Music department faces drastic cutbacks as officials look to remedy budget woes

Media Credit: Samira Uddin | Hatchet Photographer

Students in the music department are planning to protest changes which have led to a restructuring of the department's ensembles and lessons.

The music department will shrink by at least 40 percent next year to cut back on costly one-on-one teaching expenses, several faculty members said in the last week.

The department will limit teaching primarily to majors and minors and will cut down to one band and one chorus, its chair announced in an email to faculty last month, which students learned about last week. Those cuts have sparked outcry from faculty and students, who say the changes will have impacts across the department, ranging from faculty who return next year to the caliber of students it can attract.

All departments across the University have been asked to cut about 5 percent of their budget for next year, after about 1,200 fewer graduate students enrolled in GW’s masters and certificate programs this year. Because GW is reliant on tuition to cover its expenses, enrollment fluctuations can have significant impacts.

The restructuring is just one of many examples across the University of how departments in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and other schools are responding to demands to roll back spending for next year. Faculty said that because music’s one-on-one instruction is so costly, the budget challenges hit the department more harshly than others. The University Writing program increased class sizes, and other departments have cut back on travel or not rehired some adjuncts for next year.

Kip Lornell, an adjunct professor of music and the president of GW’s adjunct union, said about one to three faculty members will likely not be rehired, and that several more faculty had said they may not return because their teaching duties had been cut so drastically. Faculty have met individually with the department’s leaders this week to discuss how much their teaching loads will shrink next fall.

“‘Is it really worth my time to come in for three hours of instruction?’ is something I’ve heard many times this week,” he said.

The department is made up of mostly adjunct faculty members, some of whom have always taught a small handful of hours per week, while about a dozen regular, part-time faculty members who teach about 20 hours per week are seeing their assigned hours cut more significantly. That could disqualify them from receiving GW benefits.

John Albertson, a regular, part-time professor who has received benefits, said he was nervous about losing his job because it would affect how much he’ll be able to pay for his daughter’s tuition when she starts at GW next year.

“Between all my commitments, I’m teaching 20 hours. I hear that it’s going to be reduced to around four hours,” he said. “This cut is going to mean I don’t have tuition benefits, and I would say that’s huge for me.”

Lornell said it would be difficult to run ensembles and attract new students to the program if so many positions are cut back.

“We have people who were invited for presidential arts scholarships, and those auditions were done in early February, and offers made this week I believe,” he said. “We now have to tell students coming in the fall that it’s really a whole lot different and smaller now than it was in early February.”

Five GW student majored in music last year, according to the office of institutional research and planning, though that data does not include double majors. Lornell said the department had about 20 students majoring in music and about 70 minors.

In the past, majors and minors haven’t had to pay additional lesson fees for the individualized courses, but minors will need to pay a fee starting this year, Robert Baker, the director of performance studies, told students Friday. Rising juniors, seniors and Presidential Scholars in the Arts will not be required to pay that fee, he added.

A one-credit lesson will cost $220, while a two-credit lesson will cost $440. Several students at the meeting said that was the hardest change to process.

Baker added that the department would adjust its academic requirements as well.

Most practical teaching includes one-on-one instruction, which is costly, but it’s how music departments around the country teach their students, said Uri Wassertzug, a lecturer who teaches viola lessons.

Most professors who are not regular, part-time faculty make about $68 per hour of instruction, he said. Those faculty had also previously earned an extra hour of “administrative pay,” which was already cut this semester.

“In a way that administrative pay was, in my mind, a way to make sure that I didn’t have to drive all the way in and park for $68,” he said. “At least we had a minimum of two hours, but that’s what they got rid of. It looks good to say we’re slashing administrative, but in fact it was part of our pay.”

Baker told students that the department was still trying to find a way to be a “welcoming place” for new students, even though it is cutting several ensemble groups. He said he was working with the Columbian College’s advising office to create a course for incoming freshmen.

He sympathized with students, who expressed concerns about losing important aspects of their community, especially the “jazz jam,” a weekly event where students and faculty come together to play music. The University will no longer sponsor the event starting next year.

“The things for which students were not registered were the hardest things to keep,” he said.

Mary Findley, an adjunct professor of music, said with caps on how many hours per week professors can teach, students also might not be able to take eight semesters of lessons.

“The idea was to concentrate efforts and money for the people for whom music is a larger part of their academic experience,” she said.

About 40 students from the department also met Sunday to discuss the restructuring and how they plan to protest some of the changes.

Steven Arnold, a sophomore music major, encouraged students to bring more attention to the changes so that administrators would understand how significantly they would affect the department. They proposed holding performances around campus to spread awareness of the issues, as well as petition University officials. They’re also working to help draft a resolution within the Student Association Senate.

“I think there’s this whole idea that artistic people just sort of happen, that people who are artistic by themselves,” he said. “But I think what’s actually the case is we need institutions to support people’s interests in those areas, and to give them the tools they need to do their own thing.”

Douglas Boyce, the department’s chair, said in an email that most classes, including performing ensembles, would remain open to all students, and that there has been a decline in the number of students taking private lessons.

The department is also going to add to its full-time faculty, including hiring a full-time professor for piano, who will have teaching responsibilities and oversee chamber music.

“I’m hopeful that these changes will focus the resources that we have on the core mission of the department and program,” Boyce said.

The department will offer an entrance course to the program for students who haven’t yet declared a major or minor, but he said that was still in the planning phase.

Ben Vinson, the dean of the Columbian College, said in an email that the University continues to be committed to the arts. He did not respond to specific questions about how many students or faculty would be affected, or what a program for potential majors would look like.

“CCAS is very committed to the arts and indeed has been expanding its footprint in this area in part thanks to the Corcoran,” he said, noting GW’s acquisition of the financially troubled arts college last year. “At the same time, we want to make sure we are operating efficiently and in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Several faculty members and students said they thought the cuts directly conflicted with administrators’ recent statements about the importance of arts education.

James Levy, an adjunct professor of music, said the policy change “flies in the face of what President Knapp was quoted saying in the Washington Post article about supporting the arts at GW.”

Cutting back on the number of students studying music at the University limits opportunities for them, he added.

“Other people doing the same things who can reinforce what you’re doing, to deliberately cut down on the number of student studying music is bad for the students studying music,” he said. “There are fewer people to collaborate with, in ensembles, receiving instruction.”

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