UAA Prioritization shows a tin ear for accomplished music department

The good news is that the UAA Department of Music offers high quality degree programs that are meeting the employment and artistic needs of Alaska. The faculty are outstanding performers, scholars and teachers. All three of our degree programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), and our undergraduate degree to prepare music teachers is considered a model program nationally.

The UAA Department of Music produces more than 80 concerts a year that are free or low-cost in one of the finest recital halls in the Northwest. Every semester there are approximately 70 active majors on campus, and over the recent three-year prioritization review period we graduated 31 music majors. One out of five Anchorage School District music teachers is a graduate of UAA, as are many of the musicians in community organizations such as the Anchorage Symphony, Anchorage Opera, Anchorage Concert Chorus, etc.

However, if you have read the recent ADN article (Feb. 4) on UAA prioritization, you might erroneously believe that the Department of Music is unproductive, and in danger of getting the ax in the name of fiscal restraint and efficiency. Taken out of context, the excerpt is titillating news but, like the prioritization report itself, inaccurate and incomplete.

UAA prioritization asked only a few specific questions and segmented departments into numerous smaller components. This, combined with a word limit of 200-500 words for responses, incorrect system data and limited opportunity for units to explain or answer questions to the review body, has led to false conclusions about the Department of Music and, worse, ill-considered administrative action.

One of the major flaws in the prioritization process was the decision to evaluate our degree programs separately. This made it appear that the less popular degree options were more expensive. The report failed to acknowledge the fact that all of the degrees make use of the same faculty, courses and institutional resources.

Our most popular degree option is the Bachelor of Music (B.M.)-Music Education Emphasis, as it fulfills a large unmet need for music teachers in Alaska. Utilizing the same course structure, we also offer a Bachelor of Music (B.M.)-Performance degree that has an important role for students focused on a performing career. Since our Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)-Music degree students simply take the first two years of classes that are offered for our B.M. students, it costs nothing in additional instructional staff or class offerings to maintain the B.A. option for the somewhat smaller number of students who are better served by a liberal arts degree.

At UAA, all music students pay a super-tuition to study music. The prioritization report did not take this into account and incorrectly listed the cost per student credit hour for music. The scale of this error was massive. The report listed the cost per student credit hour in music as being 240 percent higher than it actually is once the music student fees are accounted for.

Music is perhaps the most rigorous undergraduate degree a student can enter. It requires extraordinary discipline and countless hours of individual focus and practice. At the end of every semester the student has to perform and demonstrate their capabilities through faculty juried examinations. The B.M. degrees culminate in public recitals. We take a lot of pride in the excellence of the students who graduate.

Prioritization was critical of the Department of Music for low graduation rates. We think instead that we should be praised for achieving and maintaining standards that are comparable to those of any fine music school.

My colleagues and I invite you to witness the amazing results of our programs, teaching and talented students. Come attend the 19th annual Symphony of Sounds concerts on Saturday and Sunday. The entire department will be on display in a concert where the music never stops.

Mark Wolbers is a professor of music at UAA. He wrote this also on behalf of UAA colleagues Karen Strid-Chadwick, professor of music; Christopher Sweeney and Mari Hahn, associated professors of music; and John Lutterman, Armin Abdihodzic and Grant Cochran, assistant professors of music.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.