Friday, July 24, 2015

Do UA leadership, trustees hear the drumbeat?

To the concert audiences at E. J. Thomas Hall over the years, Larry Snider was a familiar figure - the upstage percussionist in the Akron Symphony Orchestra whose work added a drumming or tingling beat to the ensemble.

Snider is the Distinguished  Professor Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Akron who has been painfully keeping time with the current dismantling  (disinvesment, they call it) of the school lately known with a " Polytechnic"  officially attached to its name. However, for Snider,  it has now reached a point of eruption as resonating as the tympanic boom of his instrument.

His letter to  trustee Olivia Demas, a Richfield lawyer,  surfaced on my screen (as well as others) with  his view that "our academic programs and enrollments are being gutted by irresponsible, un-informed and ineffective leadershp."

And that's just for starters, all the more effectively on a campus that has been buttoned down to the smallest talk these days.

Snider lamented that three "well-paid  professors" retired in the spring, months before the  music school received permission from the administration to begin a search for replacements.   Even so, the replacements would be one-year appointees paid $32,000.

 It gets worse, Snider said."We are only allowed to hire someone with a completed doctorate   or ABO (all but dissertation) - thus further  reducing the pool of candidates willing to accept a temporary job at such a meager salary with only a few weeks to start the semester."

One of the retirees, I've since learned, is Steve Aron, widely known professor of classical guitar studies with an international reputation.  Aron has brought to  UA's stage foreign classical guitarists like Pasquale Rucco and is now said to be in Caserta Italy  as a summer guest at its music school.  Upon returning, I'm told, he will join the Oberlin University music faulty.

Snider has good reason to fear the consequences  of the amateurish front office.  The UA music school was once highly regarded,  staging operas and other musical  programs that drew grand public audiences to Thomas Hall (Annual attendance for all events that included a speaker series and other events has been more than 300,000 a year.)

 Several opera students  moved up to the Metropolitan Opera and Cleveland venues.  A former UA vocal teacher, Mary Schiller, is now the lively, dedicated  head of the voice department at the Cleveland Institute of Music.  Never until lately has there ever been any question about the UA music school's quality.

Snider didn't focus solely on the music school. Among other things, he complained sinking campus morale and a plan to expand  two semesters annually  into  three.  He called  the new format "catastrophic"  and "out of sync with other Ohio university schedules."

He concluded that other universities in our region are "incredulous that the trustees are sanctioning President Scarborough's "misguided idea" while defining the president's   leadership as "academically and fiscally unsound, damaging to this university and our  community in countless ways, and widely ridiculed by UA's stakeholders on campus and beyond".

Do you get the up-tempo of his frustration?

The trustees will meet on Monday, at which time they are expected  to make some sort of announcement about the specifics of the plan.  I'm sure what they will do has already been vetted in the president's office.

Will the school  veer away from its nosedive?  Drumroll, please.

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