Dennis C. Monk
Professor Ryder has likened the fortunes of general studies programs to a ferris wheel. My own romp through the amusement park of academe tempts me to invoke the tilt-a-whirl as my metaphor. You surely all remember that ride from your childhood in which everyone goes in faster and faster circles without getting anywhere or hitting anything. My choice of metaphors is the result of my having been part of the implementation, reimplementation, or deimplificatibn of general studies programs on three different campus settings ... a private liberal arts school, a small emerging state college, and a flagship state university. I have seen the academic smorgasbord of the 70s replaced by the mess tent of the 80s in which we must see to it that the students are properly nourished as well as filled up. Our mission this weekend is to review the role of music in this development.
As I understand the broad general purpose of this session we are seeking answers to the large question "how does the concerned professor and administrator foster a good program in music for the general student?" Assuming that the operative word "good" has been dealt with in other sessions, let us turn to another operative word, "foster." It appears that this session dealing with Staffing and Faculty Responsibilities, as well as the session on Promotion, Tenure, and Salaries, involves skills associated with what managers do in the corporate business arena. Professor Ryder has alluded to these skills when she referred to "searching for sensitive scholar-teachers, monitoring their welfare," and soforth. In planning for this session the committee raised such prospective issues as staffing, the delegation of faculty responsibilities, funding for programs, the issue of maintaining a specialized general studies faculty with its own coordinator, and so on. Again, these issues involve management skills typical of those required in the corporate world. It therefore struck me as an interesting possibility to go to this world in search of answers, and to relate these answers to my own rather varied experiences with music in general education.
A few months ago my wife, a social work administrator, brought to my attention the book "In Search of Excellence" by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.1 This book has been the number one best selling nonfiction book on the New York Times list, and is one I can highly recommend to the few of you who may not yet have seen it. The premise of the book is a simple one . . . to discover why one company does extremely well while another similar company wallows in mediocrity. What can be learned from the best-managed companies in America at a time when everyone is smitten with the Japapese? What does a Big Mac have in common with an Apple computer, 3M with IBM?
The answers are surprisingly simple and straightforward, and are summarized by the authors in eight basic practices that form the chapter headings. They are:
- A bias for action
- Closeness to the customer
- Autonomy and entrepreneurship
- Belief in productivity through people
- A hands-on, value-driven operation
- A tendency to stick to the knitting
- A simple form and lean staff
- Simultaneous loose-tight properties
As the authors themselves state, very little is new, nothing is radical, and as we shall see, all of it can be applied to the academic setting with a little imagination.
A. A Bias for Action: Successful companies are willing to innovate, experiment and take risks. Successful companies put together small teams who work closely. They don't form committees and cumbersome bureaucracies. Successful companies move with ideas. There are many obvious advantages in having a strong general music prograrn. Among them are increased student credit hours with the funding that should usually follow. The Department will also build future audiences, as well as attract new music minors and even majors. Individual faculty members often report great satisfaction in awakening intelligent students to the pleasures of music. There are surprisingly many faculty members who are attuned to these facts and recognize the rewards of teaching in a general music program. They should be encouraged to act, to move ontheir ideas, to talk about them with like-minded colleagues. Faculty members should be willing to innovate, experiment, and take some risks. As one executive put it, "ready, fire, aim." The talented music executive can promote the action bias in many ways. Primary among them is the creation of a task force not unlike quality circles who meet to brainstorm solutions to the problems of improving the general studies program, and who believe that chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.
B. Closeness to the customer: It is amazing how many companies have forgotten the importance of the customer. It is far less surprising that many of those companies fail. Too often, the customer is treated like a nuisance, and service like a necessary evil. Successful companies are those that care about customers. I have a sign in my office, prominently displayed for my own repeated benefit. . . "assumption is the mother of all screwups." How many of us simply assume we know what students want and need. How many administrators and faculty, for example, assume that what students want from a general music course is a Mickey Mouse, blowoff, gut music appreciation course with a built in easy A? How many assume that what students need is a narrow course in conventional, classical music literature. How many still assume that the course should be taught as Hanslick taught at the University of Vienna a century ago?
When we engaged students in a bit of market-research conversation we discovered that many students wanted to learn to compose. We not only discovered that they could learn, but they were seriously willing to work hard at it. We found that our senior composition/theory faculty were delighted to teach them, and that many of the students were then prepared for more advanced theory courses, and took them. We found also that these same students developed an interest in music literature through their compositional experience. All we had to do was take an interest in our customer.
C. Autonomy and entrepreneurship: The most successful companies hand off the ball to someone who is willing to run with it and then get out of the way. The same dynamic can work in the academic setting. Not all of the rewards of teaching are intrinsic, and not all are financial. In one situation we turned a mediocre music appreciation course over to a dynamic young music education faculty member. As the course grew we saw that she was rewarded. She was able to choose her schedule, choose her classroom. We provided her with the needed hi-fi and audio visual equipment. We saw to it that she had the cooperation of other faculty members. We took pains to acknowledge her contribution to the Department. We made sure that everyone knew and appreciated the fact that her efforts supported the work of other faculty whose classes were underenrolled. All of this contributed to one of the finest general music courses we have ever developed.
D. Productivity through people: Good companies trust their employees and seek their participation. Good companies treat people like adults, as partners, with dignity, with respect, as the primary source of productivity. One way to achieve this is to fit the course to the professor, and not vice-versa. I have seen numerous teachers demoralized because they were forced to teach a course that was not their style. Either it was too big, or had a subject approach that was wrong for the professor. The professor in trying to adapt, grew tense and defensive. The results were disastrous. A good manager will search to discover the special talent, the unusual interest, or that unique area of expertise and will encourage the faculty person to use those to build a course or mode of teaching that works.
E. A value-driven operation: Outstanding companies stand for something. They have a cause, a belief system, a philosophy, a commitment. This should be the easiest practice to translate to the academic setting. We all believe strongly in the value of what we do. We are proud of our standards. However, we are sometimes so involved in the exercise of getting through the day that we forget to articulate this. One of the most important things a leader can do is invoke the values that will give the faculty pride in their work.
F. Stick to the knitting: Do what can be done best, not everything that can be done. Go with your strengths and comparative advantages. A department can only diversify so far. Find out what works best and do it.
G. Simple form—lean staff: The most successful companies keep their organizations simple. Many companies constantly change their organizational structures to suit changing needs. There are many ways to organize a general studies program. In some situations, such as my present one, it is best to have a single individual coordinate the program. It is important to have a leader in touch with the operation in ways that I cannot be. However, the rest of the crew can be quite flexible in its structure. I anticipate that the faculty component will change each semester as new faculty are rotated in, and others out. However, the structure must be simple and it must encourage communication and the frequent sharing of ideas.
H. Simultaneous loose-tight properties: This is a kind of summary category. Faculty members on the line must be well-organized and efficient. However, they must not be burdened with too much structure. If the other principles cited earlier are effective, then this will come about quite naturally.
As you can see the companies studied by Waterman and Peters did not happen upon any great mysteries of the universe. They made it, as John Houseman says on the TV advertisement, the old fashioned way ... they earned it. By applying these same principles to the general music program one can arrive at the best of all possible worlds ... a proud, satisfied faculty and an educated student.
In summary, I would recommend from my experience. the following actions:
- Choose people who are interested in the General Studies program or find good ways to make them interested and organize them into a working group. The Quality Circle is a good model. Find a leader who can stimulate communication, focus ideas, and who will move the group to action.
- Find ways to reward the group. Merit pay is not the only reward.
- Study the needs and interests of the students. Ask your business faculty to help you set up focus groups and other effective market research activities. For the moment set aside old biases and assumptions.
- Know your faculty, their interests, and their teaching abilities. Find ways to help the program adapt to those interests and abilities.
- Consistently articulate your high standards and values.
- Keep after it. Stick to the knitting.
My son's swimming team t-shirt says it all: imagine it, work for it, let it happen.
1Peters, Thomas J. and I Waterman, Robert H., Jr. In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies, New York: Harper & Row, 1982.