Oswego's theatre department earns national accreditation

imageThe prestigious National Association of Schools of Theatre accredited SUNY Oswego’s theatre department in May. 

Accreditation means students know they are taking part in a first-rate production, said Mark Cole, SUNY Oswego theatre department chair. It shows there is “a level of standards and practices a person entering the program would know are being met,” he said.

“For instance, in the studio courses, we have to hold to a maximum of 15 students per class,” Cole explained. “Students would know they can expect a very good faculty-student ratio in the core classes and in their areas of specialization.”

Oswego’s theatre department is now one of 135 NAST members and one of only five accredited college-based programs in New York state. Four SUNY colleges are accredited—Oswego and two other new members, Buffalo State and New Paltz, join Fredonia—as is Ithaca College. New York’s six other accredited programs are based at dramatic academies, actors’ studios and professional theatres.

Cole pulls out the result of the process for a visitor and it lands on his desk with a theatrical thud. Three years worth of work, it is a binder several inches thick with a 66-page narrative backed up by hundreds of pages of appendices.

The department began a self-study in 2002 and connected the effort with a similar process required for applying to NAST. It culminated in a three-day peer review from a team assigned by NAST.

“It was like a three-day opening night, because they were not only examining the work in the written study, but they were visiting classes and talking to our faculty, administration and students,” Cole recalled. The team also viewed the college’s spring 2003 production of “The Secret Garden.”

“It was a lengthy and detailed study of our program because they have to be assured that the program will meet all of their standards,” Cole said. “They also look at our balance between academics and production, which is the laboratory for actually doing theatre.”

The strong alumni network the department maintained over the years impressed the team as well, he added.

Engaging in the self-study and application process had its own benefits. It allowed the department to redefine the program’s three tracks—acting/directing, design/technical theatre, theatre history/criticism—while establishing “a much more rigorous core,” Cole said. In addition, the theatre program is working with the nationally accredited music department to launch an interdisciplinary musical theatre track this fall.

The accreditation included a special commendation to the college’s administration for its responsiveness, and Cole especially cited SUNY Oswego Dean of Arts and Sciences Sara Varhus and Provost Susan Coultrap-McQuin for being very involved in the process.

“It’s a terrific affirmation of the quality of work happening here as well as the institution’s investment in the arts,” Cole said.

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(Posted: Jul 13, 2005)