In another post for Oregon Music News I wrote about Mount Hood Community College’s music department’s troubles, I outlined the kerfuffle set off by the elimination from the catalog of the transfer program with a music emphasis. This was done without notice to the music department staff or instructors and was discovered accidentally by another member of the college staff, who alerted the music department on April 27th of this year. The instructors and staff were completely blindsided by the news.
This came at a time when the college was in the midst of contentious contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, with a potential strike looming, instructors facing termination if they participated in the strike, and students facing potential cancellation of end-of-year events for which they worked, studied and practiced all year.
During this same time, the instructors of the music department, all seasoned, successful instructors, were advised that they could no longer engage in recruiting for the school (what the…?), they could not take the students to performances outside the narrowly defined MHCC district, and they could not themselves participate in festivals and contests as adjudicators outside the district. This means they couldn’t take the band to West Linn to play in a jazz festival, they couldn’t play at the Silverton Wine & Jazz Festival, instructors were not allowed to adjudicate a contest in Boise, etc.
When instructor Susie Jones got verbal approval to take the Jazz band to Taiwan this Spring, she took the band on a hugely successful tour without using any taxpayer money. And when they got back from Taiwan, she was informed that the trip wasn’t approved and was called on the carpet for taking the trip. Nice…
The strike was scheduled for May 12, if the negotiations failed to produce an acceptable contract.
On May 10, the music department instructors were then informed that all 30 talent grants they had at their disposal to help bring gifted students unable to pay full tuition to the school were cancelled. Again, without notice, warning or even discussion. They were simply told they were cut off, 100%.
May 10 was two days before a possible strike and after the instructors had already done the limited recruiting they could do for the year.
At a recent meeting of the MHCC District Board of Education, 22 people signed up to speak in defense of the music department and to plead for the reinstatement of the talent grants.
Speaker after speaker offered comments about how important this music department is in the larger scheme of things; how attending this school changed their lives; how many, many alumni now earn a living in the music industry, in symphonies and opera orchestras, recording studios, Las Vegas and cruise ship house bands, national tours of major recording stars; and how much prestige the music department brings to the whole school.
One of the first speakers was nationally and internationally renowned composer, educator and 23 year member of the faculty, Dave Barduhn, who offered his request to reinstate the talent grant program for the department. (It’s ironic and very telling that although the board expressed “deep appreciation” for all the work and glory the music department brings to MHCC, the chair of the Board, Brian Freeman, has no idea who Barduhn was, nor did he know how to pronounce his name).
Here are Dave’s comments:
Many others followed, including alums Gary Hobbs, Paige Baker, instructors Susie Jones, Mike Klinger, retired Portland-area high school band director Herb Kost, and current students of the department. Mike Oft, the parent of an alum, offered a list of alums who have gone on to national and international prominence in music, including his son Toby, who now plays principal trombone in the Boston Symphony. That list can be viewed here. Each and every speaker was passionate, well-spoken and concise in their arguments and each had a unique point of view. They brought their thoughts and feelings about their time at MHCC, and they confirmed the fact that MHCC Music was known around the world – from Estonia to Argentina, according to Paige Baker.
Arguments from other prominent musical figures in the Portland community spoke passionately about how the program produces not just good musicians, but great musicians who become assets to the community and how a thriving artistic community creates jobs and income and goodwill and makes a community better for having the arts.
Having a great college where people can go to find expression in a smaller, more intimate setting, benefits everyone. This place helps people find their muse.
The most recent development was the removal of private instruction from the catalog, a requirement in just about all music degrees, and the cessation of a program designed to provide financial incentive for the department to find ways of generating income independent of the school budget. Most of the funds currently in that program were then rolled into the school’s general fund.
While the board and the Vice President of Instruction are busy paying lip-service to “appreciating” the music department and all it does, they’re then turning around and killing the program and taking the money.
So what is really going on here? Why the shoddy treatment, the back-stabbing and public statements that are the opposite of the actions behind closed doors? No explanation seems to be forthcoming. The board and administration are bent on killing a wildly successful and respected music program that brings students from all over and creates national-level talent that enhances the community, and which creates national standing for the college itself. And they are proceeding unilaterally, without discussion, warning or public input much of the time.
One of the speakers at the board meeting suggested that the board turn their thinking upside down and, rather than kill the department, make it stronger, build it up and support it. Even though Mr. Freeman thanked everyone for their comments, offering to take them into consideration and perhaps reconsider their decisions, it doesn’t seem like that will happen.
The taxpayers, the people whose work in the community supports the college and pays the administration’s salaries, need to wake up and take a stand. It’s their college, their community, their money.
The alternative – Mount Hood Community College without a thriving music department – will make the community – their community – a much poorer place.
Music education needs the support of the community, whether an individual has a kid or other relative in school or not. Music makes the community a better place for everyone.