Sunsetting programs loom over AU campus

Matthew Butcher, Reporter

In July 2020, Ashland University announced that roughly 20 programs would begin the process of sunsetting after financial trouble due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sunsetting is a process in which a selected class of students is designated to be the last class to pass through the program. For the 20 sunsetting programs at AU, that class is the class of 2024.

The current sophomore theater majors are the last class that will go through the program. However, in spite of the concrete end date constantly looming over their heads, they’re still putting on shows, but not with the amount of faculty that have been used in recent years. 

The core of the theater department lies in Dr. Tom Reed and the fellow tenured associate professor of theater, Dr. Teresa Durbin-Ames. 

The pair used to be joined by three other faculty members, who primarily assumed positions within the artistic theatre area, in PR, and technical work, but they were let go in Spring 2020. This has created difficulty for Teresa Durbin-Ames, who is the artistic director of theater at AU.

“I’ve been hiring guests and alumni that would come in, design the sets, the costumes, and the lighting for each production,” Durbin-Ames said.

These outside hires detract from the academic gravita of productions.

Durbin-Ames continued, “there’s no permanent presence of that tech person who is here every day to work with students, and mentor students, to teach in that way.”

Dr. Tom Reed, who has been at AU for 36 years, is the chair of both the theater and music department which were both affected by the sunsetting. 

Reed has been witness to economic struggles at AU before. Most notably the debt crisis of the mid 2010s, in which Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the value of AU’s bond debt.

Courtney Day of the Ashland Times-Gazette wrote that, “AU’s rating is the lowest of the about 525 public and private institutions for which Moody’s has issued a rating.”

“There were a lot of positions eliminated [around] 2015. That was devastating for many, many departments. But that was a loss of faculty members, including tenured faculty members,” Reed said. “But this sunsetting eliminated programs, and so those are different things, but they were both very, very challenging to recover from.” 

While the university continues to be understaffed, most notably in the kitchen at the John C. Myers Convocation Center, but also in the theater department and classrooms, fundraising and spending money has never been easier.

According to AU president Dr. Carlos Campo, the university is in the midst of their biggest fundraising year ever, bringing home over $14 million. The university also recently spent ten million dollars in donations on the new Niss Athletic Center, which is slated for completion this fall.

The Hugo Young Theatre sits attached to the Center for the Arts, but has not seen many plays or musicals since the start of the
coronavirus pandemic. Along with low enrollment, COVID-19 has contributed to the sunsetting of the theater department. (THE COLLEGIAN)