Budget cuts at the university have affected all departments, but the School of Music may have taken a heavier blow. At the end of the semester, lecturer of music education Steve Bizub’s position will be cut, leaving the program to one professor.
On Wednesday night the entrance to Corthell Hall was flooded with boisterous USM music students, but they weren’t headed to a rehearsal or concert. Instead of instruments, sheet music and music theory texts, they came with handmade signs, candles, and a lot to talk about. They were attending a protest and candlelight vigil in response to the recently announced university budget cuts.
“We feel as though the university hasn’t gone through with a scalpel and made careful cuts,” said junior music education major and the president of the USM chapter of Collegiate National Association for Music Education, Nick Allen. “They’ve gone through with a hatchet instead.”
Those students, showing their dedication, appeared again to protest for a second time the following morning at 7 a.m. This time they weren’t as vocal.
Three weeks ago USM announced that it had to cut over $5 million from next year’s budget. It’s been decided by Provost Michael Stevenson that the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will have to make cuts of between $645,000 and $760,000. These cuts have to be made in the areas of of staff, non-tenured faculty and by not replacing faculty positions that open due to retirements.
Two weeks ago Bizub was called into a meeting with Dean Lynn Kuzma and informed that his position was being eliminated. He has been working at USM for three years now as a full-time lecturer and was scheduled to convert to a tenure-track faculty position at the beginning of the next academic year. He did not expect his position to be in jeopardy, let alone eliminated completely.
“The university has hired me twice as a result of two separate national searches two years apart,” said Bizub. “It seems quite strange that just a year ago the dean was fighting for this music education position that is now being eliminated without a second thought.”
While he was upset about the loss of his position, he stressed that he was more concerned for the program and the students.
“In order to be fair, the university is saying, we have to treat everyone equally,” said Bizub, “but we [SOM] don’t have the same needs because we’re not trying to educate the same students. We’re not trying to educate for the same world.”
An email detailing the cuts was sent to all SOM students early last week by Director of SOM Scott Harris, outlining the budget He also urged students to “advocate passionately, but respectfully, for the SOM, through letters, emails and personal interactions with university personnel.”
Harris also noted that CAHS has still not met the target figure for cuts assigned to it – the college is nearly $200,000 short of the cuts requested by the provost that were originally due on Friday.
“I argued that the SOM has already contributed more than its share of cuts through the non-replacement of retiring faculty. The administration disagreed and made further cuts,” said Harris.
Professors Bruce Fithian, voice instructor, and Ardith Keef, bassoon instructor, will be retiring at the end of this academic year and their positions will not be replaced, professor Peter Martin, concert band and wind ensemble instructor, will begin phased retirement next year, and there will be a reduction in the number of part-time faculty course sections from 12 to eight for next fall.
With the elimination of Bizub’s position, Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education Michele Kaschub will be taking over all music education courses. The program has been taught by two professors for the past nine years.
“The fact that one person will be forced to teach all these classes will simply mean that essential classes will be cut, and the students will not receive the same high quality education they have come to know from USM,” said senior music education major Jenna Guiggey.
Kaschub will only be teaching music education courses now, no longer receive a course release and small stipend to serve as graduate coordinator and leaving no one to coordinate graduate studies in music at USM.
“Our current and future students are bright, articulate and talented. They are impassioned by their music and dedicated to sharing it with others through performance and education,” said Kaschub. “To thoughtlessly dismantle programs of study in music through cuts of convenience is a failure to meet the ethical standards that the university purports to instill through its ‘ethical inquiry, social responsibility and citizenship’ course required of all students.”
USM’s current music education majors teach in K-12 schools in every semester of their program. They aim to engage thousands of students in singing, playing, composing, improvising and listening activities that develop critical and creative thinking skills as well as the communication and collaboration skills that will serve them throughout their lives and careers, according to Kaschub. SOM typically has 60 music education majors completing pre-student teaching coursework. These students make an average of five visits to K-12 schools each year. In most cases, they teach classes of 20 or more students, but sometimes lead ensembles of 60 or more. This teaching experience is a staple of the program.
“Unlike many other programs where you have to take general education courses that don’t really help you decide whether you want to be here or not, you’re out teaching, you know what teaching feels like, and you’ll know if that’s for you,” said Allen.“We feel as though, as a school, that with the cutting of that position [Bizub’s] that there’s no way we can get an education that works for us.”
USM’s music education program is considered to be one of the best in New England by many music educators, and its curriculum has been used as an example among other programs, explained Bizub.
“To borrow a musical term, the cuts in the school’s faculty and staff are amplified: they ripple through K-12 music programs in the state, through the professional musical scene in greater Portland and through outreach activities our school sponsors that make college-bound students in all areas of study aware that USM might be a great school for them,” said Harris.
“When someone wants to go on a diet, the idea is to cut off the fat – the excess. But when the excess is gone, only muscle remains, and continuing to diet, eats away at the muscle, making the body weaker, not more fit,” said junior music performance major Nathaniel Gowen. “The USM School of Music has no fat left to cut, which means taking away more will tear at the school’s muscle. What is the goal here?”
Bizub made a point to note that USM President Theo Kalikow has consistently supported this type of active learning, blending in-class theory and real-world application, but is allowing major cuts to be made in a department that supports it year after year,
Allen said that Kalikow made an appearance at the demonstration on Thursday morning.
“Basically her reaction was ‘We know these cuts affect you, and now we know how much you care, and [we] appreciate your dedication,’” said Allen.
With significant cuts to the budget, the general consensus among SOM staff, faculty and students is that the program will look drastically different in the following years and that it will be quite a task to try and maintain the school’s high standards with a smaller faculty.
“Sometimes I get frustrated with the way language from businesses and corporations are sort of taking over the language of education,” said Bizub, “but let’s talk about education as a product for a minute.”
“We’ve been selling this really innovative and interesting program for several years. Now, you could argue that the university has business commitment to provide these programs for incoming students. I mean, they’re advertising for it,” said Bizub. “I’m not a businessman, but I know that if you want to continue to grow a business you need satisfied customers.”
On Monday and Tuesday, SOM will be evaluated by representatives from its accreditation body, the National Association of Schools of Music. The representatives have meetings scheduled with the provost, the president and the dean, and Bizub can’t imagine the cuts not being a talking point.
“It’s a big deal,” said Bizub. “We’ve been preparing our program for a year by going through a self-study and critiquing what we do. But now, with these cuts, the report we filed months ago is completely inaccurate.”
“I don’t want to speculate here, but if we lose our accreditation because of this that would be bad,” said Bizub
This evaluation is not a result of the budget cuts, but just happened to be scheduled for this week.
Some students have created a petition to amend the recent budget cuts made to the department on Change.org, one of the world’s largest petition platforms. The petition, as of Friday afternoon, has 195 of the 200 signatures the website requires to submit the petition. Signatures have been made by students, alumni and members of the local music community.
“I have a responsibility to remind everyone that SOM is more than an academic department; it is a critical thread in the tapestry of the cultural life of our region,” said Harris, ”and if you damage that thread, you damage the fabric itself.“