May, 2004

Introducing the CMS Professional Life Initiative
Robert Weirich

This special issue of lhe CMS Newsletter devotes itself almost entirely to the CMS Professional Life lnitiative, brainchild of President Dale Olsen. Dale first outlined his thoughts on the lnitiative to the membership at the Toronto meeting in 2000, during the last days of his presidency. His vision: a thorough examination of and meditation on the life of the music professorate, from acquiring the first job, through promotions, moves, tenure or lack thereof, and into retirement. He hoped that CMS would chart the successes and the failures of its members through their career stages, and by doing so become more responsive to members' needs "from cradle to grave," as he put it in Toronto.

President John Buccheri (2000-2002) accepted the challenge and appointed several task forces to begin the work of the Professional Life Initiative. Each "era" of the professor's life received separate treatment: task forces on Assistant Professors, on Associate Professors, and on Full Professors formed the obvious starting point for the study. A task force on Part-Time and/or Non-Tenure-Track Faculty would give voice to the increasingly large number of music faculty working without the safety net of traditional benefits, and a task force on Retired Professors would chronicle the efficacy, or lack thereof, of the whole system. Task force chairs agreed to assemble a diverse committee to do research, ask questions of colleagues, and, finally, do some critical self-analysis of just what it means to be a "fill-in-blank" professor of music.

In the 1B months of my term as president, these groups have collated the results of their efforts and created reports which you will find included here.

One cannot read these reports without a sense of pride in the stamina and creativity of our members. Long hours are noted everywhere; even the retired professors are looking for ways to remain active! We know that music energizes us, and as Sherrie Gregorich states in her Assistant Professor Task Force report, the opportunity to be engaged in so much music makes for "a pretty good life."

The flipside is not so rosy: one reads in horror of the downsizing of full-time faculty numbers, of part-time faculty reimbursed at a part-time rate while asked to do full-time work, of the increasing demands of "institutional mechanics," of the suspicion of the tenure process itself. Arthur Houle, chair of the Task Force on Associate Professors, had his tenured position evaporate out from under him as he worked on this Initiative. lt is typical of his tact and objectivity that he does not mention this in his report.

What next? Is there anything CMS can do with the findings of the Professional Life Initiative to improve the lives of its members? Barbara Bennett, chair of the Task Force on Part-time and/or Non-tenure Track Faculty says there is. "What needs to happen now is action. It is important that non-tenure track faculty work with CMS to identify their needs and to determine which needs CMS can fill."

I completely agree with her about the need for action, and the needs have already been identified. Alas, CMS as an entity has only two possible functions in terms of filling those needs. The first is that the Board of The College Music Society can issue a statement or white paper decrying the mistreatment of part-time faculty, and send it to all the music deans and directors in our database. This statement can represent the considered opinion of an organization of 9,000 members, and if read, may well inspire sympathy and sorrow at the state of affairs. Alas, it will not change the laws of supply and demand, but it may still be worth writing and distributing.

The second is that the membership of CMS gather its entire force behind whatever topic of change it chooses to focus on (in this case, the mistreatment of part-time music faculty) and move as a whole to do something about it. Given three wishes, how would you change your role as a musician in your school, your community and in society at large? It's the national topic for discussion this year, and its purpose is to incite activism. What is really important to you? On what are you willing to work overtime and with lots of other people to change? I am not suggesting that CMS become a labor union, but if CMS were the forum that discovers that the music professorate needs a labor union, it would have served an important purpose. If CMS were the forum that determines that universities should turn out fewer DMA graduates to preserve the job market, again it could serve the greater good. These are changes that matter. This is the activism of 9,000 individuals, not a Board of Directors.

An organization like The College Music Society is only as useful as its members make it. It is not an all-knowing, all-seeing corporate unit; it is 9,000 individuals, each with a different story each with needs that can be served through the power of incorporation. We stand together, or not at all.