a statement to The Chronicle. “I feel like the program could’ve survived and we could’ve had more people interested if the university even slightly acknowledged our existence.”

Or, as Amari O’Connor, a senior theater and game design double major, put it: “They don’t advertise it very heavily, and then they act like no one’s interested in it.”

And even though Quinnipiac’s theater major is relatively small, its students would argue that they have always made it work.

“I mean, sure, we don’t have the biggest class sizes on campus,” sophomore theater major Sonny Ryans said. “We keep selling out our shows. And so to us, we don’t understand why you won’t just leave everything the way it is.”

But by the time the vote reached the Senate in late January, the writing was on the wall. So clear was that writing, in fact, that Abbey Copeland, director of the theater program, notified her students more than eight months ago about the program’s imminent discontinuation.

“The school has actually been very impressed with all of our hard work in these last few years, but has to abide by the enrollment numbers which have been drastically down,” Copeland wrote in a May 28 email announcement.

Copeland told her students in the same May 28 email that Kevin Daly, the former theater program director, had also chosen not to return to Quinnipiac for the fall 2023 semester. 

And although the decision to sunset the theater program was all but guaranteed at this point, the program’s three-person staff was not. Daly’s position, Copeland said, “goes away with him.”

“We have to present our case to the dean in order to get a third full time person in the theater next year,” Copeland told students. “I need your help to make the case.”

While theater students could no longer fight for their program, they could still fight for their staff. 

“They were going to expect two faculty members to run their full mainstage theater schedule on their own,” O’Connor said, calling this prospect “absolutely wild.” “People wrote some letters and emails … trying to show that the theater department was important and we still needed things to be happening in it.”

Copeland declined to comment on the decision to shutter the theater program. However, the university did ultimately bring on a visiting assistant professor of theater, Ariel Sibert, to serve as the university’s third full-time theater faculty member. 

“We were successful, at least with convincing them of that,” O’Connor said.

Quinnipiac University’s Theatre Arts Center on Sherman Avenue. Provost Debra Liebowitz attributed the theater major’s demise to low enrollment, high relative costs and “numerous structural (and) institutional deficiencies.” (Aidan Sheedy)

Importantly, the move to discontinue admissions to the theater major will not impact currently enrolled theater majors. Rather, the university intends to “teach out” the program’s 14 remaining undergraduate students, seven of whom will graduate this May. 

But the guarantee of graduation provides very little comfort to Quinnipiac’s final theater majors. 

“It feels like they’re telling us we’re not worth it,” Ryans said. “For them to tell us that our major is gone, it’s like they’re telling us that our safe space isn’t worth it.”

And for Ryans, that feeling of abandonment raises a new question: “Is it worth it to stay at Quinnipiac?”

The major’s discontinuation will not affect Quinnipiac’s theater minor or any of its extracurricular theater activities. If anything, administrators argue that these programs will benefit from the major’s discontinuation.

That is, once Quinnipiac confers its final theater degree in 2027, the university plans to restructure the program to prioritize “activities and courses that will engage a greater number of students in theater at Quinnipiac.”

“There is significant interest in theater courses for non-majors,” Liebowitz wrote in the memo to faculty. “From the College’s perspective, discontinuing the major will allow them to redirect funds currently devoted to upper-level courses to courses and experiences that will benefit a greater number of students.”

Without the financial burden of the major, Liebowitz said, the university will have the resources to enrich Quinnipiac’s “co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, mainstage performances, student theater groups, campus collaborations, and community partnerships.”

“So, in short, we will eventually quit running so many upper level classes needed for the major and offer a more diverse array of specialty … and or general (courses),” Copeland wrote, listing stage combat and voice acting as examples. “This is sort of how the art and music programs currently operate.”

Several theater majors pointed out the irony of discontinuing Quinnipiac’s last remaining fine arts major.

“It’s not CAS. It’s kind of CS, if you want to call it that,” Ryans said. “Like, the College of Arts and Sciences is quite literally just a College of Sciences. There’s no music major, there is no theater major, there is no art major.”

But those same students echoed the sentiment: the university’s decision may have been shocking, but it was not necessarily surprising.

“I was honestly a bit surprised by the decision, but not fully,” sophomore theater major Stephen Russo wrote in a statement to The Chronicle. “Every school I’ve been in, theater — and the arts in general — have always been put on the back burner.”

And yet, for the final 14 theater majors, seeing it coming didn’t make it sting any less.

“It just feels so unfair,” Ryans said. “It’s kind of a slap in the face, actually.”

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    Noam D PlumApr 22, 2024 at 4:06 pm

    I am so sorry to hear this. I hope the administration takes a long look at outcomes over the years. If retention and completion rates change I hope they understand that cutting the theatre major was the cause of those changes.

    Let’s see exactly how much money is saved when institutional costs are reported in future years.

  • E

    Emily SeibertFeb 8, 2024 at 8:25 pm

    Quinnipiac has been trying to shut the theater major down for decades to build a larger medical department.

    They tried to end the major and tear down The Buckman Theater (a converted lecture hall at the time) to make more room for labs. I was a student at QU back in 2014, and we invited Lahey and all of upper staff to attend our production of Much Ado About Nothing. Only the Provos attended the show, however he was so impressed. I not only received a personal note from him, but they did not end the major and worked with Kevin Daly to secure a new space and funding the new theater on Whitney.

    Most members of my graduating class and the surrounding classes – theater majors, minor, and involved extracurricularly – currently have a profession in arts & entertainment, regionally, on Broadway, in Hollywood and for some of the largest international entertainment companies. This is such a disappointment not only for the next generation of students who need the arts and humanities to be better and more empathetic members of society, but it closes the door to the next generation of creators.