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SUNY Sullivan cuts programs

Theater program most scrutinized

Alex Kielar
Posted 5/28/24

LOCH SHELDRAKE – The SUNY Sullivan Board of Trustees held its first regular meeting since welcoming the college’s new President, Dr. David Potash – a meeting which announced the …

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SUNY Sullivan cuts programs

Theater program most scrutinized


LOCH SHELDRAKE – The SUNY Sullivan Board of Trustees held its first regular meeting since welcoming the college’s new President, Dr. David Potash – a meeting which announced the slashing of several programs at the college.

Several resolutions were on the table, which included the cutting of six different programs. All but one of the programs were approved to be cut, the one staying being the Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) program. 

The five programs that were approved to be cut from the college were the Media Arts Associate in Science (AS) program, the Theater Associate of Arts (AA) program, the Environmental Science AS program, the Liberal Arts & Sciences AS - Biology Concentration program and the Liberal Arts & Sciences AS - Mathematics Concentration program. 

The meeting began with an executive session of nearly an hour long in which the board approved a “confidential resolution pertaining to a criminal investigation,” according to Officer in Charge, Casey Crabill. 

Once the open meeting began, the board opened up to public comment in which over a dozen community members, ranging from school staff and students to theater directors, spoke on their disdain for the program cuts being considered. A majority of the comments were regarding the theater program. 


A Safe Space 

for Creativity

David Hilstein of Hurleyville and a member of the Screen Actors Guild said that in 2015 he heard about the theater program and jumped at the chance to hone his craft and do a full season of shows there. 

“During that period, I got to know the theater program, Jessica [Lopez-Barkl, theater program director] and all who tirelessly put their time, energy, effort and talents to make it run.”

Hilstein talked about his nearly 10 years of being affiliated with the theater department and how much that Lopez-Barkl loves teaching and running a theater department. He also talked about how the theater program is a safe space for young adults to escape from the world and be free to create their own characters. 

“The heart motivates us to make the decisions we do,” Hilstein said. “What we learned in theater is how to tap into that quiet place within ourselves and listen to our innermost thoughts and feelings, which will take us farther in life than most other skills we learn in college.”

Jacqueline Van Gorden, a SUNY Sullivan student, talked about the connection between the rising suicide and opioid rates and the lack of programs for students to put their hearts into. 

“I don’t know what’s harder, surviving to become a student here at SUNY Sullivan or falling in love with this school and becoming a part of its family as a student and employee, only to watch our SUNY Sullivan disappear piece by piece. With my heart and the hope for the future generations of Sullivan County, if you choose to continue to rip apart my school and the only hope for the lives of our kids in the county, then you are responsible for inducing the suicide and opioid rates even more so.”

Artistic Director of Farm Arts Collective in Damascus, Pennsylvania, Tannis Kowalchuk, mentioned how taking away out of classroom activities as well as any chance to socialize or have fun, you end up associating creativity, camaraderie and even happiness with the learning process. 

“To strip the college experience down to its bare bricks, it becomes a mere transaction,” Kowalchuk said. “A chore, a pit stop on the way to real life and a meaningful box to check. It isn’t a wonder that students are becoming increasingly cynical. At SUNY Sullivan, there is very little to keep students engaged outside of class. Most would find despair, but an artist instead sees a blank canvas.”

Kowalchuk also talked about Lopez-Barkl being one of the most tireless and dedicated creative professors working in any field at SUNY Sullivan or anywhere else.

Many of the other comments focused on the connection with students being able to express themselves and that the first programs to be considered to be cut across the country are the arts programs. 

“These students walk out feeling better about themselves,” said Tim Corkran, a 35-year resident of Sullivan County and producer of 90 off-Broadway productions. “They feel more confident and more able to communicate, apply for a job and probably much better about their own human spirit.”

Teniqua Harris, a 2017 alumni, said that after her sister went missing nine days after her graduation, the theater program provided her with a safe space during the pandemic. Her sister is still missing to this day and she said that the theater program allowed her to come and bring her children and allow them to be their selves and disconnect from who they are for a moment. 

Erin Gilmore, a single mother and 2023 graduate with a Liberal Arts degree, said that she moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career but after giving birth, she came back to Sullivan County when she heard about the theater program at SUNY Sullivan. 

“I had to take a theater class and in my theater class, I thought that maybe I should audition,” Gilmore said. “And this would be my first audition that I ever did in my life. I never sang in front of anybody. So I kind of just went out on a whim, but I actually wasn’t nervous. I actually felt at home and that should mean something.”

Gilmore also said that they were able to pull of all three shows that she did with little enrollment and said that shouldn’t be an excuse to cut the program. 


Explanations for Cuts

Interim Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at SUNY Sullivan, Rose Hanofee, explained the reasoning behind the programs to be cut – the cost of the programs, which are required to finish, exceeds the number of students enrolled in the programs the last several years. 

For the Theater AA program, Hanofee said that the cost is $14,643 per student with the production budget, a theater tech and full-time faculty, and enrollment in the program has not exceeded 10 students, despite 10 years of hard work.

“Students are just not coming to pursue theatre,” Hanofee said. “There have been nine graduates since 2017, seven applicants within commuter distance for fall 2024 and three students to teach out.” 

Hanofee said that the other programs had not exceeded 10 enrollments since 2019 and the lowest enrollment was for the Mathematics Concentration of the Liberal Arts & Science AS with only five graduates since 2019. 

However, despite eliminating the official program, Hanofee said that they still run a theater arts club and will continue productions as well as offer theater classes as electives. 

“We’re not completely eliminating theater from the college,” Hanofee said. 

“Everybody needs to understand that we are in support of keeping theater here and still having productions,” said Board of Trustees Vice Chair Dr. Theresa Hamlin. “We just can’t afford to keep the formal AA degree in theater but we can keep theater as part of this community and part of this college. That’s important to all of us on the board.”


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