Students share their perspectives on funding for the arts

The Concordia Courier


By Leonard Memon | 4/24/2023

Concordia’s arts programs, which include music, theater, visual arts and forensics, are each allocated funding from Concordia. In a survey of several students, there are a variety of perspectives and nuances when it comes to how and why the arts are funded.

Dr. Peter Senkbeil, Vice President and Special Assistant to the President at Concordia, helped set the table by outlining the questions administration considers when planning how funding is allocated. 

“How do various departments and activities contribute to the university's overall mission? How much did it cost last year to operate a given department or activity? Are we planning to increase activity in that area?” Senkbeil said, continuing, “For example, do we expect more students to enroll in a given graduate program, or to participate in an undergraduate co-curricular program or activity, than during the previous year?”

Adding to the equation, leadership also considers new programs or activities that must be funded out of the overall campus budget. “What revenue might these programs bring in, and how do we budget for start-up expenses until they do? Do we need to reduce expenses somewhere in order to achieve a balanced budget for the coming year? If so, where?” Senkbeil explained.

If the variables are starting to sound like a calculus equation, Senkbeil suggested keeping it simple and using Concordia’s mission as a touchstone. “I think funding for individual departments and activities should be based on their contribution to the overall mission and operation of the university, and on the educational benefit they provide to the campus community. I think that we, in fact, try to do this through our budget process,” he said.

Dr. Jeff Held, Assistant Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Director of Arts & Instrumental Activities, was on the same page as Senkbeil. Held said, “Funding should be based on whether these programs are enhancing the reputation and mission of the university, and whether the students are provided with an atmosphere in which to thrive.”

Held seconded Senkbeil’s position that Concordia strives to improve the university’s mission through its funding allocation. “It is a great strength of Concordia that so many sports teams and arts programs are indeed thriving. This is a sign that our leadership is stewarding limited resources well,” said Held. 

Jack Harris, a junior on the swim and dive team, agreed that Concordia gives both arts and sports a fair shake during the budget process. He said, “Both programs are highly valued and respected here at Concordia. The athletic teams get much attention, but I would also argue that arts programs do as well.”

Greta Jones, a junior who competes in forensics, would like to see more support for the arts. She said, “For a school that prides itself on being a liberal arts university, the funding for activities that further the pursuit of things that are wise, honorable, and cultivated, such as forensics, music, and arts, seems disproportionate to the funding for other extracurricular activities.”

Riley Maszk, a junior performing in music and competing in forensics, agreed. In terms of the amount of finances that the arts receive, Maszk said, “The mutual feeling among those who participate in the arts, despite how integral they are to the Concordia community and the ability for the arts at CUI to excel on a national setting, is that we [are not receiving equal consideration].”

It is important to note that these perspectives can be subjective and are the opinions of those who state them. Concordia applies funds to recruit students for both the arts and sports. And the university has recently made significant investments in the arts with the new Borland-Manske Center. Athletics has also seen improvements including adding outdoor lighting to fields. 

While some in the arts look to gain funding, some of those in sports believe that sports are vital to fund because of the skills they teach. Brett Lux, former soccer player at Concordia, said, “Sports teach athletes how to stay disciplined, committed, and how to work well on a team. A lot of jobs actually like the idea of someone who is a student-athlete because if they succeeded academically while playing collegiately, it shows that they are very good with time management.”

Blake Longfellow, Director of Individual Events in forensics, noted that “Sports teach valuable lessons such as teamwork and communication. However, other activities like speech and debate teach those valuable skills just as well while also teaching students about salient social issues that will aid them in their careers.” 

Senkbeil also brought up the importance of the arts to student retention. “We know that our arts programs help attract students to the university. Our data also show that by percentage, students who participate in the arts are more likely to stay at Concordia,” said Senkbeil. 

Student perspectives are influenced by proximity to activities; everyone has their own interests. “It’s all about whom you interact with in your social circle,” said Harris. He added, “Athletes will be more involved with other athletes, and people participating in the arts will be more active inside that social circle.”

Students who have ideas for how funding allocations may be improved can elevate their funding questions or concerns to campus leadership, like ASCUI. “I think that’s the most effective way because we have weekly meetings with the people who are making those funding decisions,” said sophomore Natalie Annunziato, a Graphic Design major who serves as ASCUI Communications Director. 

“Obviously we can’t [make those decisions] ourselves but… if enough people are passionate about one thing, it will definitely be brought to upper administration’s attention,” she added.



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