In Conversation with President Keith Ward

Keith Ward

CMS Summits. They are special, topical, multi-day events originating in the interests and inspirations of CMS members. They pursue focused topics, invite collaboration, and contribute to the dialogue in our profession differently from international, national, or regional conferences. This month I write about one of two recent summits from 2016, both to highlight important work by the Society and to acknowledge the special efforts by members in the Society’s continuing work of asking important questions.

In recent years the push in academe to explain, quantify, and assess faculty work has moved in new directions with the growth of Big Data – the ability to assemble, collate, compare, and evaluate faculty work quantitatively. These measures combine established practices with new analytic tools arising from our data-driven world. Our respective types of institutions may or may not be influenced by this trend currently, but the future suggests that more of us will be affected by efforts to quantify the evaluation of artistic work of music faculty members in ways that permit benchmarking and comparisons. These developments are not going away. How, then, should we respond in Music?

In 2015 Jim Scott, Professor of Music and Retired Dean at the University of North Texas (and President of the CMS Fund), raised the concern that, compared to other disciplines, Music was vulnerable to the encroaching world of Big Data because the profession has not established its own quantitative means of evaluating faculty work. The challenge in our field is exacerbated by the variety of work we do, something that cannot be packaged as easily as other fields. His concern: doing nothing to respond to national trends in the use of aggregate data would result in evaluations being made for us on the basis of evidence unrelated to our real values. This issue led to his organizing a summit in Dallas, Texas in January 2016: “Shaping Institutional Expectations for National Benchmarking of Faculty and Music Unit Accomplishments.”

Assisted by a steering committee of Tayloe Harding (University of South Carolina), David Myers (University of Minnesota), Betty Anne Younker (University of Western Ontario), and Robert Walzel (University of Kansas), Jim led a summit that attracted faculty and administrators from across the United States and from Canada. Faculty and administrators came from public and private institutions, from liberal arts colleges through research universities. During two days of plenary sessions, presentations, and breakout groups, participants considered the problems, challenges, limitations, and possibilities of data collection, of what to assemble and how to evaluate the work of music faculty so that it could be better understood, quantified, and qualified in our terms.

I invite you to read the resulting interim report, just posted this month, which summarizes the salient issues raised during the summit. As Jim argues, the report should be viewed as a starting point for further discussions at our respective institutions when we consider how to weigh faculty work in a world driven evermore by data.

A second summit in 2016 brought hundreds to the University of South Carolina in June to explore “21st-Century Music School Design.” Look for an announcement soon on release of materials from that summit. For all future CMS or CMS-endorsed events, remember to visit our calendar of events. Better yet, bookmark the page!