By royal hartigan, Contributing Writer
Over the last 35 years there has been an ongoing movement to privatize all aspects of life in our country, espoused now and most fervently by members of the Trump administration, in their endless pursuit of demolishing everything that speaks to the connectedness, mutual responsibility, and genuine caring for all members of our society as a true human family.
And by extension, of all the world’s peoples. This connectedness is replaced with a theory of the radical individual who, at all costs, fights alone by the invisible (and oftentimes unrealistic) bootstraps of the self as separate from, and in competition with, ‘the other’. This flawed philosophy has now metastasized to all aspects of life, including the arts, health care, and education, from K-12 to higher education, and unfortunately, to campuses across our nation, including ours.
There is a current move in the CVPA for ‘restructuring’ that will reorganize departments and this process has the unfortunate outcome of unnecessarily dividing our Music Department into two smaller entities – music performance and music education – that cannot stand alone for many reasons, and ignoring another option for restructuring that would have left our department unified and effective, with self-determination and decision-making retained. It takes the extra step of combining music education with Art Education, a move that has no basis in precedent, pedagogy, or reality of outcomes.
In researching this issue over many months I and my university faculty colleagues have spoken with experts in education, university policies and strategies, music teaching and learning, music and music education programs, legal analysts, university chancellors, provosts, and faculty, university accreditation organizations, and union representatives across the country. Each source has related to us that such a division and pasting with another unrelated department is unheard of, will likely be unsuccessful, and will be the death-knell for our Music Department.
These professionals who have experience in this field also tell me unanimously that this type of administration process has a hidden agenda that is based on the same anti-educational bottom-line mentality: putting ‘cost effectiveness’ over a commitment to students and the faculty who are here to serve them. In fact, it is the case that there are corporations that give strategy to university administrations across the U. S. on how to effectively push this agenda through.
We are told that we need to give a new structure so that programs with small enrollments can be combined under a new hierarchy that will appear satisfying to the bean counters – upper administration, trustees, and politicians – who determine educational support for programs, faculty lines, curricula, and physical materials and spaces related to teaching and learning. If restructuring were to be a positive answer to the mantra of finance-based education (as opposed to student-based education), and if it could be demonstrated that such changes were beneficial to all students and faculty, then it is possible that it could be considered. However, there has been no such evidence and in fact most of the evidence points in the other direction.
Our Music Department faculty come to campus to share our music and culture with students. I assume most other UMD faculty do the same in all our UMD departments and fields of learning. We are not simply employees, we are teachers (and learners); students are not ‘consumers’, they are learners (and teachers, since in many senses we all learn together). From our perspective, teaching and learning is not geared for the earliest possible exit from an academic ‘prison,’ owing the least amount possible for decades to come in student debt, or only for getting a job and fitting in as Pavlovian automatons into corporate pegs. Education is a journey of self-discovery that never ends, becoming aware of the world and its peoples, history, and diversity, so that we may contribute as critical and creative thinkers to our American society and the world. This is how we in music approach our work here, and consider it a responsibility. Our Music Department ensembles give freely without asking for any compensation, both on and off campus, and are known for bringing much-needed uplift and spirit to our community, through the agency of our classical music students, small and large Jazz ensembles, Steel Pan group, Laptop ensemble, Javanese Gamelan, and African music and dance ensembles. These last two are led by guest master artists and make our university unique among similar-sized and supported schools of higher learning.
To bring the mutation of a business mentality to education is to rob it of its true nature, power, and uniqueness, its ability to unalterably change our lives. In our case in the CVPA restructuring, our Music Department will be robbed of its ability to give our students the true and diverse education they deserve and need, in order to attain a life of self-understanding, growth, and ability to contribute to the world through artistic expression and teaching.
We feel that reorganization/change for the sake of change may not in itself resolve the issues we are told are upon us. We also make an important distinction between reorganization among departments and the extra step of dividing a department whose size will negatively affect is enrollment numbers, support, and accreditation. Music is the only department of its size being asked to divide its components into two and for program success, pedagogical and competency reasons, this will dilute our programs. Combining with an unrelated department such as Art Education will result in the dissolution of our program, loss of governance, and eventual closure of both our performance and education programs.
As the only current tenured faculty member in the music department, on campus since 1999, I feel my 17-year history with our college will allow insights into the discussion.
What are the real reasons for lower student enrollment across our campus? Likely not structure, but actually program offerings and visibility, and for both of these, music is a leading department on campus.