Fall 2018 was supposed to be a normal semester for Hope’s music students. However, it has turned out to be anything but that. Over the summer, there were rumors of changes in the music department’s faculty, but it was not until students began arriving at the end of August that they realized exactly how much had changed between the spring and fall semesters. Returning students arrived back at Hope to find that several of faculty members would not be returning to teach this semester, including Theory professor Dr. Robert Hodson and Chapel Choir/College Chorus director Dr. Brad Richmond. As the first day of classes approached, they tried to remain optimistic about the situation, but an email from the head of the folk area of the music department, Professor Nate Roberts, sent several students into a frenzy. The email, sent one day before registration closed for the fall semester, said that the folk area of the music department was going to be cut unless students could get eight people registered for credit for the ensembles within 24 hours.
This came as an outrage to many students, who would normally take the ensemble for zero credits due to a full schedule but would now be required to pay extra money for exceeding Hope’s credit limit. Luckily, there were enough people that signed up for credit to secure the existence of the folk ensembles for the semester. However, the students’ anger over the possible loss of their department led to a follow-up email from the interim chair of the department, a position held at the time by the late Dr. Jonathan Hagood, addressed to all of the majors and minors in the music department. The email aimed to clarify rumors about the situation and promised that the “changes [would] not affect the future of the music program at Hope.” Unfortunately, students are finding it harder to believe those words each day, as more and more of their professors are seemingly finding themselves at risk of demotion or suspension.
Most recently, Dr. Brian Coyle lost his title as head of the jazz music area of the music department. The administration said the reasoning behind this change in title was due to the fact that there is only one music department, and there are not other smaller departments within it, meaning that there is no actual “jazz department,” just a section of the music department that focuses on jazz. Students have been having a hard time with this explanation, however, as they have noticed that there are other professors in the department that were able to keep their title as head of their area. This warrants the question, why them but not Dr. Coyle? The most frustrating part of the semester for students has not been the loss of their professors but the lack of communication from the administration.
Over the summer, when rumors of changes in the department first began circulating, a group of majors and minors signed a letter written by junior Zach Snoek, asking the administration for more communication with the students regarding the changes being made. Their letter was met with silence, and over the course of the semester, more and more changes have continued to happen with little to no explanation as to why they were happening. Students continued to meet with student representatives, and the representatives met with the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Dr. Sandra Visser, and the new interim Chair of the music department, Dr. Marc Baer, but to no avail. Students have only been left with more questions and very few answers. Their frustrations continuing to rise, several students in the music department organized a rally on Thursday, Nov. 8, both in support of their professors and in hopes of getting the administration’s attention so that some of their questions might finally be answered.