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Performance awards saved for now

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Bailey Porter
Editor in Chief

University administrators have provided reasonable assurance that performance scholarships will be preserved, despite rumors that the awards would be phased out or even cut from next year’s budget due to the institution’s growing budget deficit.

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dick McDowell said he appreciates the impact performance scholarships have on student retention and the performance programs.

“I’m delighted that the performance scholarship program has been reviewed and is continuing,” he said.

This could come as quite a relief to the theater, art, music and debate programs who feared that the scholarships – which they feel are fundamental to their programs’ operations –  would be on the chopping block in the administration’s new quest to “find” $8 million in for the ever-shrinking budget.

The Action Task Force, chaired by Dean of Academic Support and Retention Services Adeline Cardenas-Clague, was recently created to find that $8 million needed for a balanced budget.

The Task Force could still review performance scholarships for “efficiencies,” University President Steve Morgan said.

However, Morgan and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Fred Yaffe also agree that performance scholarships are important. The University might “restructure” them, but will not end them, they said.

“Someone finally gathered all the numbers for performance scholarships and looked at them and said: ‘Do you realize how much we are awarding performance scholarships?’” Morgan said.

Executive Vice President Phil Hawkey said the performance scholarships emerged and grew without any definition.

Rumors and controversy over performance scholarships heated up when top administrators began meeting early in the fall semester to consider cutting or reducing the performance scholarships without representatives from the affected departments, theater manager Elizabeth Pietrzak said.

A heads-up from Financial Aid Director Leatha Webster kicked the departments into gear and they met with the president, executive vice president and representatives from admissions and financial aid in February.

During the meeting the departments had to defend their programs, Pietrzak said.

Morgan said his intention is not to make the College of Arts and Sciences feel like it must defend its programs.

“I’m a supporter of the performing arts. I think they’re extremely important,” Morgan said. “I worry a little bit about equity because the natural sciences don’t have any special awards that they can give a star in the natural sciences.

“Because you’re a very good performer, should you get more than a very good biologist?” Morgan asked. “I think always we’ll have tensions in the University as we invest money in one area, and another area says we need investments too,” Morgan added.

To affected department heads, the performance scholarships simply make more sense for their students.

The process for awarding performance scholarships is a better indicator of student success on the stage than a merit system that awards student tuition discounts based solely on GPA and test scores, Pietrak said.

“High GPAs and high SATs don’t really tell us whether a student is going to be a good fit for our program. That’s why we audition people,” she said.

Theater department chairman David Flaten said the performance scholarships add no real additional cost to the University and better suit the departments.

“It’s just a different way to distribute funds, a different way of calculating merit,” he said.

“Performance scholarships are different in terms of need than any other program,” Flaten said, comparing performers on a stage to athletes on the field.

Without enough members on a team, there is no sport and without the appropriate number of trained performers on stage there is no performance program, he said.

“I think as an academic institution we need to protect the academic integrity of the institution so I would like to say that I believe there should be an (academic) threshold over which a student must cross before they would qualify or be considered,” Morgan said. “If you are a musician or an actor or in our debate program I believe you ought to have a minimum GPA.”

However, a new equity system for distributing financial aid beginning in the fall might solve some of the problems with awarding student discounts and could change the look of performance scholarships.

“There’s a blind spot in the administration towards the arts and how to market them,” Flaten said.

However, Yaffe agreed that attention to performers – the artists, musicians, actors and athletes – is essential.

“Recruiting high-quality performance students is beneficial to the University; it’s our public face,” Yaffe said.

Bailey Porter can be reached at porterb@ulv.edu.

The scholarships

Performance scholarships are currently awarded to art, music, theater and debate students who meet the criteria determined by their respective departments including: registering for a minimum number of semester hours, participation in the program and maintenance of a set GPA (for theater the minimum GPA is 3.5, for example).

The scholarships can only be renewed at the start of the next year if students continue to meet the requirements.

Students receive performance scholarships consistent with the amount they are awarded through the merit system. Therefore, performing arts students are eligible for the $9,000, $10,000 and $12,000 award (the same as merit awards).

Each department can award up to 21 scholarships. However, if a performing arts student is awarded a $12,000 performance scholarship and $6,000 merit award, they only net $6,000 in performance scholarship discount. Students do not have to major or minor to meet the other requirements.

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