Funding and staffing concerns raised among theatre students

Star Diavolikis and Libby Williams

Students in the Department of Theatre Arts are expressing concerns over possible funding and staff reductions they say would negatively impact the program.

These students have spoken out at public meetings and published two online petitions to call attention to a near 50% decrease in staff and faculty since 2018, a decline in the amount of classes being offered and the possible removal of the department chair.

Eight theatre students attended President Jim Wolphart’s Student and Success Listening Seminars on Feb. 7 and 8 to voice their concerns. 

“Over the last five years, we’ve lost over half of our faculty in the department already,” Brad Alemao, senior theatre arts major and vice president of the student Theatre Advisory Board (TAB) said at the seminars. “So another 33% cut would mean that we don’t have enough faculty to cover everything in the department.”

Since 2018, the department went from 21 faculty and staff members to 11, according to students on TAB.

“This is the only theatre performance BFA program in the state,” Alemao said. “We have that over every other school in Washington State. For all of us … our reason for coming here was because we were advertised as an arts university.”

Wolphart said in response to the student comments, “We have some phenomenal arts programs. We need to do a better job of marketing those, recruiting students in those, it’s phenomenal work.”

Sophomore musical theatre student Shawn Mulligan said, “CWU has always marketed itself as, among other things, an arts university … The theatre program specifically has been an invaluable help for me, and the professors have given me the education I need and the preparation for pursuing my career after college.”

TAB Meeting

Word-of-mouth after the faculty meeting Feb. 4 got around regarding possible funding cuts, prompting students to speak up the following Monday. More students got involved after a Feb. 7 TAB meeting where the board expanded on the possibility of the department facing more cuts in the future. 

“There’s budget cuts happening all across the university, and there have been since COVID started because enrollment is down, so we are not special in that regard,” said Jade Tunnell, TAB chair and senior theatre studies major. “However it does impact us in a way that is really detrimental to our education.”

Tunnell also told the board that at the Feb. 4 faculty meeting, which she attended as TAB chair, there was discussion of College of Arts and Humanities Dean Jill Hernandez having requested Theatre Chair Christina Barrigan to either resign from her position or go through a process of removal.

Barrigan and Hernandez both declined to comment on personnel issues. 

However, Barrigan said, “Moving into this year, we reduced our production offerings. Moving into this year we also reduced some class offerings … there are some visible changes that do feel like loss. So, it’s not too far of a journey for people to assume that change means loss, whether that’s accurate or not.”

The Observer reached out to two other theatre faculty, where one declined to comment and the other didn’t respond. We reached out to the provost and presidents’ offices and they did not respond by deadline.

The Impact of Cuts

Previously, the theatre department would be able to produce nearly five shows a year, but the number has dropped to around three, according to Tunnell. 

“We are already running on a skeleton crew and the bare minimum of materials that we need as it is, and continuous additional budget cuts would begin to impair our ability to put on shows, which would be detrimental to the education of our students,” Tunnell said.

There has been a decrease in the amount of classes offered because the department cannot afford to run these and pay their faculty accordingly, Tunnell said.

Alemao said there have been classes that were cut and no longer offered due to these issues, including the playwright and stage combat classes. Some professors in charge of these subjects left CWU, creating another cause for making the classes no longer available.

There is a concern from the theatre student body about being able to teach students theatre skills safely, as well as a general concern for the professors. 

“We wouldn’t be able to teach certain areas of theatre, at least not safely. And safety is key,” Alemao said.

Tunnell said the issues have impacted students directly, including students considering dropping out. 

“In the TAB meeting that we had, the forum that we had last Monday, several students expressed that they would be dropping out if changes are not made, and if our department doesn’t start receiving more support from our administration,” Tunnell said. 

Junior theatre arts major Marcus Wolf said there’s been a rise in attendance at “The Hot New Jam” shows, an improv group on campus, and that the theatre department is just as important as all other departments, as they can have fun and have thought-provoking conversations inspired by their shows.

“We’re not asking for additional help, we’re just asking for them to stop hurting us,” Tunnell said.


TAB has made two petitions public, and between them they have 253 signatures on the website as of Tuesday. One advocates for the theatre department and the other defends Barrigan to continue being the tenured chair for the department.

“Advocate for CTE students and faculty,” one of two petitions said, requesting three specific actions from the university: No more faculty and staff cuts, reduced or fewer budget cuts and consistent advising for students.

Theatre faculty require intense specialization to adequately teach our students and prepare them for work in their field, and additional cuts to faculty will severely impact our ability to offer the hands-on experience necessary for students to succeed in and after college,” the petition states.

Reduced budget cuts create direct impacts on classes, materials and available faculty and staff. This creates issues throughout the department for essential functions, according to Tunnell and the petition.

The second petition, titled, “Petition of Support for Barrigan,” is dedicated to showing support for Barrigan and advocating for her to stay as the chair of the department.

 “We agree that Professor Barrigan is the best candidate for the job, and request that CWU administration offer Professor Barrigan and the rest of CTE faculty more support instead of damaging the existing support network our students and faculty do have by removing Professor Barrigan as Chair,” the petition states.