Coping with Economic Crisis: Music Programs in the 90s

Among the most publicized effects of the current economic crisis in America is the decline in state support for higher education. California, for decades the nation's leader in funding for post-secondary instruction, this year experienced the nation's second highest cuts in its higher education appropriation a massive twelve percent decline. Only Virginia, with a thirteen percent cut, suffered a more severe reduction. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, both states' appropriations, if adjusted for inflation, fell by eighteen percent.

The consequences of these dramatic reductions have been felt unequally across the campuses and the disciplines. community Colleges throughout California were cut eighteen percent; the California State University system ten percent; the University of California nine percent. Departments with a high percentage of tenured faculty generally fared better than those which employed significant numbers of lecturers. When, in August the CSU system offered senior faculty an attractive Golden Handshake (four additional years of service credit provided they retired before October 1), the sudden exodus presented an all-too-easy rationale for budget decisions. Few vacated positions have been fully replaced. In the fact of potential future cuts, California universities' hiring policies are now dictated by the need to avert layoffs of tenured faculty.

How has this significant erosion of funding affected music programs? Most full-time faculty on CSU campuses have increased their work loads in order to offer the full curriculum and to absorb the functions (advising, recruiting, etc.) which were formally shared by their retired colleagues. Building maintenance, equipment repair and purchase, conference travel, and funds for graduate assistance have all declined. Administrative workloads, however, have mushroomed as departments respond to requests for justification and create multiple schedules based on radically varying funding projections. Meanwhile, student fees in the California State University system have increased forty percent as a result of legislation passed after the beginning of the Fall semester. Students, somewhat fewer in number, nevertheless seem more committed than ever to their education -- perhaps because of the greater sacrifice education now entails.

As a result of fiscal uncertainty many music departments are now seeking alternative funding sources for basic programmatic needs, including applied instruction. Faculty are being asked to teach courses outside their principal area of expertise. Versatility, flexibility, and high energy are expected of faculty who must develop new curricular models which incorporate technology and more inclusive cultural perspectives within the framework of severely limited course offerings.

Hopefully all of this rethinking and reshaping will result in more effective music programs. Limited resources suggest the need for greater selectivity in admissions and the possibility of an even higher rate of student retention and academic and musical achievement. The plight of music in California elementary and secondary schools necessitates a massive unified effort to reverse the downward trend for all music education. Collaboration with community agencies has become ever more vital. We have learned that we can no longer count on support from the state legislature, from the federal government, or even from our campus colleagues who must compete for the same limited resources. We must state our case ever more forcefully, more persuasively, and more musically.

Music departments face enormous challenges in this time of "downsizing." Never has it been more important to articulate the centrality of music as both a serious academic discipline and a basic form of expressive communication. The high profile of music performance on most campuses lends credence to the public perception of music as entertainment, as a pleasant frill. But the creative and the analytical components of music study deserve equal attention

with technical proficiency. As the twin specters of university reorganization and programmatic cuts loom, music faculty must be ever more articulate about their special discipline. It is time to develop community awareness of both our artistic successes and our fiscal problems, to build alliances, to rally support.

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Last modified on Friday, 03/05/2013

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