Reconsider The Future of Funding of Music Lessons at Franklin & Marshall College

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Dear Distinguished Members of the Franklin & Marshall Administration, Senior Staff, and Board of Trustees,

Franklin & Marshall has stood uniquely as a liberal arts institution that offers credited music lessons free of additional charge, included in student tuition for over two decades. These lessons were often utilized by students majoring in Music, minoring in Music Performance, or expanding their intellectual or extracurricular horizons through music lessons while earning credit. This program, begun by the beloved Dr. Norcross, has brought world-renowned, Grammy-winning musicians as adjunct faculty at F&M. Their wisdom and prestige have brought an unparalleled opportunity to study music performance at a small liberal arts college.

On February 10, F&M Music students were notified by the Music Department that beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year, students will need to pay for music lessons through out-of-pocket fees in addition to their tuition payments. As a result, the Music Department has had to redesign the lesson program. This new lesson program will operate in a two-tier system: the 100-level will include 12 30-minute lessons over the course of the semester. Students will earn 0.5 credits after taking two consecutive semesters of lessons. Students will not be required to participate in master classes, but at the end of the second semester, they will give an adjudicated performance as part of the studio's recital. The proposed fee for 100-level lessons is $456/semester. Lessons at the 200-level will include 12 50-minute lessons over the course of the semester. Students will earn 0.5 credits each semester. They will participate in three masterclasses each semester and will give an adjudicated performance each semester as part of the studio's recital. The proposed fee for 200-level lessons is $760/semester. Both levels in this proposed program drastically diminish the 14 private lessons per semester, 50 minutes each lesson arrangement for credit students who participate in weekly master classes and perform in a group recital. As the program stands now, approximately 100 students take music lessons, with only about 18 Music majors and 9 Music Performance minors partaking in them. The rest of the students do not pursue music academically, however, it remains a significant part of their extracurricular life at F&M.

The budget cuts to the Franklin & Marshall College Music Department run counter to an equitable and inclusive liberal arts education.

Music is one of the only Departments at F&M that operates on both a curricular and extracurricular basis. The Music Department at F&M and its faculty have requested concessions to minimize the negative impact on students and instructors, especially our esteemed adjunct faculty. As of now, the Office of the Provost has said that Music majors and students with “full financial aid” will receive fee waivers that will enable them to take music lessons without this additional proposed fee. However, Music Performance minors and recipients of F&M’s prestigious Adams Gustafson Music Achievement Award given to rising sophomores who exhibit potential and excellence in music at F&M have not been granted these fee waivers, despite the Music Department’s asking. To be clear, the Music Department is opposed to this change.

We respect that the College is amidst a financial crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is under extreme stress while attempting to create changes to sustain the College. However, we urge the Franklin & Marshall administration and senior staff to reconsider this change, with the hope that they simply have not thought of how it will affect the student body, professors and faculty, and continued engagement with and longevity of Music at F&M. We will outline some of our reasons for protest below.

I. In reviewing what F&M does that is different from its peer institutions, it was communicated by the Office of the Provost that F&M is the only institution that currently does not charge additional fees for music lessons. However, when students and faculty alike sign onto the F&M promise and vision, they are met with statements about how F&M is different from its peer institutions of other small liberal arts colleges, which is one of its strengths. More specifically, F&M, since the leadership of President Emeritus Dan Porterfield, exists as an anomaly in its incredible Talent Initiative, which reaches out to prospective students of diverse and low-income backgrounds and brings them to F&M, which is one of the primary reasons our student body is more diverse than other schools of our size and caliber. To be clear, our peer institutions do not have this talent initiative and emphasis on bringing students of diverse backgrounds here. This proposed change would suggest that F&M is willing to bring low-income students and students of diverse backgrounds to F&M, but is not committed to offering them equal opportunity to pursue an academic discipline or extracurricular activity they may be interested in.

II. In considering the impact of this proposed change on the students who are academically affiliated with the Music Department, Music majors, and Music Performance minors, it is absurd to require students to pay an additional fee for curricular classes that are required for their degree. With the proposed fee waivers (that would only apply to Majors and students with “full financial aid,”) students will only have 4 semesters of credited music lessons financially covered, and will still have to pay in full for the remaining fees. Additionally, Music Performance minors are not included in the fee coverage of the proposed waivers, further exacerbating the issue that these cuts will force students to pay for courses that should be covered by tuition. The implementation of these budget cuts will prevent students from pursuing Music in an academic capacity without fully committing to being a major or minor, or will force students to make decisions about majoring or minoring in Music much earlier than the standard sophomore year decision and earlier than other departments.


III. In addition, the proposition of additional payments for music lessons for Music majors and Music Performance minors implies that students involved in Science classes also pay additional fees for their lab sessions. This is not the case. Music lessons are to Music majors as lab sessions are to Science students. The College should hold Music students in the same regard as they do for Science students, who have their labs paid for through their tuition.


IV. In terms of looking at Music lessons from an extracurricular perspective, it is crucial to consider how many students take lessons without an affiliation with the Music Department. Roughly 75% of the students that take credit and non-credit voice lessons are non-Music majors or minors. Considering this widespread involvement, Music as an extracurricular should be held to the same standard as Athletics as an extracurricular - Music students need lessons in the same way that athletes need practice in order to perform well. A majority of arts extracurriculars (F&M Players, Acapella Groups, Pep Band) rely on a number of students who have taken lessons during their time at F&M. Many of these performance groups are highly marketed towards prospective students on tours, accepted student days, and other admissions panels to emphasize the importance of a liberal arts education; however, without the foundation of music lessons, these groups will no longer meet the high standards of performance that F&M expects from its arts students.


V. It is evident that these changes will directly affect both students and faculty in the Music Department. As previously stated, about 100 students take both credit and non-credit lessons. That is a sizable number of students that are being directly affected by the proposed changes. Additionally, the implementation of out-of-pocket fees for music lessons will consequently lead to a significant pay reduction for the adjunct teaching faculty. A majority of these prestigious and highly experienced professors also still perform, in addition, to teach. However, due to the nature of the pandemic, these faculty members are already losing an enormous amount of their income because their professions cannot operate in these conditions. Adding these fees would force adjunct professors into making uncomfortable decisions - choosing between a reduced salary at F&M, which is insulting to their level of expertise and time dedicated to students, or driving them out of the teaching profession altogether. Our quality of professors will diminish, which works in direct opposition to F&M’s declarations of having distinguished and renowned faculty.

In the context of a $6.551 million deficit as reported at the fall budget forum, there is likely to be little impact on the financial benefits for the College that would alleviate this deficit, since these fees will be used to pay instructors once taxes are deducted.

Due to these reasons and more, we expect the following:
I. A dialogue with administrators with respect to the reconsideration of these changes
II. Transparency from the administration at this point forward with respect to the budget crisis, all proposed cuts, and the budget process and how it has affected academic departments

We emphasize the requests of the Music Department:
I. Fee Waivers for more than 4 semesters for Majors and Minors (up to 8 semesters)
II. Fee Waivers for Adams Gustafson Award Winners (up to 8 semesters)
III. Supplemental Payments to offset fee reduction for Adjunct Faculty
IV. Collaboration with the Office of College Advancement and the Music Department for an endowed scholarship fund to financially support students who take music lessons

We propose the requests of the student coalition:
I. Request to make these budget cuts temporary (a one-year limit, restoration to credited music lessons being included in tuition costs after the year expires)
II. Request that student musicians are compensated financially for College performances (Admissions events, Graduation, Convocation, etc.) - if an additional fee for music lessons will ultimately be charged
III. Request Fee Waivers for Non-Credit Lesson Students receiving “full financial aid” (up to 8 semesters)

We thank you for your time and consideration and look forward to a continued dialogue on this issue.
This is a student-led effort not affiliated with or sponsored by the Music Department in any way.

Signed,
Vanessa Robustelli (‘21) and Dina Spyropoulos (‘21)

Link to document form of formal letter

Concerns, Complaints, and Anecdotes from F&M Students and Alumni Regarding Music Lesson Budget Cuts

 



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