Off-Track

Two UM teachers are denied tenure, so the drama faculty tries to bring down the curtain on the Ring Theatre season

Ultimately, the university decided not to announce a theater schedule until after the new dean, coming from the University of Kentucky, has an opportunity to confer with faculty members June 9. "We will have theater productions next year," Glaser insists. "I understand how upset and distressed people get when tenure is denied. It's a tremendous disruption of their lives. But the university and the theater will go on. That's what we're committed to do. We're committed to our students."

It's not the first time Glaser has sparred with his highly educated subordinates. As provost, he acts as the administrator for all academic programs; last month a committee of graduate school professors voted to censure Glaser unless he consults with them more extensively about the selection of the dean of arts and sciences. Humanities faculty members are particularly wary of the provost, a biochemist who, some teachers believe, favors the instruction of sciences over the arts. Glaser dismisses such notions, saying that he doesn't consider what department the teacher works for when awarding tenure. "We don't make decisions on [teaching] positions," he asserts. "We make decisions on the merits of a particular individual."

The standoff at the Ring Theatre pits Glaser, who published 174 technical papers before arriving in Miami from Washington University in St. Louis, against a theater faculty whose scholarly quest is to entertain as well as to educate. Salzman uses colored celluloid film to change light tones, amplifying emotions implied by a playwright's words. Originally an actor and director who worked on Broadway intermittently for 24 years, Lantaff's scholarship inheres in the elegant movements of his hands, in his ability to convey strong sentiments with subtle intonations of speech and to lead others to accomplish the same.

This blend of the artistic, professional, and academic worlds has worked well in the University of Miami's theater arts department, which is also called a conservatory. To enroll, students must audition or show a portfolio of design work that exhibits talent and promise. During the four-year tutorial, professors evaluate their progress; if the students don't demonstrate an ability to succeed in the profession, they can't continue. The instructors are similarly held to more professional, not scholarly, standards. In such a drama conservatory -- and there are only about twenty in the country -- professors have to accomplish nationally recognized artistic goals, on the theory that practicing artists will be better able to assist their students. "It was that kind of experimental program that made its students do theater instead of sitting in a classroom learning about theater," declares Jerry Herman, a University of Miami theater alumnus who went on to write the musical score for the phenomenally successful Broadway musicals Mame; Hello, Dolly!; and La Cage aux Folles, among others. Herman recently donated $1.6 million for the remodeling of the theater named after him. "I learned how to light shows and I learned how to act in shows. It was a tremendous influence on my career."

The university's theater program has not achieved the acclaim of similarly structured conservatories such as Juilliard and the Yale School of Drama (which does not offer tenure to its artistic instructors). But during the last decade it has attracted an ever-more experienced academic staff and has vaulted numerous students into the profession, Lantaff and Salzman say.

They have appealed the tenure decision to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a professional organization that publishes standards for hiring, promotion, and tenure. The University of Miami has incorporated many of those standards in its faculty handbook. Though no school is obligated to adhere to the standards, many do, says Robert Kreiser, the group's associate secretary. Kreiser would not comment on whether the AAUP would defend Lantaff and Salzman, but he did say that the organization abhors any deviation from established guidelines.

The professors are trying to win their jobs back, but both already have an escape route planned: They may return to the professional dramatic community, knowing what to expect in that environment. "I got out of the professional theater world because I thought it was a dog-eat-dog atmosphere," Lantaff says. "I got into a university situation and found out what a real dog-eat-dog atmosphere is like.

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