Students rally behind film professor whose class is cancelled

Bob Smith looks out over the empty classroom in Arjona. His hundred or so students have since left since the morning’s Introduction to Film lecture. A few students linger, helping to grade today’s quiz; despite the class size, Smith hasn’t been assigned any teaching assistants in years.

“I love what I teach, like crazy, and I love the people I teach,” Smith says. “I can see their faces and I can see how alive they are. It keeps me young. It keeps me alive.”

Smith has been adjunct teaching for the University of Connecticut’s drama department for over three decades. His class, which was once in Laurel Hall but has since been moved to Arjona, draws over 100 students each semester.

Despite back problems and a spinal injection last semester, Smith says he’s only missed five days of teaching in 34 years. This spring’s class, however, will be his last.

Despite Intro to Film’s popularity, and the fact it qualifies for Area 1 General Education credits according to the university catalogue, budget cuts to the Drama department have put Smith’s classes on the chopping block.

“As we look toward crafting the new budget for fiscal year 2020, each area of UConn is considering the ways in which it can best meet students’ needs while reducing spending where possible,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. “In this case, the drama department and School of Fine Arts have made the difficult but necessary decision to hold off on offering some elective courses in the 2019-20 academic year so they can focus on offering the classes that its majors need to graduate.”

Despite this, students have rallied behind Smith and his courses, circulating a petition earlier this month that has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures in support of the professor.

Julianna Rodrigues, a fourth-semester digital media design student, is currently taking Intro to Film and helped organize the petition, which she hopes will convince administrators to hold on to Smith’s class.

“One ‘no’ can’t stop the movement,” Rodrigues said. “He’s just a really kind man. He’s really respectful. He truly loves his students.”

Rodrigues said she suspects the department is axing Smith’s classes because they dislike him as a professor.

“They can’t truly fire him, and he hasn’t done anything for them to fire him,” she said. “He’s been teaching here for 30 years, which is a long time. If you ask me, firing someone who’s been teaching for 30 years is a little shady.”

Though several of Smith’s students, both current and former, have voiced their support in the petition, the university doesn’t look like it will budge on its decision.

“Though it’s unfortunate Mr. Smith has shared his employment status with his students, I appreciate the support [they] are showing him,” Anne D’Alleva, the School of Fine Arts Dean, said in an email to a student. “[The decision] is not a reflection on the quality of Mr. Smith’s teaching or even the level of student interest in the class. The Department simply needs to focus on offering the classes that its majors needs to graduate.”

The Dramatic Arts Department head Michael Bradford echoed these sentiments in a similar email to students and added there are other options for students seeking to study film.

“I’m sure you’re aware there are a great number of film courses across the departments that will still be offered in the next academic year,” Bradford said in the email.

Bradford did not respond to a request through UConn Communications for an interview.

Rodrigues said the petition’s organizers hope Smith’s class can be saved.

“We’ve been trying to figure out… [how to communicate] that we don’t want Bob to be let go, and he doesn’t want to be let go,” Rodrigues said. “He gives a lot of opportunities for us to succeed. He’s always asking us for our opinion, our interpretation [of the films]…I feel like everybody has had that one teacher who changed the game. I feel like I have to to help Bob…after all he’s done for us.

In the meantime, Smith said he appreciates the support he is receiving from students.

“Nowadays, I see this terrible passivity in kids,” he said. “People your age should be climbing mountains and having love affairs and conquering things and showing your strength. Now a bunch of kids are riled up… to see them riled up, to be awake is a wonderful thing in young people.”

However, Smith said he’s not counting on being asked to come back next fall.

“What am I gonna do? Well, when fall comes around, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown,” he said. “I’m not gonna be around [my students.] I’m going to miss them terribly… I don’t want to sit in bed and look at the ceiling. I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.