Two Teachers’ Contracts Not Renewed
Last week, two technical designers and teachers in the theater and dance program, Jen Groseth and Damen Mroczek, received verbal notification that their contracts would not be renewed. Some students and faculty have responded with surprise and concern, raising questions about proper procedures.
This decision has not been made final, and as the procedures are largely confidential, few people directly involved have been able to comment. Dean of the college of Arts and Sciences Harry Hirsch approved this statement by theater and dance program director, Paul Moser:
“The managing director of the theater and dance program recently informed two members of the [Administrative and Professional] production staff that their contracts would not be renewed for next year. This was part of a confidential personnel process, and therefore administration, faculty and staff members are required not to comment further on the specifics. Because of the confidential nature of personnel procedures, students are not allowed to participate. The theater and dance program anticipates that the resources for these positions will continue, allowing the program to operate at the same level of technical, design and curricular support as it has in the past.”
Students contacted the Review shortly after hearing about the potential loss of these faculty members, emphasizing that these teachers were largely well-liked and respected within the program.
“[Jen’s] lighting design for the Opera [Pouvoir] even received a favorable mention in the New York Times review,” said College senior Caleb Baker, a theater minor and the major force behind a petition being circulated on Groseth and Mroczek’s behalf. “The New York Times rarely mentions lighting designers in its reviews of theatrical productions, and it even more rarely mentions those from Oberlin, Ohio...My point is that Jen Groseth is highly qualified to do her job and has been excellent in doing it.”
Assistant Director of Opera Theater Victoria Vaughan spoke in support of Groseth and Mroczek as well. She said of Mroczek, “At the other end of the operatic timeline, Steve Smith of Time Out New York reviewed Damen’s 2006 design for a new opera at the Knitting Factory [in] New York. Anyone who knows that particular performance space knows what Smith was talking about when he wrote that Damen’s design ‘made far better use of the meager stage than I would have imagined possible.’ Even on a miniscule budget and tiny venue, Damen is creative and innovative.”
Visiting Professor of Opera Theater Sally Stunkel worked with them on two full opera productions this year. She echoed these sentiments and described how she found working with Groseth and Mroczek.
“I was delighted with them,” she said. “They were open to all my ideas. They were creative and easy to work with. There was never any negative ego there, which was great, and I never got the impression that something couldn’t be done. They always found a way to solve the problem. As a team, along with Chris [Flaharty, costume designer and associate professor], I thought they made a fabulous working force.”
Students and faculty, therefore, expressed shock when they learned of the department’s decision not to renew Groseth and Mroczek’s contracts. “I was stunned that they were fired,” said Vaughan. “Damen and Jen work all hours of every day to keep shows up and running and to guide theater and dance students through that program. I honestly didn’t believe it when I heard the news.”
Junior theater major and department representative Tamar Daskin agreed that the dismissal seemed “completely and totally unwarranted.”
“Not only is their design work high quality, but their ability to teach students and make them feel at ease in the theater, which to some people is an unfamiliar and confusing place, is extraordinary,” she said.
“Basically,” said Baker, “no one would argue that the department cannot fire non-tenured members of its staff. But doing so to two members of its staff at once, two members who are highly qualified, says to us that there is a larger problem at work here.”
This larger problem concerns procedures of evaluation. Baker explained that this procedural change was actually laid out last semester in response to seemingly unwarranted negative evaluations of Mroczek and Groseth. He said that the report was found to misrepresent the reviews of some of the directors who had worked closely with the two teachers.
“After the dust settled, a new evaluation procedure was set up for the theater and dance [program] in consultation with the dean of arts and sciences. The documents...set forth that evaluations would not just happen at the end of the year but after every production. Additionally, staff members would be given the opportunity to evaluate each other,” said Baker. Those whose work was poorly evaluated were supposed to be given the chance to engage in dialogue and improve their work.
None of the above stipulations were met in the desion-making process over Mroczek and Groseth’s contract or, in fact, in the entire evaluation process of the year, according to Baker.
“There has not even been an evaluation this year in accordance with the old policy, much less the new one,” said Baker. “No evaluations took place after shows and staff members were never given the opportunity to evaluate each other.”
A secondary concern is that these positions will be hard to refill by next fall, let alone by this summer. Vaughan said that most academic placements happen much earlier in the year.
“Pickings for staff replacements of any caliber will be thin to zero,” she said.
“It has disrupted a lot of working relationships,” said Stunkel.
As mentioned above, students have been circulating a petition and have begun a letter writing campaign on Mroczek and Groseth’s behalf. They also plan to stage a protest this coming Saturday outside the theater and dance open house.
“Both [President] Nancy Dye and Hirsch have refused to meet with
students over this issue,” said Daskin. “We refuse to be silenced by
their deliberate neglect of this problem.”