By Daniel Robillard || Investigative journalist
As a high school student, Vanessa Robustelli was faced with a decision that many students across the country will be making in the coming months. She had to choose where to spend the next four years of her life: at a music school within a larger university or at Franklin & Marshall College? Ultimately, she chose to come to F&M because of its unique music program which allowed students to be active in music while pursuing further studies.
Last week, Robustelli and many other students drawn to F&M’s music program learned that the College plans to dramatically reduce the music course program starting in the 2021-2022 school year.
The program was started by Brian Norcross, Senior Director of Instrumental Music Studies and Conducting, shortly after joining F&M in 1986. By this time, performing groups had only just transitioned from being a student clubs to that of moving under the auspices of the academic music department. program. Originally, the College began by offering uncredited voice, piano, and guitar lessons, which students paid for.
In the 1990s, the College moved to credit courses, which were paid for by the College. In the beginning, these courses had a co-requisite that required students to take a music course if they wanted to take a credit course. The students also had to do a jury, where they performed in front of a panel, and a recital.
Eventually, the music department removed the co-requisite requiring that students also take a music class and simply asked them to perform in a recital. “When we did that, the registrations flourished and increased every year,” said Norcross. The college journalist.
These credit courses have been free for students since they were first offered. “Our philosophy was that it’s part of the academic department – you don’t charge extra for students to take something from the program,” Norcross said.
However, facing a budget shortfall of $ 6.5 million due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College decided the program was no longer financially sustainable, and the music department announced that the College had informed them that students would have to pay for these music lessons in addition to their tuition.
Provost and dean of the faculty, Cameron Wesson, said the college was forced to cut departments’ operating budgets by $ 695,000. The college also made cuts of about $ 1.1 million by reducing the use of adjunct faculty, where the music department has been hit the most, Wesson said. To deliver the classes, the music department makes requests from the adjunct faculty budget, as most of the highly specialized instructors who teach the classes are adjunct professors.
“We were spending a tremendous amount of institutional money on courses, most of which weren’t for music majors and minors,” Wesson said. The College made the decision to discontinue the program after reviewing the course programs of peer institutions. “Of the 15-20 schools we indexed, we were the only ones that offered free classes,” Wesson said. The college journalist.
Wesson stressed that he saw the value of the curriculum and said he was unhappy the college was forced to make the cuts. “There is not a single department that has escaped the cuts,” he said. “Music wasn’t the only one in this case.”
The music department and its students took issue with the rationale for removing the lessons, saying the fact that peer schools don’t offer this is exactly why it should continue to be provided. “Sometimes you learn a lot from watching what other people are doing,” Norcross said. “Sometimes it’s to allow us to position ourselves in the crowd. I am so opposed to F&M being average. I want us to be in front.
Wesson stressed that the college will continue to subsidize music lessons for music majors and students with high financial needs. However, music students have expressed concern that the College currently only plans to fund up to four courses for these groups, while many students are currently taking courses for the eight semesters they are at F&M. .
The music department has made it clear that they are not in favor of the cuts to the curriculum. In a letter to music students announcing the change, Karen Leistra-Jones, the head of the music department, said the department has “actively and consistently expressed our objections to charging fees for credit courses, but we have been rejected by the College administration. “
“We have supported this with fervor at the most professional level possible,” said Norcross. “Paraphrase [the musical] Hamilton, we’ve “pulled our shot”. We are totally opposed to this.
After learning of the planned cuts, Robustelli and his senior colleague and music major Dina Spyropoulos began to organize current and former F&M music students, creating a town hall to voice their concerns and sending an official letter to the administration. and the Board of Directors of the College.
While the vast majority of students taking credit courses are not music majors, the students and the music department have stressed that the cuts will have a significant academic impact. Some students may now feel pressured to become a major in music to qualify for subsidized courses, said Robustelli and Spyropoulos The college journalist. Such decisions could potentially prevent students from pursuing a major or an academic path other than what they originally planned, or force students to stop taking classes. “The cuts will drag people into decisions that other majors don’t have to make,” said Spyropoulos.
The students have also spoken out against what they consider to be an unfair decision and contrary to the College’s mission. Robustelli and Spyropolous said the most frustrating part of the cuts to the curriculum was that they went against the commitment to accessibility that F&M has tried to make over the past decade. “I think it does a huge disservice to bring people from all economic backgrounds to our school and then tell them that they really have to be able to pay to participate in this,” said Robustelli. “It leads to a kind of elitism that says you have to have some financial status to pursue music at F&M.”
At the student-hosted town hall on Wednesday, February 17, many music students and F&M alumni who benefited from the course program said they felt the budget cuts showed the music department was failing to was not appreciated by the college administration. Other students expressed a sense of abandonment, saying that they chose to attend F&M over other schools specifically because of the music program and felt the College was now dismantling something they had done from there. student experience.
The recent cuts have highlighted a strain that F&M has faced in recent years and will likely continue to face in the future. Financially unsustainable programs, like music lessons, have become an integral part of the college experience for many students. In addition, the College has made the music curriculum a central part of its recruitment strategy.
Students and faculty often expect the College to continue to support programs that make it unique from peer institutions. However, in order to do this, F&M will need to find a way to achieve a financial reality that allows it to match and surpass what other major liberal arts schools are doing.
Despite the cuts, the music department and its students still see a way forward; however, they don’t plan to stop making their voices heard anytime soon. “Musicians are incredibly resilient,” Norcross said. “As I told my students about the COVID-19 pandemic: I’m not going to fall without a fight. And guess what? I’m not going down.
Junior Daniel Robillard is an investigative journalist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.