Over the past year, there have been several changes happening on Hope’s campus. The college decided on a new president, the Arcadian fraternity came back from the dead, and the Boerigter Center for Career and Calling was officially opened to students. While all of these were positive changes that happened over the past several months, there were also some changes that weren’t so positive. Late in the 2018 spring semester, there began to be some talk of changes in the music department. However, it wasn’t until students returned from summer vacation that people realized how drastic those changes were. Upon returning to campus, it was discovered that several faculty members were not returning to teach, including some private instructors and some full-time faculty members. Music majors, as well as students in choir, were outraged to discover that Dr. Robert Hodson, who taught music theory, and Dr. Brad Richmond, director of choirs, would not be returning for the semester.
It wasn’t even until the first day of classes that students found out who would be taking up those positions, as the instructor status on the college’s course listing showed that several courses still had no determined professor. After jumping into such a drastic shake-up in their department, students had a lot of questions for the administration, such as: “Why aren’t our professors teaching this semester” and “When will they be back?” These questions were met with one of two responses from the music administration: silence, or “We can’t answer that question.” This led to a lot of students becoming increasingly frustrated with the administration and the situation. The unrest in the music department further intensified when students in the various folk ensembles were told that unless they had at least 50% of the students enrolled for credit, the folk ensembles would not exist that semester.
A lot of students saw this as a reasonable request, considering that professors can only be paid if students take classes for credit. However, the students were only given a 24- hour window before registration for the semester closed and the ensembles would be disbanded. Luckily, the students were able to find enough people to take the ensembles for credit, although they were unable to put on any concerts through the music department in the fall 2018 semester. The luck of the folk area of the music department did not improve over the past semester; some students have expressed that they feel the administration is against the existence of folk music at Hope, as the area is not supported by the music administration and the ensembles have been reduced to student-led groups.
Additionally, Dr. Brian Coyle was removed from his position as head of the Jazz section, due to the fact that the music administration did not recognize Jazz as its own department but rather as the Jazz area of the music department. This change was met with heavy backlash, as several of the other area heads in the music department were allowed to keep their titles. The title of Jazz area head was assumed by Dr. Marc Baer, who took over the role of interim chair of the music department following the tragic death of Dr. Jonathan Hagood, the former interim chair of the music department. The folk ensembles were not the only groups affected by the changes. The Women’s Chamber Chorus (WCC), a group that had been led by Professor Jen Wolfe, was no longer being offered. Many students were confused and outraged by this news, as WCC offered women who were not accepted by the top vocal ensemble, the Chapel Choir, to have a place to sing and grow their talents.
This was a problem, especially for music majors who are required to participate in ensembles for their degree but were unable to do so because the group did not exist. A group of students, led by Kellyanne Fitzgerald (’19) and Jillian Wade (’20), talked with the administration and compiled a list of women who were interested in participating in the choir for the spring 2019 semester, as well as those who would be willing to take the choir for credit. Unfortunately, though they had hoped the WCC might return, it was decided that the choir would not be brought back for spring 2019 and Professor Wolfe decided not to return to teach for the semester. While students were frustrated with the changes being made by the music administration, they were also frustrated with the lack of information being given to them, as well as the lack of answers to the many questions they asked.
After two months of silence, they decided to take action. The students organized a rally for the professors, hoping to bring attention to the situation in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, as no one outside the department had any idea of what was going on. The rally took place in early November and consisted of music students and supporters marching around campus to raise awareness for their professors. The rally ended behind President Voskuil’s house, where students took turns talking about what the professors and the department meant to them. Wearing matching T-shirts and carrying signs, the students garnered a lot of attention. Reporters from the Holland Sentinel helped cover the event and bring the turmoil to the attention of the Holland community. It wasn’t until this semester started that the music administration began answering some questions.
Dr. Baer and the Dean of Arts and Humanitites, Sandra Visser, held a class with all of the music majors and minors to answer some questions. Baer and Visser shed some light on the reasons why Hodson and Richmond were not returning and offered a bit of information as to why there were investigations being held against the professors. They also gave answers about the reason that several private instructors were not asked back for the fall semester. Professors and instructors are required to hold the degree above that which they are teaching, meaning that they would have needed at least a master’s degree to teach students studying for their bachelor’s degree. While there were a lot of answers given that morning, there were still many questions left in the department, especially about what the future has in store for music students at Hope.
Things picked back up a few weeks ago when the Holland Sentinel ran a lengthy article discussing all of the changes that have gone on in the department over the past year. The article also included an open letter to the college from Dr. Richmond. Neither Richmond or his wife, Professor Wolfe, returned to teach for the current semester. The article reignited the conversation at Hope about the condition of the music department. All over campus, as well as throughout the community, people were remembering that the issues that had befallen the department over the past year had not been entirely resolved. Student Congress issued a statement about how they had met with the administration and felt as though the situation had been handled adequately by the music department. This statement was met with backlash from students who felt as though the Student Congress was simply trying to smooth things over with the students rather than provide any more information to the student body about what had been going on in the department. However, relationships have started to mend between students and the administration, turning everyone towards hope for one future.
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