The Merits of Cooperation

October 31, 1994

Academic cooperation is generally understood today as a desired mode of operation for colleges and universities. Cooperation and support are the most conducive elements for a successful education program. Cooperation does not mean simply agreeing with all directives, changes, or proposals from colleagues and administrators. Recently, Barbara Reeder Lundquist called for dialogues that

. . . can provide ideas that would not be possible without an open exchange between colleagues. When open-mindedness is shared on both ends of a dialogue, issues can be revealed, refined, and expressed in ways that transcend what either [point of view] could accomplish alone.1

Cooperation can involve open discussion and a frank exchange of ideas, pro and con, about a proposal. We may decide to cooperate and support a plan and work within its framework, or everyone may agree to a compromise solution. If our ideas have merit but an agreement is not reached, we may find ourselves working independently, ineffectively, or even negatively with a program and becoming part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

A list of the best objectives for cooperation would include improved and enriched education for students, an imaginative and vital music program, better working conditions for a greater number of people, an efficient and innovative use of budgetary funding, and an increased support system for the music program. In view of declining budgets for music facilities and equipment, reductions in curricular programs, cutbacks on faculty and staff positions, and more expectations and demands on faculty time and workloads, perhaps a review of certain aspects of cooperation in academia is in order.

Cooperating at the national level can be understood as participation actively and vigorously in the national debate on support for the arts. Certainly, the report by Samuel Hope, NASM, in the May 1994 CMS Newsletter , regarding the voluntary national education standards for the arts in grades K-12, demonstrates how cooperation between the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and the Music Educators National Conference has helped create objectives for the arts. Hope urges us to cooperate and be involved with these K-12 standards and build on them in our colleges and universities.

In the January 1994 CMS Newsletter, Michael Greene stated that "we as educatorshave abdicated leadership as ambassadors of the arts." According to Greene, not only must we cooperate and band together to obtain funding for the arts, we must be equally committed to artistic and cultural diversity. We must be leaders "in today's globally integrated marketplace . . . rethinking our old assumptions about the dividing line between the public and private sectors, between commerce and culture." As educators, we must be actively involved and cooperate with our music advocacy groups.

William J. Reynolds also calls for us to ". . . make the case for the arts to our corporations, to our elected officials and to our school boards. Artists, musicians, parents and citizens must clamor for the restoration of the arts to their properly supported place in education -- and thus in society.2

At the local level, academic cooperation might be increased by occasionally joining forces for performances and projects with other local colleges and universities, community colleges, public and private schools, and community schools of music. Michael Yaffe has called for greater cooperation between colleges and community schools of music and has pointed out the benefits and possible expectations for colleges where such a coordination of efforts might be mutually helpful.3 One can envision performances of oratorios with combined ensembles of colleges, schools, civic and church organizations. Imagine the size of the audience with relatives and friends at such performances, as well as the recruitment possibilities!

Retirement homes, civic organizations, businesses, and libraries are places where college music educators can explore possibilities of cooperation through concerts, recitals, and lectures. Advanced conducting students may be able to organize choirs and instrumental ensembles in retirement homes, thereby gaining valuable experience in their craft, and also offer opportunities to a segment of the population that is often ignored. Elderhostels may provide opportunities for faculty to present lectures and ideas to senior citizens. Education programs in prisons, e.g., the Education Programs in Institutions of Correction (EPIC) offered in California by the University of La Verne, can promote the enjoyment of music and cooperatively present it to the community.

Within individual colleges, the issue of cooperation can sometimes be a thorny one. Creating curricula that provide students with a sound, balanced education that incorporates cultural diversity, social relevance, artistic integrity, and solid academic scholarship is one avenue for cooperation. At the recent CMS Workshop in World Music held at San Diego State University, David Ward-Steinman reported on the four-year Comprehensive Musicianship courses at that university.4 Basically, these courses offer theory, performance, and history in a comprehensive way that includes such topics as world musics, jazz, early music, new music, computers in music, along with Western European musical traditions. Such a curriculum rewards students with a culturally rich program and is a step toward multiculturalism. Also, presenting these offerings requires generous cooperation among the various disciplinary interests.

The value of collegiality must not be overlooked when examining ways of cooperating. We would all agree with Barbara R. Lundquist's assessment that belittling "quips and acerbic asides" concerning fellow colleagues and their work create negative personal and institutional effects and are "poisonous for long-term respectful relations among colleagues and across music disciplines.5

Willingness to cooperate by sharing time, talent, energy, ideas, knowledge, etc., is possibly the most important factor in promoting and preserving a successful program. Each faculty member has different strengths and weaknesses,more or less time to give, more or less charisma, but a willing spirit is something everyone can cultivate. We need to remember that the only cooperative effort we can really control is our own personal attitude and example. This is our greatest responsibility.

People who are willing to work on recruiting, funding, cooperative programs, and new ideas and concepts are usually welcome members of a team. Offering our expertise to colleagues in different disciplines may add to the richness of the curriculum, but let us not be discouraged if these ideas fail. Our efforts toward greater cooperation may not be rewarded with recognition or remuneration, but to isolate ourselves within our own interests is to weaken our position as educators and musicians. Isolation minimizes our position, limits the vitality and diversity of music, and possibly lessens the importance of the role of music in society.

Among the objections and reservations to greater cooperation within our own departments are such traditional excuses as the concern that present standards might be compromised. Another common objection is that faculty and administrators have no time to explore new and difficult paths of cooperation. Underlying other objections is the fear that cooperation might result in loss of jobs, positions, control, or power; or, that the uniqueness of our special program (and thus of our own individuality) would be lost to the homogenization of cooperation. We may feel that cooperation would add responsibilities and complicate our lives, calendars, schedules, programs, etc. Cooperating with other groups may result in greater use and depreciation of equipment and in crowded facilities. The dangers of not cooperating stagnation, keeping the status quo, isolation, and being left by the passing parade of new technology and other compelling issues.

The world of music appears boundless. Its rich variety, cultural diversity, and vast artistic domain challenge our resources and endeavors. Only through willing and generous cooperation will we be able to develop strong musical interest and participation at every level of society -- only in this way can we encourage everyone to let all music be shared, investigated, criticized, and explored.

1. CMS Newsletter, March 1994, 12 and 10.

2. Ibid., 4.

3. Ibid., 1.

4. See also Ward-Steinman's article in Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy 1.2 (Fall 1987), 129-147.

5. CMS Newsletter, March 1994, 12 and 10.

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