The college administration and President Denise Battles’ recent decision to defund the Finger Lakes Opera came as a shock to many and a concern to more. This decision reflects the administration’s blatant disregard for the arts and reveals a mindset that is counterproductive to the mission of the college. Initially created back in 2013, FLO had strong support from the Geneseo administration. In the years following its formation, the company successfully staged one full-length production and one small show each summer. An incredibly valuable resource for internships, the opera company provided real-world experiences and opportunities for the college’s music majors–which are extremely hard to come by in this particular field.
Additionally, FLO offered internship opportunities for non-music majors in the areas of technical theatre, arts administration, marketing and more. Through these opportunities, FLO was able to give Geneseo students a competitive edge that prepared them for real world careers—unlike all other colleges in the SUNY system, none of which host a professional opera company. In fact, FLO would have eventually put Geneseo in the same category as private universities with similar programs.
Just this past summer, FLO developed an educational outreach program for children as well as a weeklong intensive vocal camp for high school students. Had the opera been able to continue this growth, there’s no doubt it would have doubled its internships and opportunities for Geneseo students and would have become a valuable recruiting tool for the college through its high school programs.
The main problem for the administration was the opera’s finances. Although the opera was growing financially, the college still provided a portion of the company’s funding and FLO still relied on Geneseo for the use of its facilities. The opera ran a small deficit this summer and “a feasible pathway toward financial sustainability has not materialized,” according to a statement sent by President Battles to the college community.
This statement is inaccurate, however. In actuality, the administration failed to consider all options available in order to keep FLO running at Geneseo. In a gross error on the part of the college, donors were contacted after the decision had been made to cease funding the opera. Had donors been contacted before making the final decision, the college may have been able to erase the opera’s small deficit.
The decision is also concerning in light of Battles’ recent email request, asking for proposals from students and faculty on how to generate revenue for the college. Although she requested help from the college community in this respect, Battles failed to do the same when it came to making the decision to defund FLO.
Angered and concerned, select students have repeatedly contacted and met with Battles, asking her to consider the wider impact this decision may have on both the college and local community.
As previously stated, however, the potential for future growth and internships far outweighed the potential fiscal cost to the college—a cost that could have been alleviated if donors had been contacted.
The college administration acted unilaterally and showed a blatant disregard for student interests. As students at a liberal arts university, we ought to be deeply troubled by this apparent disdain for the arts, which are essential for the complete education of any individual. It was not just an opera company being questioned, but a source of solace in troubled times, a way to improve the college’s reputation and a representation of Geneseo’s views on the arts and humanities.
The mission of the college is supposedly to “advance knowledge and inspire students to be socially responsible and globally aware citizens who are prepared for an enriched life and success in the world.” But how can this goal possibly be achieved when art opportunities and programs are being ruthlessly cut by those whose job it is to ensure that Geneseo’s students benefit from a well-rounded, liberal arts education?
Going forward, the college community must strongly and vocally oppose further cuts to the arts at Geneseo.