Letters to the editor: September 10, 2009
New World Theater worthy of funding
I am writing out of shock, outrage and disbelief. I have just learned that the University of Massachusetts Amherst has decided to cut New World Theater (NWT) out of its budget. I am an alum of New World Theater. When I was there I assisted teaching theater in Holyoke to underserved Latino youth. I worked in the literary department where I assisted choosing the New World production season. I worked alongside world-renowned directors Dipankar Mukarjee and Chuck Mike. I also helped with the planning and worked for two Intersection conferences (and have attended every one since).
New World Theater and its staff have provided not only me, but hundreds of other students and artists with remarkable professional experiences. NWT has been a haven for the creation of new works including MacArthur Genius Award recipient Guillermo Gómez-Peña (Borderscape 2000), Universes (Ameriville) and many other influential theater makers. NWT has consistently inspired audiences throughout the New England region, as people travel for hours to get a glimpse of the work that New World produces.
NWT has been and remains to be a haven for students of color on campus and artists of color around the world. For 30 years, NWT has provided international leadership on the cutting edge of theater for all peoples with a minority voice (queer, Native American, Latino, Asian African-American and many more).
Recently NWT began the Intersections conference series. This conference has been pivotal to the creation of new works, for professional networking, for idea exchanges. Wherever the future of theater is going NWT has remained in the epicenter of this movement.
To lose NWT would be to lose a(n) (Inter)National Treasure.
As a previous student and now professional director I have never forgotten the influence and teaching that NWT passed onto me. NWT is a generous place full of encouragement and ideas. Artists throughout the world hold NWT in the highest regard. For the university to lose NWT would be devastating.
NWT is a fantastic recruitment tool for the university and a professional development training ground for students.
Since I have gotten involved with NWT, I have had amazing opportunities to become close colleagues of some of the theater artists that I not only learned about, but was personally introduced to while at NWT.
I suggest, request and demand that UMass must fund New World Theater for at the very least one more year and take longer to assess this decision. I guarantee once a full assessment is made that NWT will be recognized as a necessary thread in the fabric of the university’s community, the greater Amherst community and the world theater community. Review and assess before a regrettable decision is made.
Co-Founding Artistic Director HartBeat Ensemble
Obama’s speech concerned more than school
President Barack Obama continues to hover over us like “Big Brother.” Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009, Obama’s targeted audience was our impressionable school children.
Obama beamed a speech into schools all across the country. Although the speech was marketed as non-political and encouraged students to do well in school, it set a current precedent for future speeches by Obama to our students. It can be construed as unduly influencing our educational system with more government interference in our daily lives and should be considered an invasion of privacy.
The original lesson plans that were supposed to accompany the speech recommended students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President.” This was designed as a program for Obama to have direct contact with youth across the country, and therein bypassing parents. Obama might be trying to impact our youth with his philosophy, and build his constituency with millions of high school students who will be eligible to vote in 2012.
Thankfully, many school districts refused to air the speech in an attempt to keep government intrusion out of our educational system.
Note: President George H. W. Bush and President Reagan intruded in the schools when they spoke to students.
Donald A. Moskowitz
Amherst second string to Lowell?
Is UMass Amherst second to UMass Lowell? Amherst is the flagship university, a place I’m proud to have graduated from way back in ’86. Lowell is a fine school, with a decent engineering program, but is it better than Amherst? Professor John W. Walkinshaw seems to think so.
At issue is a young man who, 13 years ago, escaped from post-revolutionary Iran with his mother and two young sisters. Knowing no English and having no skills, the family landed in New Hampshire and began the long process of first surviving in, and later adopting, their new country. Today, Shahin Khyamian is a United States citizen, a member of the Army National Guard, and (nearly) a graduate of UMass Lowell with a degree in chemical engineering. He also was scheduled to begin a new job as a civilian nuclear engineer with the U.S. Navy later in July.
Why “nearly” a graduate? Well, that’s where Professor John W. Walkinshaw appears in the story. At the Lowell campus, undergraduate chemistry engineers must complete a group project (like a senior project, if you will) in order to graduate. No one fails this course. Students who perform below the B level are allowed to spend extra time on the project, perform additional work, etc. until their grade rises to the ‘appropriate’ level. Professor John W. Walkinshaw teaches this course.
Now, Shahin found himself in the position where he did not have all the prerequisites satisfied by the spring of his senior year, and Walkinshaw denied him admission to the class. He later petitioned the department to allow him to take the course in fall ’08 at UMass Amherst, knowing that, in January ’08, he entered basic training and could not stand to wait out the extra time necessary to satisfy his graduation requirement. In the mean time, he applied for and was accepted into a position with the Navy’s civilian engineering corps beginning this July. The stipulation was that he must receive his college degree. Lowell agreed to let Shahin transfer the credits from Amherst. This is where things get interesting.
The project, as previously stated, is a group project. All members of the group receive the same grade, regardless of individual performance. Shahin’s team received a “C.” According to the professor at Amherst, there were no plus/minus grades awarded. A “C” is a passing grade, and acceptable by Lowell for transfer of credit. However, Professor John W. Walkinshaw unilaterally decided, after Shahin received permission to attend Amherst, that he would accept nothing less than a C+, regardless of what the two universities’ policies are. So, now, Shahin is in limbo trying to scramble to reach some accord in time to save his job. Time is running out.
Is a “C” from Amherst inferior to a “C” from Lowell? Should a single professor be entitled to overrule university policy and deny a student’s transfer credits? Should a professor be entitled to change an agreement between a student and the department after the agreement is made?
For Shahin it may be too late. Letters from his professor at Amherst, his advisor at Lowell, and from Lowell’s student grievance officer have so far failed to show John W. Walkinshaw the error of his ways. I don’t know what you think about all this. I think it’s a shame. But more than that, I feel quite strongly that Amherst is in no way inferior to Lowell in any program of study, which to me seems to be the opinion of John W. Walkinshaw: Lowell trumps Amherst.