Editor’s note: The following interview was with Justin Merriman, a senior and music minor at Hope College.
How have the changes within the music department affected you as a music student?
Fortunately, I completed my music minor a semester before any of these changes started to occur. Thus, my [music] education was not impacted. What was impacted was the folk department. In the fall of 2018, well after we had registered for classes, a new last minute course was created specifically for students enrolled in folk ensembles. We were told that we had less than 24 hours to enroll for credit and that 50% or more of students were required; otherwise, the currently running ensembles could no longer exist. Needless to say, the response was immediate and fast-acting. Thankfully, enough students were enrolled that the ensembles were able to continue, but the fact that this event even occurred in the first place still leaves multiple questions unanswered today. It is hard for changes like this to happen without feeling like punishments were being doled out for reasons unknown. The folk department is something that I have had major involvement with since my first semester as a freshman, and it is very hard to watch us go from having some of the most-attended concerts on campus to not even having fall or spring recitals anymore. I wish I could say I knew why this was the case.
How do you wish this situation with the music department would’ve been handled better?
I wish that Hope would have looked more closely at how these changes were affecting students. There is a balance between what the college can and should disclose with students, and while I would have appreciated more transparency, I recognize there is a limit to what can actually be shared. However, the morale of all Hope music students was at an all-time low due to these changes, and I wish Hope had done a better job by expressing that even though they were legally bound not to disclose certain things, they were still acting in the best interests of their students and cared about their students’ well-being. There were too many instances of changes occurring with seemingly no rationale that left many students, including myself, wondering who was actually benefiting from the results.
How do you wish the administration would’ve handled this better?
My answer above is really an answer to both of these questions. I think that even if Hope couldn’t share anything at all about why they were making the changes, a simple statement of “Hope College is making changes that it believes will best serve its students,” or “Hope College hears and still cares about the quality of its students education and wants to provide assurance to anyone that is feeling lost or hurt” would have gone a long way to prevent students from feeling so negatively impacted.
What do you see for the future of the music department?
Two main talking points here: 1) Being an accounting and business double major as well as a music minor, I am in a unique situation as far as music students go because I truly come from a study of two different worlds. With the accounting profession, I have learned much about the auditing of private and public entities and how this process works. When I read that Hope College will be undergoing an audit due to the recent changes that were made, I was very pleased to see this. In simple terms, an audit is designed to provide outside onlookers and interested parties reasonable assurance that the steps taken to create a financial statement (or to terminate employees/ make course schedule changes) occurred in a manner that was free from material misstatement, or errors. Thus, I think the best way for Hope students to gain their trust back for the administration is for this audit to occur because an independent third party will be able to provide assurance to all interested parties that all of the changes being made were honest and made following the proper procedures. Also, if I were a professor at Hope, I would welcome an audit as well, because it has the ability to restore any faith that was lost in this institution. The only people who should fear an audit are those who have willingly committed material misstatement with the intent to deceive or harm. 2) My first year at Hope was a time when music flourished. Music of all types was being played and celebrated, and everyone, regardless of their instrument or background, had a place to call home in that building. I truly hope that students will get a chance to see what things were like back then, because there are a ton of great, hardworking and dedicated professors in this department just eager to welcome new and excited students. I have the utmost respect for the professors in the music department, many of which I have fortunately gotten to know on a personal level, and I am confident that these individuals will be able to bring Hope back to where it once was. Thus, while we may feel like we are stuck in a time of uncertainty, as long as our professors keep caring about their students the way that they have in the past, I am confident that Hope will once again become a place where ALL music is embraced with open arms.
More student voices bring perspective:
“I would say it’s definitely affected my overall morale for the courses that I’m taking. There’ve been a lot of changes even this semester as everything has settled down, in terms of who is teaching what course, and those are changes that are pretty severe in terms of how courses are run. It’s also hard to see my friends in the program and how it’s affecting them. The general morale of the music department as a whole I would say is a lot better than last semester, but it is still a difficult thing to be in the middle of.” – Jillian Wade
“My fear would be that it’s going toward a narrower look at music, more of a Westernclassic kind of look. Something that I’ve really loved about this music department is that in the past it’s really been able to spread its wings to all different genres and things that people love. I really hope that it would continue to nurture that in different ways, but we’ll see what happens. I’d like for things to stay open-minded. I would hope that people are able to reach understandings with each other, across different genres and schools of thought, and that people can work problems out in a ways where they feel like they their feelings have been heard. I hope that we can have representation for a lot of different people here, and a lot of different music genres can be represented.” – Shelby Ryan
“I would say stress levels overall in the music department have been higher because of these changes, and for me personally, being a minor in music, the faculty changes in the fall semester were challenging, because in the summer we didn’t know who was going to be replacing them. At that point we didn’t even know why anyone was gone. So coming into the year was super stressful, and I think that kind of affected me fall semester, and stress levels affected grades and such.” -Ava Massarella