UCSC cuts Shakespeare loose

Like hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, I was upset to hear that UCSC management decided to discontinue Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Too expensive and not self-sustainable. I was surprised by the decision itself, puzzled by the apparent lack or narrowness of the consultation, and stunned by the timing of its announcement, right before the end of the 2013 season. It is hard to think of UCSC ending a brilliant, well-known program for financial reasons. I didn’t say “strictly” financial reasons because I think other reasons may have played a role. I believe that the way one chases after dollars reveals political choices.

The main reason given for the decision is that the company has needed public financing to the tune of about 350,000 dollars a year since the 2009 season (or a bit more). The news clip says that it is 750,000 dollars short this year, with the cumulative debt calculated to be almost two million dollars. Hence the conclusion that there is no hope for the company of ever being “self-sustainable.”

Ticket receipts alone cannot pay for cultural events. No library, music, art programs can pay for themselves. The economic argument would have to take the long (fifty year?) view, and economics is not good at that. To learn about one’s humanity via live plays (not all from Shakespeare) is priceless. Its rate of return over generations in the way of more comprehension of oneself and each other can only be guessed at… Anyway, my back-of-an-envelope calculations of ticket revenues say that receipts for ten thousand tickets would bring 300,000 dollars. I couldn’t find information on the company’s budget and numbers. Long-term gifts are probably modest though the website lists many donors. So, yes indeed, public money—i.e. state support and students’ fees (in effect a tax)—has to match ticket revenues and more.

The UCSC administration decided that this is problematic and unsustainable. It would be about tough choices: instruction (more cash support for courses during the year) versus cultural luxuries. I don’t see how management can claim that the need to guarantee instruction is at odds with the support of Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Of course, given the way the UC budget is constructed, it can be made to look like that. The reality, however, is that the financing of buildings, equipment, and new programs (including a planned museum of arts and sciences, see below) is constantly pitted against instruction proper, and in a massive way. It is strange to claim that money allocated to support Shakespeare Santa Cruz is taken from the budget for instruction. Shakespeare SC is part of instruction, broadly conceived.

I wonder about the details of the expense column in the budget of Shakespeare SC. How much is charged for salaries, travel, lodging? How much for use of halls, facilities, equipment? What kind of recharges are being practiced, especially in the summer? How much overhead? Regarding some of those expenses, my closest adviser suggests: can’t they be brought under control by making the company part of the Theater Arts Department and teaching program, with credit for students, and non-rechargeable use of rooms and facilities? In other words, can’t expenses be reduced by re-examining budgetary practices?

In the capital projects listed in the 2012–13 bird’s eye view budget for UCSC, it is a big surprise to see 30 million dollars earmarked for a University Museum of the Arts and Sciences. One also wonders about the wisdom of spending 6 to 8 million dollars year in, year out, for University Relations and development. One question this type of spending brings up regards how much money will be needed to pay for on-going exhibits, curator personnel, etc. Where is it going to come from? Another question is about the politics of fund-raising. Has Shakespeare Santa Cruz been dropped from the University Relations’ agenda because it is in potential conflict with fund-raising needs for this future museum? I am afraid this decision and prioritizing are going to have a disastrous effect on potential donors. It looks to me like a PR disaster.

What kind of consultation was there on these matters? Although there is no reference to it in the postings I saw, I suppose the advice of the Academic Senate committees was sought, beginning with that of the Committee on Planning and Budget. It would be truly sad to learn these committees approved of terminating Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

One thought on “UCSC cuts Shakespeare loose”

  1. Commenting on my own post (taken from a letter I sent yesterday to UCSC administration): The planned UCSC Museum of Arts and Sciencesr doesn’t have to be seen as in conflict with SSC. UCSC’s Digital Media, PhD program, and the links being developed with Computer Sciences, Applied Math and Engineering are exciting, dynamic, wonderful projects, as far as I can tell from passing conversations with some faculty. No need to go into a discussion of old vs new, digital and global vs scribal (scriptural?) and provincial. In fact, both Shakespeare SC and museum could
    become part of a broader intellectual enterprise and the conversation could be
    about the intellectual and pedagogical dimensions of both. Perhaps something
    bigger about memory and creativity. Unfortunately, this particular decision and
    the thoughts leading to it are the products of terrible budgetary circumstances that
    tend to eviscerate any chance of an open intellectual and philosophical

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