Theatre and dance students upset after beloved professor rejected for tenure-track position

“Our department has seen a lot of upheaval in the past year, and so that’s another reason students have been saddened by this news,” senior acting and directing major Julia Cooke said. “Instead of having a constant figure we can rely on, it’s someone else new.”


Alex Minyard

Heidi Harris was denied the tenure-track position and will lose the majority of her classes as a result.

Theatre and dance students are expressing their frustration after Heidi Harris, a lecturer of voice in the department, was denied a tenure-track position in favor of an external candidate.   

Harris, who has been teaching at the University for five years, will lose the majority of her classes as a result of this decision.    

Harris said that, as of now, she will not be teaching any classes in the theatre and dance department during the fall semester and may be slated to teach one or two courses in the Conservatory of Music.   

“Part of the reason that I applied for that [tenure-track] job was that I need a full-time job; I need benefits.” Harris said. “I may have to change tracks altogether and find something outside of theatre education to make sure that I can keep paying my bills.”   

In light of this decision, theatre and dance students have constructed a bulletin board full of letters and cards showing their love and support for Harris outside of her office.    

“I was just overwhelmed by the outpouring,” Harris said. “I hadn’t expected that because anywhere I’ve ever worked, not just as a teacher but anywhere, I’ve never felt so seen by my students and yet so invisible to my colleagues and the administration.”   

Rachel Gold, a senior BFA acting major, said that Harris was “pivotal” in creating the voice and dialect curriculum and was the sole voice professor for many years. In addition, Harris also created the standardized patient program, a program where acting students can earn money by acting as a patient for which medical students can practice.    

Harris has also brought the Radio on the Lake program to BW, Gold said, a radio play company where students can participate in acting in radio plays or directing them through the directing mentorship program with the company.   

“We got professional educational directing experience because of Heidi, because of that program she brought,” Gold said. “She bridged that gap between the professional world and the educational world and got us experience in the field that we want to transition into post-graduation.”   

Gold said that students within the BFA acting majors, BA acting and directing majors, and stage managers wrote letters supporting Harris in getting the tenure-track position. They were then told the decision had been passed to the committee deciding on the tenure-track position.   

“It really feels as though the university doesn’t care about their students because they’re not listening to their voices,” Gold said. “They’re just not listening to us.”   

Julia Cooke, a senior acting and directing major, said that the department had lost four professors in the past year, with at least one professor, Anjanette Hall, leaving after being denied a higher position.   

“Our department has seen a lot of upheaval in the past year, and so that’s another reason students have been saddened by this news,” Cooke said. “Instead of having a constant figure we can rely on, it’s someone else new.”   

When professors leave the department, the opportunities they bring with them leave too, Gold said. Trading out the professors teaching the classes also interferes with the curriculum students are learning, Gold said, who has seen a complete change in the curriculum during her time at BW. These frequent changes can interfere with the registrar’s records.   

“All of the seniors in the BFA got emails this year that stated we wouldn’t be able to graduate because they had a different record than what the school has, what the department has,” Gold said. “All of those credits were waived for us, but that’s just one more example of the miscommunication in this university.”   

Ruah Uhlman, a junior BFA acting major, echoed this sentiment and said that having a new professor take over the voice curriculum would significantly impact the underclassmen currently on the voice track.   

“They’ve created a curriculum where there’s four semesters of one vocal technique, and you learn it in a specific order, and to interrupt that is just going to be a loss of learning for those students,” Ulhman said.    

Ulhman said that she believes Harris deserved the position because of her level of knowledge, her care for her students and her credibility as a professional.   

“She picked up a lot of the slack from the rest of the department and has filled in many gaps this year and years before,” Ulhman said.   

Cooke said that Harris has gone beyond what is in her job description to bring theatre students opportunities because she cares.   

“She creates an incredibly safe environment for her students so that we feel free to ask questions, and she always gives genuine answers,” Cooke said. “She’s interested in our experiences and our discoveries, and that feels good as a student.”   

Harris said she would like to thank her students for valuing her and her work, and she is happy to have been a part of their journey in life.   

“We need to feel valued and appreciated, and my students have always given me that here at BW. And for that, I’m eternally grateful,” Harris said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article which also appeared in print in the April 26 edition of The Exponent, included a claim from a source that when professor Laura Welsh Berg left Baldwin Wallace’s theatre department, an internship with Great Lakes Theatre was no longer affiliated with the university. Berg has since clarified with The Exponent that the partnership with GLT has continued and that BW students have participated in the program as recently as this month. The claim has been removed.

The Exponent is a student-led learning laboratory that strives for accuracy at all times. To request a correction or clarification, email [email protected].