Bevin: Universities should cut programs, close buildings

Jim Cooney holds a mock audition during the dance master class Saturday, March 3, 2014, in Gordon Wilson Hall in Bowling Green, Ky. Cooney critiqued the dancers after watching them perform ‘Dancing in the Street’ from the Broadway musical Motown and told the dancers who he would have called back if it had been a real audition.

Monica Kast, Emma Austin

Last week at a higher education conference, Gov. Matt Bevin encouraged Kentucky colleges and universities to cut programs that don’t fill high demand jobs.

“Find entire parts of your campus … that don’t need to be there,” Bevin said in a speech at the Governor’s Conference on Postsecondary Education Trusteeship last week. “Either physically as programs, degrees that you’re offering, buildings that … shouldn’t be there because you’re maintaining something that’s not an asset of any value, that’s not helping to produce that 21st century educated workforce.”

Bevin specifically targeted “interpretive dance” programs, which do not exist as a major in Kentucky. WKU, as well as the University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University, offer bachelor’s of fine arts degrees in theater and dance.

“If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set,” Bevin said at the conference.

Last year Bevin, who has a bachelor of arts degree in East Asian studies from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, made similar comments about students who study French literature, saying, “All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to subsidized by the taxpayer.”

Glasgow senior Trevor Edwards began dancing when he was a junior in high school and attended the Governor’s School for the Arts.

“It was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had,” Edwards said. “They saw all the passion in me.”

From attending GSA, Edwards said he decided to pursue a career in dance after encouragement from instructors who told him, “Don’t stop dancing.”

From there, Edwards got connected to WKU’s dance program. Edwards said at the time he was applying for colleges, WKU was the only university in the state that offered a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in dance.

Edwards also added that “there are no programs for interpretive dance.” Edwards said his studies through WKU’s dance program focus on modern dance, including ballet and jazz.

“There’s so much more depth to the conversation,” Edwards said of Bevin’s comments.

Edwards said he wishes Bevin would have consulted with a professional who has worked in the dance industry before making those comments. Edwards, the president of WKU’s National Dance Education Organization, said they are working on reaching out to Bevin with more information about the dance programs in Kentucky and professional opportunities after college.

The WKU Department of Theatre and Dance generates all of its money to put on its productions almost entirely through ticket sales, department head David Young said. Though the department operates on a budget of over $1 million, most of it goes toward faculty and staff salaries and benefits. The department uses money from ticket sales to build sets, buy costumes and props, pay musicians and to fund advertising.

In addition to preparing students for careers after graduation, Young said the arts are an important part of every community.

“The arts generate dollars for the state in lots of ways,” Young said. “Every time there’s an arts event, it generates money for a community.”

When a theatre puts on a show, it not only generates money for its own performers and crew members, but audience members may go out to dinner afterward, they pay for parking and there’s an overall contribution to the quality of life in the community, Young said.

Currently, around 200 WKU students are majoring in theatre and dance at WKU, according to the WKU Fact Book. Young said many continue on to graduate school, some for theatre and dance and others in allied fields like marketing or design. In recent years, some graduates have gone on to study law or medicine, and several others now perform full-time in New York, Chicago and theaters around the country.

“Without my education at Western, I wouldn’t be prepared to enter the professional world.”Glasgow Senior Trevor Edwards

“We feel very good about our students and what they’re doing,” Young said. “They’re not sitting in their parents’ basement, I can tell you that.”

Edwards said through WKU, he has been dancing with a professional dance company in Nashville. Also through WKU, Edwards said he has been able to travel around the country, to places like New York and Alabama and perform.

“Without my education at Western, I wouldn’t be prepared to enter the professional world,” Edwards said, later adding that he feels he is “more prepared from coming to Western than if I went anywhere else.”

News editor Monica Kast can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @monica_kast. Projects editor Emma Austin can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emmacaustin.