Staff Editorial: Music department cuts go against GW’s commitment to arts

By now, most students and community members have heard about the plans to make drastic cuts to the music department, which came to light last week. The program will shrink by an estimated 40 percent, teaching will be limited to music majors and minors, and extracurricular offerings will be cut down to one band and one chorus.

For starters, the news comes across as hugely hypocritical. Officials have pledged over the last year to make GW an arts leader in D.C., creating a “global hub for the arts” by acquiring the Corcoran College of Art + Design and building the GW Museum and Textile Museum on campus.

When GW absorbed the Corcoran College, we thought the acquisition would allow the University to give its students a more well-rounded education and robust arts experience. And we were probably right – at least, in the long term.

In a statement last week responding to student outrage, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ben Vinson wrote, “More broadly, we remain committed to the visual and performing arts and have been expanding our footprint in this area, in part, thanks to the Corcoran.”

That reasoning is simply backwards – while the Corcoran will surely bring long-term benefits, as we had initially supposed, these cuts to the music department have an immediate and drastic impact on its students.

We feel deep sympathy for students of the music department, as well as the many non-majors or minors who have taken advantage of the program. People who now are part of a particular band or chorus will soon find that group simply no longer exists. People who once got to take one-on-one music lessons will find that option closed to them.

The administration can tout that the Corcoran adds to GW’s image all it wants, but it can’t ignore the day-to-day ramifications of this most recent decision.

And the University certainly could have handled this whole situation better. Students are upset, for example, that they were told about the changes a mere five days before class registration, leaving them little time to overhaul their schedules.

To a certain extent, we understand why this has happened. The University has had to cut budgets by 5 percent across all departments because of a nationwide dip in graduate enrollment. Since GW is heavily tuition-reliant, that drop is hurting us particularly badly. University Writing class sizes have had to grow, departments are being asked to limit travel and new hires, and even the 10-year strategic plan has seen delays. The music department, with its costly one-on-one instruction, has been hit especially hard.

In this context, it’s somewhat unlikely GW will reverse its decision to trim the department. But it’s crucial that students and alumni continue to get loud – writing op-eds, signing petitions, tweeting, forming Facebook groups – to show the administration the real effects they’re seeing and experiencing. Keep putting a face to what the administration – that faceless catch-all term for the grown-ups in suits – may see as just numbers and a bottom line.

And in the meantime, it’s worth it nonetheless to take a moment to reflect on the importance of an education in music, particularly at a school where the arts are sometimes pushed out of the spotlight by fields – like political science or international affairs – more prominent in this town.

The positive effects of music cannot be underestimated. Students who play instruments score higher overall on standardized tests like the SATs, and listening to or playing music increases levels of dopamine, which can improves a person’s mood. And researchers at Michigan State University found that sustained participation in music can boost creativity and success in adulthood.

At the end of the day, students who have made the music department a part of their lives at GW will suffer from these cuts. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot we can do, but students who care deeply about this cause should still remind the administration of the commitments it has made.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Robin Jones Kerr and contributing opinions editor Sarah Blugis, based on discussions with managing director Justin Peligri, sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Sophie McTear, copy editor Rachel Smilan-Goldstein and design assistant Samantha LaFrance.

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