Last month, we wrote about Florida International University Dance Department Chair Tom Hagood’s efforts to save his program. Despite a nationwide appeal to keep it alive, the department was eliminated, along with 22 others, on June 12. “One of the shining lights in sequential, quality dance education in the nation is going to just go out,” Hagood said
The response to Hagood’s plight was tremendous. Educators from all over the country wrote letters in support of the vitality of FIU’s program and its importance to the South Florida cultural community.
But FIU’s $37 million deficit proved too much to overcome. And although the faculty senate voted 30 to 15 to save the dance program, the school provost ultimately sided with the board of trustees in a vote to cut it. The FIU administration will provide three years of funding to allow current students to finish their degrees, with no new majors accepted.
Most graduates of the program find dance education jobs within the community and within the Miami Dade School District, Hagood says. “They were going out there being able to dance in relation to their community,” he adds. “These were prepared dance educators, and now it’s gone.”
The university’s other education programs were also hit hard, with K–12 education in English, math, science, music, social studies and exercise science slated for elimination. Half of the new teachers hired in the Miami-Dade Public School system graduate from FIU. In addition, 38 FIU faculty members are now unemployed, and six research centers will close. “[The vote] seemed to say, ‘Florida International University is no longer interested in education,’” Hagood said.
The current economic downturn has left state universities scrambling to support only its highest enrollment programs. The state of Florida, which relies heavily upon the real estate market, has been particularly hard hit. In a trickling down of financial melt-water, state-funded dance and other arts departments are red-flag victims.
Hard times are upon us,” Hagood warns. “This family has got to come together and recognize that if we don’t circle the wagons here, we’re going to watch ourselves one by one fall off the edge.” As other state university dance departments start to feel Uncle Sam’s finger pointed their way, we must consider what the performing arts can bring to the table, and how to make lawmakers aware of the social and cultural implications of their actions.