Paul R. Pierce: Chancellor's remarks are insulting, dramatically wrong

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJune 8, 2013 

When we still have to justify the arts to the leaders of higher education, we have the wrong leaders.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby made an embarrassing speech in Athens last month as he accepted a proclamation marking "Hank Huckaby Day" across the state Georgia.

After making a few awkward quips to the notables on hand, Huckaby riffed on the system's role in developing the state's workforce, observing that he thought Georgia's students were studying the wrong things.

"If you can't get a job and you majored in drama, there's probably a reason," quoth he.

This man may be the head of our state's institutions of higher learning and make wads of money but with this one statement he has declared himself unqualified for the position. If Governor Deal doesn't fire him, he at least needs to put him in the corner with a dunce cap.

As one of the lowly drama majors Huckaby has insulted, I can easily inform him of how a University of Georgia theatre degree prepared me and many, many of my colleagues for excellent careers in a wide range of fields.

Yes, many of us have collected our paychecks and paid our mortgages as actors, directors, designers, playwrights, technicians and producers -- including plenty of Drama Dawgs with brilliant Broadway and Hollywood careers.

But many others have prospered in business, law, engineering, manufacturing, education and scores of jobs on the cutting edge of technology and the burgeoning creative economy.

Why have they done so well? Because a drama degree provides driven, creative scholars with skills that are pure gold in the global marketplace: collaboration and innovation.

For the record, there are some 200,000 creative industry jobs in Georgia -- approximately equal to the energy, biomedical and telecom sectors.

These jobs represent $8.1 billion in wages -- equivalent to security/defense and transportation.

For a fellow who pretends to know something about workforce development, poor Hank needs to sign up for some remedial classes.

Innovation and collaboration are the name of the game on the global business scene. It's what separates good firms from great ones and is the deciding factor in whether a company thrives or fails.

From software developers to engineers to manufacturers to health care professions, a firm's creative capacities are what make its products and services unique, exciting and marketable.

What does this have to do with the chancellor's lame joke about drama majors? Theatre is by its very nature a complex collaborative enterprise and its practitioners have a multi-disciplined orientation to their work.

An employer can count on a worker with a theatre degree to be a strong verbal communicator, writer, draftsman, designer, electrician, carpenter, project manager, historian, improviser and an inventive and tireless promoter -- all in one package.

Physics, chemistry, mathematics, accounting and computer science are all elements of a standard undergraduate theatre degree program. Best of all, these workers' experience in collaborative problem-solving, teamwork and generous group interplay are qualities that make theatre practitioners among a company's most valuable and loyal employees.

While the good chancellor is catching up on the work of his own institution, he might pop into the theatre department at our flagship university. In addition to the traditional drama studies above, he will find UGA theatre majors also working in digital media, with a pioneering motion-capture studio, digital video editing facilities and an exceptional computer animation/CAD laboratory.

In fact, theatre programs throughout our university system offer some of the most diverse and practical training experiences in the country -- particularly Columbus State University, which provides an astonishing array of advanced skill development courses. When theatre students leave CSU, there are jobs waiting for them in the creative industry.

Finally, I invite the chancellor to pay a visit to the State Theatre of Georgia in Columbus so I can show him an engine for regional job creation and economic impact that communities across the United States are scrambling to emulate.

Open your eyes, chancellor. The drama majors that you're cracking wise about are leading many of Georgia's -- and America's -- most dynamic institutions and industries. And these influential alumni are proud of their theatre degrees, sir. So don't imagine cutting funding for our university drama programs because of your ill-informed priorities. We are watching and we are riled.

And by the way, Governor Nathan Deal has two brilliant daughters with theatre degrees and they are both working successfully in Georgia's entertainment industry.

Do your homework, Hank. Drama majors mean business.

Paul Pierce, who just finished his 25th season as producing artistic director of the Springer Opera House, holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Drama and Theatre from the University of Georgia.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service