Undervalued Music Courses

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Music in higher education has for many years listed numerous courses at less than the usual three credit hours. Since the standard in higher education is three semester credit hours per course, for the purposes of this discussion I am considering that all courses listed at less than three credit hours are likely to be undervalued. It is true that there may be some courses that should be credited less than three hours, but it is also true that we have arbitrarily undervalued a number of music courses with no apparent educational justification. A review of several state university catalogs revealed as many as forty-five to sixty undergraduate music courses valued at less than three hours. The purpose of this paper is to call attention to this continued undervaluing and the problems that it causes for music administrators and faculty in higher education. Suggestions to alleviate the problem are also given.

We have undervalued many music courses for several different reasons. Some of these reasons are given below.

Because of the unusual number of courses we consider necessary to a music program, some classes were assigned fewer credit hours in order to keep the total number of hours within a respectable distance of the accepted 120 to 124 semester credit hours in an undergraduate degree. Of course, many music programs are as high as 136 hours and even some of those programs have hidden hours; that is, hours for which a student is required to register but are not counted directly toward the student's degree. These often include ensemble hours, class piano, and other similar areas. Music faculties have had to assume very little or nothing of a student in the way of preparation except on his instrument. It has been necessary to start at the beginning in music literacy. This has caused us to offer a large number of courses in our program. It is also true that many music programs were developed from conservatory programs where the need for semester credit hour definition was not as great. As these conservatory programs were accepted into colleges and universities, they were often brought in intact with credit values assigned as they had been assigned at the conservatory.

Many decisions to undervalue music courses were arbitrarily made for courses that were perhaps considered electives to a program. Because of other primary needs these courses were considered secondary to the program and therefore could be valued at two credit hours. Such courses as orchestration, band arranging, choral arranging, analysis, composition, conducting, diction, counterpoint, and pedagogy are among the many courses that have been arbitrarily valued at two semester credit hours. From an educational standpoint there seems to be absolutely no reason that these courses should be valued at two semester credit hours when numerous other courses with no less or greater content value are credited at the standard three semester credit hours.

Another factor is that unique teaching activities in music often do not conform to the academic definition that has become the norm of semester credit hour reporting in higher education. The definition allows for either lecture hours or laboratory hours. In areas of music where the instructional activity did not meet either of these definitions, it was still often forced into one or the other with no concern for proper identification and definition. Because the teaching was allowed to continue, music administrators did not object as they should have. It is true that we also have a lack of agreement within music faculties regarding crediting which certainly prevents an expedient solution. Generally, this lack of agreement takes place over ensemble credits, music performance credits, instrumental technique classes, class piano, and other similar classes. Interestingly enough, the lack of agreement for evaluation in terms of credit in music performance and ensemble deals with the very heart of the issue as it is perceived by those outside of music. These two areas represent the performance of music without which the study of music is less than satisfying and certainly less than complete. Yet, music faculties still disagree regarding the crediting of the very activities for which and by which music exists. Although our courses and the crediting of our courses in music have been a part of higher education for many years, it is still true that these courses are not yet listed or reported properly to state agencies who monitor higher education. We have many classes including music performance and ensembles that are still listed as laboratories, and we still have state agencies that refuse to recognize the courses for what they actually are and refuse to assign a proper reporting definition for these classes.

It is also interesting to note that there are fewer courses undervalued at the graduate level although there are fewer hours in the programs. One reason may be that we assume certain capabilities at the graduate level or we require remedial courses from graduate students to prepare them for graduate work or to allow them to be accepted for graduate work. Many state universities are restricted by law from offering remedial courses for admission to undergraduate programs. It does seem unusual though that a course in counterpoint at the graduate level should receive three hours credit where a very similar course in counterpoint at the undergraduate level receives only two hours credit. The same is true for many other courses.

What are the consequences of undervaluing music courses? There are several including those listed below.

Semester credit hours are the "coin of the realm" in higher education. This is not necessarily meant to be a sarcastic pun related to salaries and budgets but illustrates that students are rewarded by semester credit hours which accumulate in programs that culminate in a baccalaureate or graduate degree. By continuing to undervalue music courses, we have great problems meeting faculty teaching load guidelines, we produce fewer semester credit hours each semester, students are required to take more courses each semester than other programs, and we create serious problems for ourselves in the areas of budget and faculty salaries.

Another problem is the manner in which we have received teaching load credits over the years. Our courses have been reported improperly and "credit" is given by administrators to schools and departments of music for instructional activities that do not meet the accepted norm. This "credit" usually differs from the guidelines as strictly applied to other areas, and is accounted for internally on an informal basis. As mentioned earlier, music performance and ensemble courses do not fit the lecture or laboratory reporting mold and are, in general, not fully understood by those persons who evaluate and approve teaching loads and course credits. Instead of establishing a credit system that applies directly to these courses, they are instead forced into the lecture or laboratory reporting definition. This has created a very poor reporting procedure across the country for a number of years. Most often these courses are actually reported improperly, but everybody within the university who needs to know "understands" the reason for the reporting and allowances are made and "understood" that allow the classes to be taught without faculty having to teach horrendously high loads. The problem is not generally found to be a real problem until somebody outside the "understanding group," a legislative committee, for example, decides to rigidly apply the workload guidelines or to draw new guidelines. This occurs externally when any one person or group of people decide that professors are not "working" enough hours a week, and also occurs internally in an institution when budgets decrease or administrators change positions. The former usually occurs because of a misunderstanding by legislators and others of the total duties and expectations of a university professor, a misunderstanding of the role of a professor and perhaps the role of higher education, and sometimes by internal abuses by universities of workload guidelines. When any of these occur, music faculty workload credits are endangered because instead of being interpreted always for what they really are and valued at the proper level, they have been improperly categorized, and then suffer from a rigid "non-understanding" application of guidelines. In addition, the guidelines are inexact and do not adequately speak to the specific issues.

Music administrators are continually forced to react to new applications of workload guidelines and music administrators spend considerable time and energy determining how we can "get around" this or that workload requirement. Instead of planning how to have courses properly credited and reported, we are concerned only with short-term answers. We spend valuable time attempting to beat the system.

Another situation that will affect us is the "taxpayers' revolution." Proposition 13 and similar proposals and attitudes are creating great problems for tax supported institutions. Taxpayers probably do not want to hurt higher education. The thrust of every taxpayer's complaint is at the burgeoning bureaucracy which is expanding at a great cost to the taxpayer with accompanied reduced response to his needs. Unfortunately, higher education will be hurt if such drastic measures as Proposition 13 and other similar laws are passed. While we may not be the thrust of the taxpayer's revolution, we most certainly will be hit very hard by it and will be a casualty of it. As these financial problems for the institutions increase, increased attention will be given the teaching workload guidelines. To think otherwise is to ignore reality.

There has been and continues to be great concern for accountability in all of education, including higher education. Part of that accountability is the accountability of each professor paid by state funds to teach in a university. Legislators are becoming increasingly demanding that each university professor teach a given number of classes per week, or a given number of semester credit hour courses per week. They are becoming less sensitive to concerns expressed by professors regarding research and professional contributions. Without wishing to be categorical, I would say that most legislators do not understand the entire role of a university professor and are surprised and shocked to find that a professor generally meets only 9 or 12 hours of classes each week. In many states more definitive teaching workload guidelines are being developed by legislative committees and more definitive teaching workload guidelines will become state laws. As these guidelines are translated into a bill which is passed by a legislature, the guidelines often become extremely restrictive and may not adequately include special areas such as music. Legislators who write these bills do not usually have the opportunity to meet with music administrators to discuss the manner in which music might be adequately provided for in the bill. They, in general, are only able to talk with representatives of university systems or presidents of institutions. It is crucial that music administrators be able to communicate to these people the serious problems that music programs face.

As these bills become law they often have statements in them such as, ". . . faculty shall teach a minimum of four organized courses per semester of three credit hours each. Faculty who do not meet this requirement cannot be paid 100% from state funds." Aside from the general concern of educating legislative committees and providing proper conduits for our information to reach the legislative committee, is the concern for under-valued music courses which do not allow us to meet the restrictive teaching requirements noted above. If faculty are teaching one and two-hour courses, it would be necessary for them to have as many as five or more preparations per semester to meet these minimal guidelines. As the guideline restrictions become more stringent, it becomes impossible for music administrators to give teaching "equivalents" or to, in other ways, account for faculty teaching loads when they do not reach these requirements. If more of our courses were credited with the usual three semester credit hours, our faculty loads would be in less danger and our faculty members themselves would be less likely to be thrust into a situation where proper preparation is impossible or is possible only at the expense of their other professional activities.

Undervaluing our music courses also produces fewer semester credit hours. This has always been of some concern but is now of paramount concern given the financial plight in which higher education exists. This financial situation can only get worse with enrollments predicted to decrease in most areas. Only in a few fortunate areas of the country is any increase expected and a few other areas will manage to hold their own. It is a fact that we know the number of persons born ten years ago, five years ago, three years ago, and two years ago, so we know how many people will be ready to begin a university program in a given year. Those numbers are far fewer than we have experienced in the past. We are not dealing with speculation. We are dealing with fact.

Where budget monies are calculated on the basis of semester credit hours produced, these fewer semester credit hours produced by undervalued courses have hindered music programs over the years. Music programs have not been as severely hurt in the past as they will be in the future in states where funding is based on number of semester credit hours produced. Universities are going to find it more difficult to produce the number of semester credit hours to maintain the faculty and budgets at present or even near present levels. University administrators will, by necessity, be less responsive to our unique problems. They will be faced with far greater problems.

Another difficulty caused by undervaluing music courses is that students must take more courses each semester than in most of the degree programs. It is more difficult and more time consuming to prepare for seven or eight different classes than for five different classes. It is a well-known fact among students that a two-hour course tends to require the same amount of work as a three-hour course. Students generally try to avoid taking too many two-hour courses in any one given semester because they find the preparation just as onerous from their viewpoint as the faculty member does from his viewpoint.



For whatever reasons, we have undervalued music courses and our faculty have suffered as a result of improper crediting for faculty workloads. Fewer and fewer exceptions are being made for the unique nature and the unique problems of music instruction. More and more people outside the "understanding" group are making decisions that affect faculty workloads in music. We can no longer rely on the "understanding" group to protect music faculty from increasingly greater loads, and we cannot rely on this group of persons to attempt to explain to others that it is true that the faculty workload guidelines are not being exactly applied to the music faculty, but that it has always been "understood" that the rules would be interpreted differently for these unusual classes. Other areas in the university are being more insistent that the guidelines be strictly applied to all. The "coin of the realm" is credit hours, and we do ourselves and our programs a great disservice by undervaluing some of our courses. It will be of great benefit to universities, administrators, and music faculties if courses are labeled properly, and are properly categorized for each exact educational activity. They must not continue to be placed in categories in which they do not fit. They should also be credited to correspond with courses in other degree programs across the university.

It may be too late to simply revalue upward our courses because state monitoring agencies will see it as credit inflation, and as a way of increasing the semester credit hours produced by a capricious and unwarranted increase of credit hours per course. It may not be too late, however, if this revaluing is combined with serious curriculum revision. This revision must not be cosmetic, but must reflect considerable thought and genuine program development. If the courses are worth three credit hours, let us value them as such. If a course is not worth three credit hours, is it possible to combine that instruction with another similar instruction to accomplish proper crediting at a standard level of three hours. In some catalogs we find orchestration, instrumentation, and band arranging all existing and carrying the same prerequisite (one is not the prerequisite of either of the others) and accomplishing in many respects the same function. The question is, Is it possible to include in a three-hour course at least two of these instructional goals? Is it possible that some areas of counterpoint can be combined and taught in a general course valued at three semester credit hours? Does an entire semester need to be spent on marching band techniques? Where conducting is often a two credit hour course for three semesters, can it be reduced to two semesters of a three credit hour course? Faculty should ask themselves whether or not the present combination of subject areas in courses is the best method of presenting the total body of knowledge determined necessary in a baccalaureate degree.

The question should also be asked, Are we trying to teach too many different courses at the undergraduate level? Exactly what do we expect of the baccalaureate degree recipient in music, both from the performance program and the music education program? Should (can) some courses be omitted and reserved for graduate study? Which courses are of paramount importance for the initial preparation of a student for entry into a given field? If the baccalaureate degree is considered the entry degree rather than a terminal degree, is it possible that we are trying to teach too many different things? In more and more states the baccalaureate degree for a music education program is considered literally as a provisional degree for a period of five to ten years. The person must then be awarded a master's degree or sometimes an equivalent number of graduate hours in their field, to meet the standards for a professional degree. After that, the teacher must often return to earn further graduate credits to meet in-service requirements.

There will always be music faculty members who will not wish to participate in an evaluation of music curriculum. There will be music faculty that would view a reorganization of classes, any consolidation of materials, or a reorganization of subject matter areas as impossible if we are to train accomplished musicians. They may be right. But their insistence that they are right without a thorough evaluation of our entire program is not valid. I am not advocating what is usually known as curriculum revision, since this leaves most classes intact. I am suggesting that almost every area of music instruction could be taught in different groupings than we now have, and that our present groupings are not necessarily the best way to teach music. It was developed basically as a method of instructing in the arts assuming the students had absolutely no previous knowledge. We have not taken the best advantage of music instruction in the secondary schools, and neither have we provided the greatest possible leadership for the secondary schools. We generally have no music literacy requirements for university entrance in music. Can we really believe that our first year instruction in music theory and literature is equal to university instruction in first year mathematics and science? If we can have music literacy requirements we can also have greater flexibility in our curricula. After at least forty years of increased music successes in the elementary and secondary schools we are still unable to have university music literacy requirements. Although we cannot affect all aspects of preuniversity education, we must remember that we cannot exempt ourselves of responsibility for these programs since all of the music teachers in these schools are our graduates. I am also aware that faculties basically resist change just as do other established elements of society. I still submit that such a radical curriculum change can be accomplished, that much, if not all, of the change would benefit music programs, and that now is the time. In fact, in some cases now may be too late. It is suggested, that, rather than waiting until we are forced to change, perhaps in ways that would be destructive to our programs, we examine our programs very carefully at our own initiative. We can now present strong leadership for music to university administrators, rather than waiting until we are forced into change and then attempt to save what we can.

Another alternative is to declare our programs to be four-and-a-half or five-year programs. If all undervalued courses were revalued upward and the number of courses remained the same, our programs would be far above the 128-hour range. In addition, hidden hours in some programs would further increase the number of hours. This is an alternative that is not acceptable to some people. It is possible, though, that a five-year program would receive a better reception now and in the future, given society's present lack of concern to quickly finish one's education, lack of a pressing need to quickly turn out many music educators, declining enrollments in elementary and secondary schools, and other factors in our society that do not consider completion of a degree program in four years as urgent as before.

There are other areas encroaching on our programs including the area of professional education. A number of states have now passed reading requirement laws which provide that every person seeking teacher certification must take a course in the teaching of reading in addition to all of the present professional education courses. The number of courses in some professional education programs is already too high, and education departments are unwilling to change their programs. In fact, they are seeking to increase their requirements.

We will find no help outside music, since people outside music already see our programs as too long. The only people who can help the music program are the people in the music program. If we wait, faculty workload guidelines will become too severe, too stringent, and too strictly applied to account for the unique instructional activities in music. If we do not revalue upwards the credit value of some of our courses we will see increasingly more difficult times as semester credit hour production importance becomes greater. If a program is operating now with a heavy "fudge factor" or with non-state funds to account for portions of faculty salaries where these faculty members are not teaching loads accountable within faculty workload guidelines, one can rest assured that in the next ten years these situations are going to become fewer and will likely disappear.

Music programs in higher education have not been a part of universities for such a great length of time that they stand always with comparable stature to other programs. On the contrary, they often stand with considerably less stature than programs viewed by persons in central administration as being totally academic programs. As enrollments are bound to decline, as the market becomes tighter and tighter, and as one is less able to bring in new faculty to infuse new blood into programs, it will be far more difficult to make substantial and effective revisions of curricula. One will always be reacting to less budget and fewer positions. The time to prepare for this is already almost spent. In some schools it may be gone. We cannot continue to ignore the obvious and continue to proceed as we have always done. The answers are not as clear as the questions; the solutions not as obvious as the problems. They will require the cooperation of faculties, and will require music administrators who are strong advocates of their programs as they represent their programs to university administrators and others.

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Last modified on Friday, 09/11/2018

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