Letter to the Editor: Restructuring strategies and the integrity of our UMD music department

By royal hartigan, Contributing Writer

Administration ‘restructuring’ will adversely affect our ability to serve students. The discussion has been framed as one of ‘fiscal exigency.’ Let’s focus on that factor:

Prior to any discussion of potential reorganization, however, remains the question of why this issue and perceived solution has been brought to us by the trustees and upper administration. We are told that in the current fiscal emergency/exigency there is a necessity to restructure our departments so that the numbers will be or appear more conducive to support. Also that our department and others are unsustainable (translation: not cost effective enough). This in itself is debatable, since the student enrollment numbers will not be affected by changing the titles and layers of governance and departmental alteration. It is problematic to think that a renaming of departments and governance would have an effect on the announced underlying issue of funding support, or that trustees skilled at seeing through surface dialogue would accept such a shuffle. And this is apart from the danger of changing some programs that are working extremely well now.

However, a larger issue is documentation. Our CVPA Dean has rightly announced a transparency for CVPA numbers and financial facts. We look forward to seeing the total expenses and salaries of all faculty and staff and department information relevant to the college’s financial assets.

In addition, since this is a university process that we are being asked to be a part of, there is a further need for transparency beyond the college level.

We strongly suggest that if any such major changes as those proposed for our departments are based on financial emergency, and a need to reorganize quickly (or else, as we are told, administration will unilaterally do the regrouping), then we must step back to reflect for a moment. Over my time in academia since 1981, whenever administration is asking/demanding such changes, there is usually an agenda that not expressed in the initiative, and sometimes for which the stated issue is a distraction.

In this light of past experience, we ask that the discussion of changes to any departments throughout the university be paused until the university community sees the documentation/evidence of the stated emergency.

That is, to open all financial books for each department, college, and the university as a whole, listing all expenditures and income in a clear way so we can all see the facts – students, faculty, staff, and the community.

In the democratic nature of our institution with shared governance, such sharing extends to administration as well, and the university community members need a shared documentation of the reality affecting us and for which we are asked to revise programs, for full consideration prior to any discussion.

No action or ‘solution’ can have any meaning until and unless we have this accounting from administration.

We cannot in conscience agree to any changes if we all do not know the information – full disclosure – and consequences that will affect our departments, and in essence, our students. Since we are primarily here for our students, it is their welfare that must be the first consideration, and not that of administration or anyone else.

If this transparency is not forthcoming, then we cannot in conscience agree to any such structural changes that will have a potentially negative effect on our students, programs, and faculty. If administration asks for evidence from us, we have it, at least, in our Music Department: successful programs (see below) and national and global visibility for our unique artistic offerings and faculty resources. We only ask the same from administration: full disclosure and solid empirical evidence that such reorganization will have a beneficial effect for all our students and faculty. Failing this, there can be no realistic reason for, or fair discussion of, such major changes.

OUR RATIONALE

Our reasons for keeping the Music Department unified are in three areas: first, our department’s success; the second, accreditation; and third, the practical consequences of division.

1) OUR DEPARTMENT’S SUCCESS AND VALUE

Let’s consider the size, offerings, and value of our Music Department. 

Fellow Music Prof. Andrew McWain and I served on the Committee that developed our unique curriculum for all music majors. It mandates, in addition to Western Classical Music, a full year of Music Technology, African American Traditions (jazz, blues, funk, gospel, among others), and world music. No other music department in the country has this outside-the-box, global 21st Century vision and process for all majors.

This unique curriculum is a major reason for the success of our programs, as evidenced by having the highest current class enrollment numbers in the college, 745 (majors and non-majors), the most disciplinary and culturally diverse offerings in the entire UMass system, and a 100% placement rate for our music education graduates over the last few years (and over 90% rate for the preceding decade). We also teach large classes for non-majors that offer experiences in the arts to all students. Our global and performance-based curriculum allows our graduates to succeed in their careers in performance, composition, and Music education.

In the restructuring discussion, there is a connection made by upper administration about a mandate to evaluate ‘small’ programs or departments.

The relevant comparison among departments is listing by enrollments or student credit hours (SCHs) rather than simple number of majors or faculty. From this realistic perspective, programs that offer University Studies courses or other service offerings to non-majors reflect the actual faculty workload, size, and contributions to the university. For the CVPA in 2014, the UMD Office of Institutional Research reported that the undergraduate CVPA ranking would be, from highest to lowest:

1) Music, 2) Design, 3) Art History, 4) Fine Arts, 5) Artisanry, 6) Art Education (Music has the largest contingent of part-time faculty, some of whom exclusively teach the non-major courses). This documents that Music is solidly contributing to the College and University’s student numbers, offers courses of high value that they want, and more than ‘pays its share of the bills.’ Music should remain united for our students.

TO BE CONTINUED

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