By Kathleen Kraemer
“This is one of the most horrendous things we‘ve heard happening to any of our 14 public universities in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Nancy VanArsdale, ESU’s Chapter President of APSCUF, the faculty and coaches union of the PASSHE system.
This comment was part of the introduction to a discussion held Tuesday afternoon concerning the scheduled unraveling of the music department at the end of this upcoming spring semester.
VanArsdale continued, “This is unprecedented, as many of you know, for a university to make a decision to totally shut down a music department.”
Two music professors remain at ESU: Dr. Betsy Buzzelli-Clarke and Dr. James Maroney. They are currently teaching out all remaining music majors, and at the end of this academic year, they will be retrenched.
According to Dr. Allan Benn, Professor of English at ESU, the retrenchment of these faculty and undoing of the music department is not tied to financial difficulties.
“Our school has a surplus this year,” said Benn. “Will it have a surplus next year? We’re not sure; let’s be fair. But we have a surplus this year. Retrenchment, surplus — they sort of don’t match.”
According to Benn, The other state universities that considered retrenchment this year are Cheney, Clarion, Edinboro, and Mansfield. Only Cheney is still considering retrenchment at this time.
Benn said, “Those places are just in chronic trouble. We have great professors and great students, but we also have a geographical advantage. So we really have to mess up to be as hard-pressed as some of these places that are in rural Pennsylvania.”
Benn continued, “When you think about Gen. Ed. music classes, you’re not thinking of small courses that are designed for music majors. You’re thinking, instead, about courses that might have 60 people — maybe even more. These actually make money for the school. The financial argument is as thin as tissue.”
Since the music department faculty received their letters of retrenchment on October 31, members of the community have also voiced their concerns about losing the music department at ESU.
On this matter, Benn said, “It is important for ESU, moving forward, to have good ‘town and gown’ relationships with the community. One of the major goals is that we’re going to be a university without walls. In other words, we are going to be unified in a much more realistic way with the community around us.”
Benn continued, “There is no department on this campus that does more to connect to the community than the music department. There is not a second. All of the others are so far back in the pack, it’s ridiculous to think of them in the same breath.”
Despite these arguments, the retrenchment letters stand. As of right now, there will be no music department at the end of this academic year. Some believe the administration might hire temporary faculty in the wake of the current department, like they did to fill the position of marching band director this fall.
“A full-time faculty member is critical. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes on. We were at every summer orientation recruiting students, doing so much other planning, that simply an adjunct is not expected to do and an adjunct can’t do. They’re hired to come in before the class, do their thing, and then they go,” said Maroney.
The focus of the discussion on Tuesday regarded what members of the faculty, student body, and community can do to change the current course of music at ESU.
“I believe in the power of the people, and we have to take a stand,” said VanArsdale. “There’s a lot of things we can do. We can mail letter-writing campaigns, we can stage a rally, we can stage a musical event, we can do a sit-in, and we can take other actions.”
VanArsdale continued, “Our faculty members have received their retrenchment letters. They will no longer be employed as of May; however, last year, we had a lot of faculty members receive that similar letter and we were able to get many of them revoked by concentrated action.”
Carrie Hillman, APSCUF Associate Director of Communications & External Relations, said, “If you guys can tell your story through op-eds, through Vine videos, through Instagram — anything that’s fun that we can use that we can push out on Twitter and Facebook, we are happy to do so.”
Hillman continued, “We are also happy to help if you guys are stuck for ideas. Let us know. We really want to help you guys.”
Attendees were also urged to like the Facebook page, “Save ESU Music.” A WESS (90.3 FM) radio host, Mason Buskirk, also urged attendees to tune in to his next show.
Buskirk said, “This Friday, November 21, from 1:00 to 2:00 PM, we are hosting an important radio conference held by students… It concerns ESU’s impending retrenchments and the potential loss of the music program, along with the effects of other departments and miscellaneous concerns — especially the loss of many loyal and hard-working professors.”
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