BREAKING NEWS: Eastern University is set to close its Dance Department

by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal

The Dance Journal has learned that Eastern University, a Christian liberal arts university in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, has decided to eliminate its dance program. Under the guise of budget and faculty cuts, it was determined that the current dance program was no longer viable as Eastern University seeks to streamline costs and ensure that the university remains profitable.

Eastern University is one of only five Christian colleges in the United States that currently offers a major in dance. It is the only such program offered by a Christian college in the greater Philadelphia region.

Perplexing to current dance students and parents is the fact that the dance department at Eastern has had continuous growth and profitability since its inception. Started more than 25 years ago by Dr. Karen Clemente, who currently chairs the Dance Department at Ursinus College, Eastern University’s Dance Department has been directed by Janine Bryant for the last three years. Ms. Bryant started her term with four dance majors and six dance minors.  During her time as program director, the department expanded to twenty dance majors and fifteen dance minors.  In fact, dance is currently reported to have the fifth largest student enrollment of all of the nearly 50 majors at Eastern.

Eastern’s Dance Department has successfully collaborated and taught co-cooperatively with other majors on campus, including Bio-kinetics (fitness through ballet), English (poetry and movement), Music (interactions between dancer and musicians), Theater (musicals, theatrical events, productions and exercises) and the Education Department (arts integration in the classroom for future public school teachers). The department has also been responsible for providing dancers for weekly chapel services through Eastern’s Dance Ministry.

The Dance Journal has learned that the dance department has in fact contributed positively and significantly to the revenue of the University. To date, it has employed only two full time faculty and one-part time administrator, with the remaining dance faculty being part-time adjuncts. A source in the university administration, who has requested anonymity in an email to the Dance Journal, indicated that the expansion of the dance department was “causing a strain” on the availability of necessary facilities to accommodate the expansion of the dance department. With widespread cuts, no further funds could be made available to meet the “needs of a growing department”.

Dance majors at the university, in a statement to the Dance Journal were quick to point out that the program is comprised of only female students and is the “only all female program on campus”. They go on to state that Eastern University’s administration is predominantly male, “holding misogynistic values that have even prevented them from attending any of the dance performances or concerts on campus”. In other words, this decision to eliminate the dance department was conducted without ever “evaluating the results of the program first hand”.

This would not be the first time that current University President Robert Duffett’s actions have been called in to question. Back in June of 2014, Eastern University alumni called on the president of the school to remove his signature from a letter urging President Obama to exempt religious institutions from an order that bans discrimination based on sexual identity. While Duffett explained that Eastern did not discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender students or employees, he was quoted by Philly.com as strongly maintaining that “no government has the right to determine theological views and practices of religious institutions”.

The Dance Journal was also sent information from an anonymous source, deemed to be a parent of a dance major, that faculty at Eastern were ordered to report any other dance employment outside of Eastern to the Dean, and then asked to resign from these other jobs so they could ‘focus all of their energy’ at Eastern University.  Shortly after this action, the departments only dance administrator was fired without notice and the entire dance department was set to be cut.

For now, the dance department continues to operate with a skeletal staff until all current dance majors can be “passed through”. All future auditions for the department have been cancelled and any further dance performances or showcases are at best questionable. Stephen Welsh, the only other full time faculty member besides Janine Bryant, will teach through his contract, which ends in May.

While news of the program’s elimination has just recently been divulged, students on campus have already begun to mobilize in protest of this action. Many question whether the current position of the University is reflective of a strong Christian fundamentalist belief against dance, viewed in the same light as other conservative social stances. Other’s hold to an argument that this once again a misogynistic decision made by a male dominated administration. Perhaps, this is just a general reflection of a growing national trend occurring in other universities across the country, in which arts departments have been downsized or eliminated. The ultimate question still remains, what value do we place on the performing arts in our high education systems as well as in our own communities?

UPDATES & ADDENDUM

11-19-2015
The Dance Journal reported earlier today that  tenured faculty at a pre-scheduled faculty meeting at Eastern University were planning to call for the resignation of President Duffett and Provost Iddings in response to the recent departmental cuts.  This report was made based on information provided to us from three current faculty sources. We have since learned, that tenured faculty were not able to sufficiently organize to in fact take this action at the meeting today.  However, dance students at Eastern did attempt to meet with President Duffett this morning to express their concern. Instead, they were informed by his assistant that he was unavailable and that they needed to wait until the Dean had a chance to speak with the department on Friday.  The students have suggested that President Duffett also attend this meeting  with the Dean and department so they can be heard. No further response has been provided.  The students plan on organizing a petition in order to keep the dance department intact.

RESPONSE TO COMMENTS MADE

In response to several comments that “the dance program is not closing”.  I reiterate my opening statement, “Under the guise of budget and faculty cuts, it was determined that the current dance program was no longer viable as Eastern University seeks to streamline costs and ensure that the university remains profitable.”  The fact remains that the dance major will be eliminated by Spring semester. All full time faculty will be let go with the exception of the current department director.  Dance auditions have been cancelled and the dance minor will most likely remain to appease the current dance students and parents. One can only surmise where this will lead once the current students in this program have finally graduated.

As to the comments calling in to question my reports from students, parents and yes, faculty about fundamentalism, conservationism and misogyny in the administration (NOT the Eastern University community),  I would simply add that in the absence of transparency or any clear statement from the University to faculty, students, parents or the community lends validity to their concerns and opinions.  In a time where it has been all too easy to cut arts budgets, I would simply defer to the comment made by Alum – “the arts enrich our spirits and humanity beyond the measurable costs laid out in the budget”.

Copy of letter circulated by President Duffett with regards to announced cuts.
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About Steven Weisz

A Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with advanced degrees in Psychology and Education is an entrepreneur and CEO for several for-profits and non-profit corporations in the region. He is also an adjunct professor of Psychology with several local Universities.

Steven is currently the CEO of Delaware Valley on Line, one of the first regional Internet Service Provides that now focuses on business-class web hosting, design, and internet marketing. He is president and founder of Rainbow Promotions Inc., a special events and entertainment agency established in the late 70’s, that services corporate and retail accounts both locally and nationally.

Steven is the Founder of PhiladelphiaDANCE.org, the largest web presence and resource for the dance community in the greater Philadelphia region, and the Founder and Editor of The Dance Journal. His involvement in the dance community extends to being Director of Graffito Works, an international platform for dancers and performing artists to create site-specific work and to make it readily accessible to the public.

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15 Comments

  1. I would like to second everything said in Caroline’s reply about the kind of rare and precious environment that Eastern’s dance program fosters. Never in my life have I seen such a strong group of talented individuals constantly building each other up and letting God’s grace shine through in their performance. The dance department here has served as a shelter and loving home for me in the midst of some very difficult years, and it breaks my heart to see it hurt. I do not know all the details of what brought this about, but I would like to strongly emphasize what a huge impact the dance department has made on so many people, not just the dancers, and that it is such a huge part of so many of us.

  2. A Letter to Ellen Degeneres
    http://www.ellentv.com/be-on-the-show/10/

    Ellen,

    I go to Eastern University in St. Davids, PA and I’m a double major in Dance and Marketing. I’m writing to you for help as we learned this week that not only are 2 MAJOR faculty members being fired, but our Dance major is being cut. This program has grown significantly in the past 3 years from 4 majors and 6 minors, to 20 majors and 15 minors. We are the 5th largest department in the school and one of five Christian universities to offer a dance major program. The dance community here at school is hurt and broken. We have asked our president and a dean why we were cut, and due to legal reasons they can’t even tell us the reason why they can’t tell us. Many of our students are double majors and dedicated to completing both programs, but we aren’t going to be offered the same education as the seniors leaving us this year. I’m writing to you as a dance lover and a people lover to please help us in any way you can. We all love your show and it would mean the world to us if you could help out!

    With much love,
    Madison Eichert and the Eastern University Dance Department

  3. A letter to the powers at be at Eastern University:

    My name is Caroline Butcher and I write to you as an Eastern Dance Alumnus and current adjunct faculty member.

    I freely admit that I do not know the details behind the decision to close the dance major. I don’t know the exact figures of Eastern’s finances and how closing this major will benefit its budget. I do not know the dialogue that has occurred regarding the perceived benefits of this action. However what I am sure of is that this decision will have grave and heart-breaking effects on the current dance community at Eastern as well as on future students looking for a safe place to dance freely.

    In 2008 I chose to attend Eastern solely for the fact that it was a Christian university offering a dance major, one of only three universities in the country (the other two being Palm Beach Atlantic and Oral Roberts University). Upon graduating high school I knew that I wanted to pursue dance further beyond a studio environment, the setting in which I had grown up dancing. I also knew that my spirit would not survive any longer in a place where I was reduced to what I could produce on a purely physical level, and where my value as a human being was determined only by the amount of hours I gave to the studio.

    I craved and needed a safe place to pursue my God-given dreams; a place that not only encouraged physical growth but also fostered the cultivation of a mind, body, and spirit connection that dance innately inspires. I needed a place where my individuality would be praised, where I would be nurtured and encouraged instead of neglected and ignored. I needed a community that would come alongside me in my dreams, frustrations, and successes, instead of a community that bred comparison and competition like an infectious disease. I needed mentors that were concerned about and focused on their students’ souls instead of what their choreography would look like on stage. I needed role models who faithfully pursued their own personhood and identity in Christ beyond their identity as dancers, an identity that is all consuming, soul-sucking, and frankly all too common in the dance world.

    I would not have found this without Eastern.

    At Eastern I was encouraged, supported, challenged, and loved. During my time as a dance major I began a healing journey transitioning from a dysfunctional and self-deprecating identity crisis created by the exploitation and mistreatment I endured as a young and sensitive dancer, to a place where I am starting to realize that I am more than a physical being. Yes I love to dance and these gifts and dreams are absolutely God-given, but I am so much more than that.

    I believe with all of my heart that Eastern’s dance major gave me this chance to change. I have been injured and on the sidelines for the past eleven months, and I do not think I would have been able to endure the resulting pain and heart ache if it wasn’t for the seeds of change and truth that were planted in me during my time at Eastern.

    As I mourn the closing of Eastern’s dance major, I don’t mourn for me. I can find other jobs; I can make a living teaching at other places. But I mourn for the dancers out there right now who like me, just want a place to dance freely. A safe haven where they will be respected, noticed, praised, and healed. My heart aches for the young dancers at studios right now who are craving to study dance in an environment like Eastern’s, who need to know and be told that they are valued and their dreams are real and that they matter. I mourn for those who question God and His goodness, lamenting over why their dreams of dancing are being wrongly squashed by studio owners and teachers. I think about the students who are at Eastern now that I have had the privilege to watch blossom over the past few years, from scared and insecure dancers to confident, faithful, deep, insightful, and beautiful daughters of God. I think about the underclassmen that I have met this year, and the astounding potential I see in them to be successful in all senses of the word. And then I think about how this opportunity is being taken away from them.

    I believe it is safe to conclude that being a dance major at Eastern changed my life. Had I only been a minor, the opportunities to grow and change my heart’s attitude towards dance and Christ would have been reduced significantly. The intimate relationships and uplifting community that was fostered by a close knit group of students journeying together through a four year intensive dance major would not be nearly as significant had we been together for a far less amount of time. Had I not been given the chance to devote my intellect, energy, and soul entirely into the dance major, I firmly believe that I would not be dancing today. Only with the complete support and nurturance provided through all of the dance major classes was I able to foster any kind of ambition and faith to pursue my calling. Now I can say that I am successfully doing just that – dancing with two professional modern dance companies, teaching eager and passionate dancers at Eastern, and sharing dance with the overlooked and forgotten through various outreach programs throughout Philadelphia.

    Again, I realize that there are details I do not know about. But I implore you to rethink your decision. The dance major has been growing and thriving at Eastern. We as a university are focused on building students up to confidently share their gifts with a broken world, pour love into people living in pain and suffering, and continue to be a voice of the all-inclusive and unconditional love of Christ. Yet how can we do that if we considerably reduce the attention and care we give to dance and dancers, a community of people who live in complete darkness and sorrow that goes unnoticed due to the beauty they are capable of creating? Without the presence of a dance major, how can we continue to abundantly pour healing and truth into these students so that they can then freely give of themselves to others?

    Cut the program’s budget, don’t build a new studio (we’ve survived with only one for 25 years), and let us reuse old costumes. But please, please do not take away this piece of God’s Kingdom from people that so desperately need it.

  4. This article was excellent. Every known fact and statement that have been mentioned were included. Thank you for sharing the story of our Arts Department, especially as we in the music department are concerned we might be next.

  5. I should begin by pointing out that these closures are not a surprise to the people who have been paying attention. Discussions about ways to cut the budget have been going on for years, and staff and faculty were warned about the November cuts several months ago.

    I would also like to point out that the French minor is being cut, as well, which is a sad blow to Linguistics fans, but probably doesn’t make very good News because it can’t be misconstrued as sexist or hyperconservative. I graduated in 2009 as the last French Major when that option was cut.. and I had to finish my credits off campus, because it wasn’t fiscally responsible to keep offering 400 level French courses to only one student. Was I disappointed? Immensely. But I understand that my feelings don’t change the fact that Eastern has bills to pay. I wish I’d been given the opportunity the current dance majors have, to finish their degrees on campus!
    While at Eastern, I also performed in some of the dance program’s Senior Recitals, and I’m very proud to have been one of the males who were lucky enough to share that stage- but I was certainly not the only one. Claiming that it’s a ‘girls-only’ program is a bit of a stretch.. especially considering that Stephen Welsh is.. you know… a guy. So, the misogyny claim is a bit nutty.

    And as for implying some religious aversion to dance? Uhm.. The dancers are, as stated in the article, featured in chapel regularly. I’m never sure whether to laugh or cry when people accuse Eastern of being too conservative – I have been laughed off by dozens of more conservative Christians when I tell them I went to Eastern, because we’re well known as being one of the most LIBERAL Christian universities in America. And yeah, Duffet said that religion shouldn’t be subject to legislation? The guy got hired after I left, but I can agree with his point. You shoulda been on campus the day we found out that we’d been accused of being “on the verge of apostasy” but a conservative media outlet for the ‘crime’ of welcoming homosexual equality activists on campus.

    Eastern University! Everybody’s favorite punching bag! Too conservative for Liberals, too liberal for Conservatives!
    /rant

  6. Every instance of dancing that is not considered sinful was done in worship or praise to God.

    Here are some more principles to keep in mind in considering dancing: Ecclesiastes 3:4—There is an appropriate time to dance (and, by implication, an inappropriate time to dance). Psalm 149:3; 150:4—Both passages mention that we can praise or worship God through dance. First Corinthians 6:19-20—Our bodies belong to God, and they are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So everything we do must be honoring to Him.

    Dancing to bring attention to yourself or your body, therefore, would be sinful. So what is it exactly that the dancers at Eastern are doing if they are not dancing in praise of the Lord?

    In the end, there is a lot of dancing that is inappropriate for believers who should be seeking to glorify God with their lives and especially with their bodies. Yet the Bible acknowledges that we can dance in a way that does not tempt others, does not tempt ourselves, and brings glory to God.

    President Duffett is more than just in his actions.

  7. There are other programs as well, such as my former non profit program, that though not eliminated on the books is subsumed into the business dept. All remaining admin staff for School of Leadership and Development are also now gone and the programs subsumed into the new business school. The Campolo College no longer exists. Make no mistake, those whining about music and dance see only a very small picture of what is taking place. The “new” business school has less fulltime faculty by a large, large margin but those former full time lecturer positions have been methodically bled off in a slow reduction and non renewals for the past three years in order to return it as the true cash cow for the rest of the university. I used to see 62 to 64 percent of my non profit grad student tuition go to the rest of the university. It will be most interesting to see long term what happens with the seminary which is laden with long term tenured expensive faculty and based on enrollment is the least cost effective division by far. But I would guess closing the seminary which could lead to closure of Bible depts is the touchiest issue for a Christian university. Another issue most are not aware of is in order to eliminate faculty positions, according to the faculty manual is to close the program. It is simplest to get bang for reduction by eliminating smaller programs. The feminist argument I am hearing from dance parents and students is so unbelievably ridiculous it is sadly humerous. There are many men who have lost their jobs. Indeed, the job losses in SLD yesterday are two long-term male employees while the one woman administrator survives the purge through transfer to another part of the university. It should be more embarrassing to the journalist from Philadelphia Dance to be making commentary about stuff he has no idea about and accepting parent and student comments verbatim. Really, really, poor journalism.

  8. Before you write a letter to Eastern’s administrators, you need to be better informed than this article if you want to be effective.

    The fact is the dance department at Eastern is not being closed. The dance major is going to be ended, but the dance minor remains, along with most (not all) of the dance faculty. This is not good news, but it’s not as bad as the article makes it out to be.

    And there is certainly no fundamentalist conspiracy against the arts at Eastern. Along with the dance minor, the theater major remains in place.

    If you want your letter to be effective, don’t base it on misinformation or paranoid fears of fundamentalism, which is just not part of the institution’s culture. This really is a response to financial distress. It might not be a wise response, but it is not an attack on the arts. Lots of other faculty, from theology to chemistry, are being let go as well. It’s a bleak day for all of us who work there.

  9. As a spouse of someone who was abruptly let go after over 20 years of dedicated service, it is indeed sad that the staff changes have been so ruthless. But it has been increasingly difficult for the school to stay profitable. Mysogenistic overtures? Really? Conservative? Yeah…no, that is not Eastern. I doubt personal vendettas and jealousy had anything to do with this sad result, but it sure does make catchy journalism!

  10. In response to Shawn’s comment…

    I pray for my University as they deal with challenging times that this economy brings to not only higher education but especially to faith based education.

    However, the inability of the administration to recognize the strengths that the Arts bring to a Christian University seems to be at the core of the issue called to attention here. The dance department has been profitable according to the article, but I would go further to argue that the arts enrich our spirits and humanity beyond the measurable costs laid out in the budget.

    As an alumni, this just saddens me.

  11. Since the only people that decided to comment have limited information about the school or have a wide understanding of the school and are delusional. Eastern is bleeding money and changes needed to be made. They need to eliminate majors that have high overhead costs – which includes staff and building space. Without dramatic changes Eastern will cease to exist in 15 years. This president is making changes his predecessor, David Black, didn’t have the guts to do. Why do you think the school is beefing up the masters programs – small building footprint, no dorm needed, virtually no student service overhead, and it’s a cash cow.

    For those that think Eastern is a bastion of conservatism, you clearly demonstrate your ignorance of the school. They are not even close conservative or moderate. Stop the ideological mudslinging. As an alumni, I would like to not have to explain that my alma mater is closed and these decisions that are being made are making Eastetn’s future more probable despite not being the most popular.

  12. The dance administrator was fired that very day – no package, no two-week notice, no warning – no nothing. Pack up your things and leave. As soon as she was fired, her email was blocked and all the links to her account were removed, denying her access to any files or information she had saved on her personal account – even her own personal stuff. Meanwhile, necessary files needed to run the dance performance in 2 weeks were all lost in this hostile shut down of the email account. The dance department couldn’t give a performance now even if they wanted to. This aggressive action on the part of Eastern University Administration has also denied any students, faculty or friends the opportunity to extend any prayers, well wishes or condolences to her. This kind of mean spirited action is completely unacceptable from a secular organization, but what is one to think when it comes from an organization which claims the title “Christian” as well as trumpeting to the world it’s three cardinal tenets: Faith, Reason, and Justice.

  13. The question of why this vehement attack on dance and the arts in general at Eastern is left to speculation. Are there fundamentalist Christians in power at Eastern who, even in this day and age, see dance as sinful (even thought no administration attend dance events, and have never been inside the dance studio to see the kind of work being done there)? Is someone from another department with power and connections jealous of the meteoric rise of the dance department, and deliberately sabotaging the program? Is someone whose department needs the single, pathetic dance studio space (which is currently the only non-athletic activity housed in the Gym, which is currently being renovated and enlarged…) in order to enlarge their own department? Has the Dance department’s success pissed off the wrong faculty member from a competing department and now there is a personal vendetta against dance and the arts at Eastern? We may never know – what we do know is that the administration of EU has a lot of explaining to do – to it’s students and their parents who have kicked out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a degree from Eastern, it’s faculty and the arts community at large. It also begs the question – how can you call yourself a liberal ARTS university while you are actively destroying the arts? And lastly and more importantly, what parts of their actions mentioned above could rightly be labeled as ‘Christian”?

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