Letter to the Editor: Why cut programs that make Simpson unique?


by Ellen Keyser, Special to The Simpsonian

To Whom It May Concern:

I write this letter as a concerned and deeply upset alumnus, daughter of an alumnus, and granddaughter of a professor emeritus.

I have lived in Indianola, Iowa, for nearly all of my life, and Simpson College has been a part of that life for as long as I can remember. As a small child I went for long walks around campus, riding my bike through the winding paths of maples. I sat in my grandfather’s office in Carver and laughed at his jokes, the smell of coffee warm and welcoming. I begged Cyd Dyer for my own library card to Dunn, so that I could check out books on art history that were far too large for me to carry. The president’s house was across from my grandparents, and President LaGree was kind enough to allow us to use the large driveway as a tricycle path. My mother took me to alumni meetings for Alpha Chi Omega, and I helped clean the house in the summers. At five years old Dr. Patterson began to give me piano lessons after school, and I loved nothing more than when the opera was rehearsing while I was waiting. Dr. Larsen would let me sit in the doorway and listen to choir rehearsals. I stepped onto the stage in Pote as a performer when I was six years old. The life of the campus and my life were intertwined from early on.

(Photo: Courtesy of Ellen Keyser)

I transferred to Simpson College in the second semester of my first year of undergrad, after finding that a large state school wasn’t what I wanted, and found my collegiate home. I was welcomed from the beginning, the professors of the theatre department going out of their way to include a new, and honestly terrified, eighteen-year-old girl. I could not have asked for a more supportive, loving, and creative environment in which to plant myself.

I am an artist, a severe dyslexic, and a person with a physical disability. I chose Simpson College because I knew that I would receive an academically competitive degree in the arts, as well as be at a school that made receiving such a degree a possibility for students with disabilities. The value of an arts education is immeasurable, and the evidence of that is all around us. At the open forum on Monday night a number of alumni and students arrived attired in black as a sign of protest. As a theatre alumnus, I am proud of the evidence that a practical lesson in the power of costume clearly rings through in a relevant example.

On a larger scale I have serious concerns about the choices the college is making as a whole in this prioritization process. Simpson College is a liberal arts college. While it has always had a strong association with the sciences and STEM fields, it is also a place where music, art, theatre, and the humanities have been championed. My heart breaks to see that we have a president and board who do not prize these areas of accomplishment. To lose professors in the art, music, and theatre departments is a painful loss, and one that will come at a great cost to the college and quality of education it can give to students.

Simpson is clearly feeling the tension that every small private college is feeling at this point in time. However, the handling of this situation could not be poorer. From a severe lack of transparency and communication with the student body, to a lack of involvement of the concerned population, to open forums that refuse to answer questions, nothing has been handled with the grace and consideration I would expect of this institution.

I cannot understand why Simpson College would make the choice to cut from the programs that make it unique. With the cost of a college education rising, students are looking to get the most for their money. Simpson College cannot possibly hope to remain competitive when it cuts the programs that a student is less likely to be able to participate in at a state college or large university. Music, opera, theatre, and art are incredibly strong programs at Simpson, and in the case of the music and opera programs, unique in what they can offer. To choose to lose what makes the college different is to cripple an already struggling institution.

Please, do not make the mistake of failing to listen to your students. President Simmons, I beg you to consider the value of the arts and the soul of the institution you govern. Listen to the bells of Smith Chapel ring, and hear the music that is native to this campus’s being.


Ellen L. Keyser ’17