By Bill Robinson
Although it took them about eight months, the EKU Center for the Arts community operations board and the university finally agreed last week on who would be the center director's boss.
We can applaud the agreement, but no one can be happy about the embarrassing squabble and the harm done to the ambitious center. The search for a new director has been on hold pending settlement of the dispute.
Whether the new EKU president who will take office in a few months will approve of the memorandum of understanding between President Doug Whitlock and the board remains to be seen. But, as Whitlock’s assistant Skip Daughtery pointed out as the agreement was finally settled, the next president’s attitude toward a university subsidy for the center may be more crucial.
All but $19,000 of a $240,000 university contingency fund put aside for the center’s first season was used, and the remainder has already been used for the second season. The center also has received a $200,000 annual operating subsidy from the state.
Interim director Jill Price has done an admirable job, especially in difficult circumstances, in keeping the center going, but the center needs a permanent director who can book the type of shows that will fill its seats with paying customers and recruit corporate sponsors.
Even in the best of times, neither the university nor the state could be expected to provide the center with long-term subsidies. And, these are certainly not the best of times.
The center is a great asset to both the community and the university, and both have a right to see their interests, especially their liabilities, respected. But, for the center to be successful as a partnership, both partners need to remain in close communication and always act in good faith. This is a high-stakes game, but it needs to be played so that both sides will win. Playing a trump card to win it all, or “going for broke” is not a good strategy.
Let’s hope everyone learns from this unfortunate incident and the center prospers, enhancing the life of the university, Madison County and the region for generations to come.
As the university sets out to cut its $230 million budget by 10 percent, more than a subsidy for the performing arts center is at risk.
Programs that either don’t pay for themselves or serve Eastern’s core mission in a way that justifies their costs may be eliminated. That will no doubt include programs that may benefit the community more than the university.
Members of the campus community have questioned why the order to start looking for budget cuts, attributed to the board of regents, came soon after a regents meeting at which the move was not publicly discussed.
Obviously, the issue was discussed somewhere out of public hearing, which did nothing to foster the kind of cooperation the university said it wanted to determine what should be preserved.
The campus and larger community are rife with rumors about what could end up on the chopping block. One such object of speculation is Model Laboratory School.
Many teacher colleges once operated their own “model” schools, but EKU's Model Laboratory School is one of the few that remain anywhere in the country. However, if Model is closed abruptly, the county school district may have trouble absorbing its 700 students.
Years ago, the county district agreed to share some of its tax revenue with Model to keep it open. But, the future of Model may be the next issue that tests the spirit of cooperation between the university and the community.
Let’s hope one partner won’t seek to serve its own interest by running the risk taking both to the brink of unacceptable consequences before a mutually beneficial outcome is reached.
We already have enough of that in Frankfort and Washington.
We can’t afford to have that here. Even if we could afford it, aren’t we better than that?