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Prof, alum alarmed at WSU performing arts cuts

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 3, 2017

By Taylor Nadauld Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Washington State University faculty offered extended applause to a scathing statement by a colleague regarding the university’s decision to cut the performing arts program Thursday afternoon at a regular meeting of the WSU Faculty Senate.

In her statement to the senate, performing arts clinical professor Mary Trotter accused WSU officials of providing false information about their reasons for cutting the program and lacking transparency in their announcement of the decision last month.

“Something about this leaves me unsettled, and it should leave you unsettled, too,” Trotter said.

On Oct. 23, President Kirk Schulz declared performing arts financially unviable, saying the program would be cut by the end of the performance season in an effort to reduce WSU’s $30 million annual deficit during the 2018 fiscal year.

Schulz also called on every department to cut their spending by 2.5 percent.

The president opened the meeting by addressing the budget cuts and fielding faculty members’ questions and concerns, several of which centered on performing arts.

“You can’t stop spending $30 million and just say, ‘Gee, everything’s exactly the same,’” Schulz told the senate, adding that no departments financially affected by the decision are considered “fluff.”

Schulz said there was no funding set aside in the university’s budget for performing arts after the program was originally cut under Elson S. Floyd’s presidency years ago. Financial support for the program comes from the university’s reserve fund, Schulz said.

But Trotter said the program has been self-sufficient and provided several benefits to the community, including inviting outside performers to perform in Daggy Hall. Trotter said faculty were never tasked to generate enough funds to fully fund their salaries.

The comments came the same day Los Angeles-based writer, producer and director Ted Tremper visited Daggy Hall to put on a comedy performance as part of the continuing WSU Visiting Writer Series.

Tremper, 34, told the Daily News he nearly canceled his trip after hearing the performing arts program would be shut down.

A WSU alum and current field director for comedian Sarah Silverman’s new show, “I Love You, America,” Tremper said theater was an important avenue of exploration for him while he studied English at the university from 2001 to 2004.

“If there had not been a robust theater department when I was there I would’ve had no place,” Tremper told the Daily News in a phone interview Wednesday.

The program was a place for weirdos, Tremper said, and he was one of them. The best part of his WSU experience was the acting he did on the side with Nuthouse Improv Comedy, a WSU performing arts group.

Since then, Tremper has found success in the world of entertainment. In 2006, after travels to Japan, Tremper landed in Chicago, where he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, did improv through The Second City, the notorious improv enterprise known for its long list of famous alums including Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

From there, Tremper went on to direct the Seeso television comedy series, Shrink, before becoming a field producer for the Daily Show at the same time host Trevor Noah joined in 2015.

While at WSU, Tremper recalled feeling that he and his fellow actors were the least important people at the school. He said the decision to cut the program sends a clear message about the types of people officials want at WSU.

“I hope that the contributions I’ve made to comedy and the work that we’re doing, it has value,” Tremper said. “I hope that being a product of that school, that society finds that work valuable.”

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