The Reward System: A Faculty Member's View

M. Suzanne Roy

The fourth charge of the 1981 Wingspread Conference on Music in General Studies was "to encourage improvement in the professional status of teachers of music in general studies." At that time it seemed to me that if the word "status" implied "respect" then it must be earned and that would require one sort of hard work, much the sort of work Joel Stegall has just described, the sort of work which is being defined in most of the sessions here in Dearborn. It would not surprise me if it were found that the all-too-simple yet all-too-difficult avenue toward achieving respect were, first and last, better teaching. After all, respect cannot be willed; one can only establish the conditions from which respect might spring.

However, in other discussions in Racine, the word "status" was defined in terms of signs of status, that is, tenure, promotion and salary. If what we are doing is valued by the University community then it will be reflected in retention, rank and dollars. In these conversations we were talking about status as "equal opportunity," an equal shot at academia's tangible rewards. It is this second definition which I would like to address today: How do we achieve equal opportunity for rewards for those who teach music in general studies?

First a fundamental question must be asked: Is there a reward system? We speak matter-of-factly about tenure, promotion and salary. But are those rewards really widely available? Tenure can be addressed separately from promotion and salary since significant changes in the last are usually tied to a tenure decision.

Please note that we call tenure a reward, a big switch from its lofty purpose as a defense of academic freedom. We now consider it a condition of employment, "essential to economic and psychological security and to the conduct of research and instruction."1

Yet, is it any longer reasonable to consider tenure a reward, "the" reward? In practice, is excellent teaching and research automatically rewarded? These days are all of our excellent junior colleagues being awarded tenure? Even if they follow all the rules, fill in all the blanks in their credentials, is tenure assured?

I think not.

Furthermore, salaries are grinding to a halt at the bottom of the scale in many fields. Universities are slimming down the tenured ranks for that most American of academic reasons, to be able to respond to the "market" and to prepare for continuing declines in enrollment.

Music, an expensive investment by an institution of higher learning, cannot "up productivity." Dollar cuts eat immediately into the sinew and bone of our programs. Long-term commitments, including tenure, are avoided, for the cost of a tenure decision can easily approach one million dollars if the faculty member has a thirty-five year career at the institution.2 Positions vacated by retirement or voluntary attrition are replaced, if at all, by limited term contracts or by new, mostly young faculty at the bottom of the salary scale.

The truth is, tenure is harder to get these days. And the reasons are often far removed from judgment of a given faculty member's merits. (It is deplorable that our young, vital colleagues, new to the profession, feel that the difficulties they so often encounter in the tenure process rest so much in themselves. I regret even more, as I am sure you do, that the exceptionally sharp ones see a no-win situation and bow out early.)

Not enough attention is paid to the fact that tenure decisions have two dimensions: individual merit and institutional needs.3 In more lavish times, before demographic studies and prognostication began to dominate administrative decisions, merit could be emphasized without all that much attention to needs . . . folly now that you think about it. Even to talk about "needs" is not precisely the truth; we would be better off to speak of institutional "constraints." In terms of the most obvious constraints can we not say: If there are too few students and too little money, is tenure possible? The very least we can say is that the simple cause-effect circumstance (if you do excellent work you will get tenure) is no longer so simple if, indeed, it ever was.

Tenure can no longer be the only sign of excellence and the only measure of individual professional worth. I and many other people see little possibility that the restricted tenure situation will turn around soon. If tenure-as-reward is not widely available throughout all the programs of a college or university, it certainly will not be available for music faculty teaching general studies courses . . . or for any music course at all.

All our talk at Racine and later was of plugging into a reward system that later examination has shown to have broken down.

I should point out to you, if you are not already aware of it, that alternatives to traditional tenure have been initiated at several institutions. I recommend Chait and Ford's book Beyond Traditional Tenure as a useful survey of those attempts. The authors state that, on the one hand, the alternatives have not proven significantly better than traditional tenure and, on the other, that widespread change will not happen unless and until a prestigious institution attempts and succeeds at an alternative. If their conclusions are accurate, it is likely that the tenure system as we now know it will prevail for a long time to come.

What other rewards could a university offer, rewards cheaper and less binding than tenure? There are travel and research funds. Add research and graduate assistants. Or equipment. A reduced teaching load, a compact schedule or a sabbatical. A one-time bonus.4 These things, though expensive, are less costly than tenure, enhance the prestige of the college or university and contribute to the faculty members' goals for themselves, a healthy set of virtues.

But they do involve dollars.

If there is no money, is there a reward system?

What about intrinsic rewards? Working with subject matter you love, the joy of learning, the friends you make among students and colleagues, the stimulus-rich environment. True, nothing need take those away from you . . . if you are permitted to stay in your job.

In a round about way I have come to my response to the original question, how to plug music in general studies teaching into the reward system. And that response is, you don't. For a great many of us, the reward system as we assumed it barely exists. There is very little left to plug into!

That tenure can no longer function as our second professional goal (preceded by obtaining a job in the first place) is symptomatic of the trouble the United States is having with its entire educational structure. In order to solve our inhouse music teaching problems, we must at the same time participate in nationwide efforts to retrench, regroup, analyze our strengths and weaknesses . . . and plan. The disease, of which the erosion of the reward system is a symptom, consists of 1) the present status of education in the United States, 2) the perceived value of music in the life of the individual, and 3) the value of art, and therefore the artist, and therefore the artist's support system, to the culture.

We must participate in efforts to enhance the profession before we can deal with the single issue of enhancing rewards for faculty teaching general studies courses.

We must find ways to guide and influence policies and actions which affect our purposes for themselves. That is, we must be politicians.

I don't know how generally this is true, but whenever anyone says "politics" around a good many of the musicians with whom I have worked over the last twenty years, there is a chorus of disclaimers: "Oh, I'm not political." "Politics is not the proper sphere for a musical artist." "I don't want to play games."

Musicians react to the word "politics" with a condescension that is awesome. I am reminded of a relevant article I read about ten years ago during a particularly intense period in the women's movement. In the article, June Wayne, a West Coast printmaker, suggested that the stereotype of the visual artist is not unlike that of the stereotypical female. Though reasonably intelligent people, articulate about their work and that of others, the visual artist still plays out society's image of a mythic, inchoate, intuitive, emotionally romantic being, a vehicle through which mysterious, creative forces produce. Artists are just born with talent and are afraid to subject the creative process to any kind of rational scrutiny lest they, while losing their demons, lost their angels as well.

Does the analogy fit musicians? Think of the ones you know. Surely among them are those people part of whose charm is, in fact, a total inability to deal with mundane stuff (though Heaven help them if they are not charming!). They play the oboe or the violin beautifully and function, probably not at all consciously, on the assumption that it is someone else's responsibility to take care of them.

June Wayne said, and I quote:

How natural that artists are inept, unworldly, insecure . . . capricious . . . indirect . . . colorful. Why expect artists to understand money, contracts, business? Why indeed. One must help artists, support them; they cannot cope. Accordingly we artists look for help, not equality, support not self-determination. We expect "them" to take care of us.5

I say: Many artists including musicians are as she described.

And I add: Many artists, including musicians, are powerless.

Part of our discomfort, our dissatisfaction with the present state of things, results from lusting after rewards which do not at present really exist for us. Some sense of power, of control over our situation, could come from facing those roots to make rewards again possible.

We as individuals, faculties, colleges, universities, professional societies, as citizens of a nation . . .each of us must have strategies developed through large-scale, long-range planning and carried out through methodical consistent action. We must use strategy to move toward a position of power and whatever power we achieve will make it possible for us to act further on, our own behalf. A paradox: act in order to obtain power in order to be able to act. Act and you have a chance of winning.

I believe that each of us, in our various unique institutions, can assert ourself upon our professional environment, not with tantrums and demands, but with reasoned planning, strategy and political action. If we wait for anyone else to take care of us, we're lost from the start.

And this is where this weekend's subject matter is important! All of our strategies simply have to involve better teaching for the general student. We can't be as good as we say we are when we apparently have failed to put music forth as a value to those "general students" who sit on college and university review boards, on faculty senates, who are Deans and Presidents or on boards of trustees. What part did we play, or fail to play, in the formation of their ideas concerning the value of music in their lives? Can any one of them come up with an independent judgment about music? Or was our teaching only indoctrination unbuttressed by attention to individual minds?

Our first challenge then, a goal to be achieved in small hard-won increments, is to invent a reward system for our time. We must work to provide the conditions in which the system can respond to excellence. If society places a low priority on education, then address society's arguments, not to capitulate to them (Society is not inherently right) but to answer them.

Pay attention to the larger world around you. Use the available forums. Perhaps there are ways in which you should be supporting some of the goals of the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers. Is the AAUP a leadership group or a passive last line of defense? Is the National Endowment for the Arts doing what it should be doing? Do your local service groups know how they can help education? Are your local applied music teachers organized to improve their position in the community?

Teach them. Teaching is Politics. Good teaching is better politics.

Study. Know what you want, determine specifically what is in the way and consider ways around the immovable objects.

Tidy the machinery on your campus. That is, review your procedures, evaluate your academic and personnel programs, set goals, plan, and be swayed only by even better paths to your goals.

Consider the following ways you might improve your immediate surroundings:

Support advocate leaders, administrators or otherwise. Joel Stegall described an ideal, benevolent director, one who cares and has the talent to translate the needs and desires of his unit to his body of "general students," the upper administration. If you are not so fortunate or if there is little or no continuity in your leadership, you, I, the faculty member must take greater responsibility for pursuing the unit's goals.

Examine the promotion and tenure policies and practices of your institution. Do they really make it impossible for the teacher of general studies courses compete for available rewards? Once again responsibility falls into the administrator's lap, first of all to provide excellent and realistic advisement for whatever tenure-track faculty there is and secondly, to defend strongly, rationally, the kind of courses and the kind of teaching talent which is required for excellence in presenting music to the general student.

Make certain that job descriptions are accurate. If general studies teaching is an important part of the assignment it must be addressed clearly before people are hired. Just because people seeking jobs will grab at almost anything these days is no excuse to be dishonest with them.

Identify the talent, the faculty who are able to teach this part of the music population. It is not possible to decide dogmatically where this talent can be found. Music appreciation is not automatically taught better by a music historian. Split-positions are not inherently evil. A general studies specialist may or may not be the answer. The operative charge is "locate the talent." General studies teaching assignments are not fully rational unless this element of talent is considered.

Think of hiring someone or identifying someone to coordinate general studies offerings. We have coordinators of class piano and theory and history. It's not a radical idea. Lots of times all faculty teaching split positions need is for someone to help stock materials, to represent them at meetings, to see that new materials are brought to their attention, to plan the teaching schedules and so on.

Teach well. Guide and influence. Of course rewards will not come your way if you merely set forth information. Something must happen in the classroom.

Get creative about finding other rewards. Start with the sort of moral support Joel described. Some faculty require only a thank you. Most faculty require straightforwardness about the role they are expected to play.

You can, and I hope you will, add to my brief list of things to do.

In closing, I must admit that I have begged the question. I was asked to supply "how to's." Instead I chose to stand the question on its head: Is there a reward system? The answer: Just barely. We have to acknowledge that the system is in shaky condition and commit ourselves to strengthening it . . . or to finding a workable alternative.

The reward system which we have taken for granted is crippled and will limp along until conditions change. In the meantime we must answer the following questions and pursue each little hope:

To what extent are general studies problems unique and in what ways are its problems similar to those of any other discipline in our institutions of higher learning?

Is tenure a realistic expectation in your institution or merely talked about?

Is promotion tied to tenure? Need it be? Are there creative ways around that situation?

Is salary tied to promotion? Could the situation be modified?

Are alternative rewards possible?

What actions could reduce the anxiety and frustration so frequently tormenting the young academic? Do we have anything else to offer them or are we to be deprived of their refreshing presence?

Surely we have noticed that we are not alone in feeling unrewarded. If we join with those dissatisfied others to address both larger issues and local practice, we might each find a solid foundation from which to take action.


1Richard P. Chait and Andrew T. Ford, Beyond Traditional Tenure (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982), p. xi.


3Ibid., p. 157.

4Ibid., p. 209.

5June Wayne, "The Male Artist as Stereotypical Female," Arts in Society: Women and the Arts, Vol. 11 (Spring-Summer, 1974, p, 110).