Staffing and Faculty Responsibilities

 Georgia A. Ryder


As a part of general education, the teaching of music has endured not only the vicissitudes besetting general studies programs in higher education but also the constancy of attitudinal disjunction within its own ranks. If one envisions an academic ferris wheel, it is not too difficult to plot the course of general education cycling, through recent times, from a superior position on the wheel through successive stages of ascent and descent.

Such a coarse analogy offends, for certainly we academicians do not wish to be associated with mundane trappings of this sort. A locale more properly envisioned is, of course, the university campus. But here we will likely find familiar figures recognizable to many as teachers of general music: the "new kid on the block" junior faculty member; the resentful long-term faculty member, fallen from grace; the graduate student working out an assistantship while enveloped in the minutiae of a dissertation. These figures are bonded by the shared agony of frustrated specialists and by the commonality of their students' apathy.

If this scenario completes the picture as you know it, then you are well acquainted with the traditional circumstance wherein general music is regarded as expendable, as a necessary evil or, at most, a course of low esteem. If, on the other hand, your picture includes a professor whose enthusiasm for teaching elicits dynamic student involvement with a variety of musics and responsive, experiences with them, then I put to you three questions: (1) Are you that professor? (2) Can you be that professor? (3) Would you be that professor? Fortunately, your answers need not be verbalized and we shall have, therefore, no exposé of attitudes.

All too often faculty attitudes range from disdain to grudging acceptance and far too seldom include excitement at the challenge to plan and execute stimulating approaches to teaching music courses for students who are not music majors. Clearly, at present we have pressing obligations to ignite the humanistic responses of career-focused students who, more than ever, need the fine and liberal arts to diffuse the laser-beam intensity of their study pursuits and goals (money and life in the fast lane).

The, persistence of negative attitudes about teaching in general education programs is an historic habit resulting, probably in equal parts, from faculty egos, academic snobbism, and poor administration. Administration is poor when the basis for staffing a teaching faculty is expedience rather than teaching qualificatioins.

At the Wingspread Conference on General Music, sponsored by CMS in 1981, Elaine Brody said, "We must engage our best professors in this task, and we must insist that their efforts be acknowledged and rewarded by central administration."1 That conviction, which I wholeheartedly share, is translated into reality by effort expended on searching for sensitive scholar-teachers, on monitoring their academic welfare, and on supporting them for their teaching abilities. This option being derived from my own experience, it is not offered here as an untested theory but as a summary of that experience and its findings which I now propose to share with you.

The existing structure for general music instruction at the university where I work was established during the ten-year period when I served as head of the Music Department. Recognizing that general music courses need specially equipped teachers, I sought and won from our central administration, sustained approval to strengthen the music faculty in accordance with curricular needs not only of the Music Department but also undergraduate academic divisions across the university. I was greatly assisted by a number of advantages which, admittedly, may not be readily at hand on a broad scale.

These advantages included: the active commitment of the institution to a general education core based on requirements established by the State Board of Education; avenues through which to lobby for the inclusion of a required music survey course in a majority of degree programs; freedom to develop and offer music-centered humanities courses as electives; the eagerness of the Continuing Education Division to offer a music survey course every semester; and, above all, a chief executive officer, committed to the nourishing of the arts.

On the down side were perennial budget constraints, the "growing pains" of a developing institution, the lack of established identity as an attraction to desirable faculty. Such adversities notwithstanding, experienced new faculty were appointed and assignments adjusted to maximize capabilities of the new and existing faculty.

The department subsequently offered and continues to offer four to six sections per semester of a music survey course. Two senior professors—one a pianist, the other a musicologist—teach several sections each year. During the past few years, other teachers of the course have included a pianist, an oboist, and a member of the voice faculty. Currently, with one exception, all are tenured. They have continued to teach and perform in the areas of their specialty. By design, there is no separate general music faculty because the objective is to provide for students the model of a practicing musician skilled in his/her art and yet accessible to those who are more consumers of the arts than practitioners themselves. There is also no formally designated coordinator, yet frequent informal conferences take place regarding course design, activities, content and materials, including a book authored by one of the professors.

The music-based humanities course has prospered, is heavily populated and also requires four or more sections. The training or retraining of faculty to teach the course was supported by grant funds. These teachers and their colleagues, previously described, are provided continuous support services by departmental office staff, student assistants, and centralized university services such as the audio laboratories and audio-visual center. Not least among supports is the participation of other faculty (from music, art, and literature) in course activities.

Selection of faculty in the discussion was based upon evidence of the following:

  • advanced training in music literature in addition to the specific area of expertise;
  • knowledge of bodies of music besides Western European music;
  • extensive, experiences in class teaching;
  • positive attitudes toward students with limited musical skills;
  • availability to participate with students in out-of-class music experiences
  • ability to relate to and manage large classes.

Class enrollments in the several sections of the music survey course generally range between 80 and 150. Normally 600 to 800 students register for the course in Fall and Spring and forty or fewer in summer. The humanities course enrolls an additional 250 to 300 Students. As a result, the department obviously gains a large FTE advantage and simultaneously offsets "productivity" losses incurred as a result of individualized applied music instruction. This balancing out also affects teacher loads positively at a time when underloaded faculty are not affordable on most campuses.

Because departmental faculty loads come under scrutiny by deans and higher officials, it is important that such matters, having critical budgetary impact, be interpreted with sensitivity to departmental peculiarities and also the institution's broader concerns. Declining or bone-bare fund supports for many state, private and church-related institutions effect widening gaps between perspectives from which top administration and departmental faculties view budget allocations, salaries, tenure and promotion. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary that department chairs, deans, and other mid-level administrators seeking to sustain their valued programs present the best case possible for cost effective educational services.

From my own perspective as a dean, there is a good case to be made for supporting general music courses which generate significant student populations. I do not find this view inconsistent with my advocacy for liberal arts, as a great humanizing force nor with my aesthetic concerns as a musician. On the contrary, it seems to me that a symbiotic relationship exists between the realities and the ideals. Taken together, these elements provide the strongest argument for the appointment or re-training, the retention and rewarding of faculty members who are highly qualified to teach music in general education, not as a sideline nor as a punishment but with professional zeal.


1Music in General Studies: Report of the Wingspread Conference, Boulder: College Music Society, 1981, pages 10-11.