In an email to current students and their families, Karen Zorn, the president of Longy School of Music at Bard College, announced the closing of the school’s Preparatory and Continuing Studies department. While this must come as a shock to most, it apparently has been under discussion for more than 20 years. According to the press release, Longy’s growth since its recent merger with Bard had made it more and more difficult for the needs of the degree students to coexist with those of the prep community. So, on March 4th, Longy revealed that it would discontinue Preparatory and Continuing Studies effective Aug. 31, 2013, “which will end the part-time private lessons, classes, and ensembles offered by Longy to area residents in order to expand the space available to full-time conservatory students this fall.”
“The space currently occupied by Preparatory and Continuing Studies activity will be put to immediate use this fall for full-time students,” said Wayman Chin, dean of the conservatory. “Access to more practice facilities and better teaching space for studio instruction is essential for us to deliver a complete academic offering and to support the growth in the conservatory and its competitive degree programs.”
Harriet Griesinger told me: “I’m one of many parents and grandparents of Longy’s Community Music Program students who sits on the college’s board. Let me tell you that when we voted to close the Preparatory and Continuing Studies, it was very sad, but inevitable.”
Others responded with anger. Norman Lebrecht misleadingly headlined his blog entry: “Music school shuts down, fires staff by email.” Longy teachers were not fired by email or any other manner—yet. Layoffs are sure to come after the summer sessions conclude. But giving six or seven months’ notice by email to faculty, friends and current students strikes this writer as fair.
To put this in perspective, consider that there are probably 1 million K-12 students in the Boston area. If Longy’s 500 have to make new arrangements for music teachers, is this a catastrophe, especially since many on Longy’s faculty teach at other institutions in the area? Having arranged for three different music teachers for my own child, I can tell you that this is doable.
New England Conservatory seems particularly hospitable to the displaced of Longy. Ellen Pfeifer, NEC’s Senior Communications Specialist, told BMInt, “New England Conservatory has the friendliest possible relationship with the Longy School of Music and we support the difficult decision they have made as they work to fulfill their long-term aspirations. NEC, will, of course, welcome any students from Longy’s Community Music program. We have a wealth of ensembles, classes, and private teachers for all levels and offer a warm nurturing center of learning for musicians wherever they are on their musical path. Of course, some of the instructors at Longy already teach at NEC, and several of them have already invited their Longy students to study with them at NEC.”
Many think that NEC Prep and Longy’s Preparatory and Continuing Studies programs throw off lots of profit to their respective institutions, but unlike the apparently profitable Harvard Extension program with classes of 20-30 and more, much music instruction is one on one. And the strain on the facilities of a smaller institution like Longy is considerable, especially on weekends, when Community Programs are taking practice rooms, especially those with pianos, from undergraduates. Longy simply has too small a footprint to accommodate 500 Community Music students while at the same time trying to professionalize their undergraduate programs.
On the other hand, there’s a really strong sense that Community Programs make strong connections with the local donor base. So if the programs don’t actually function as cash cows, they can encourage generosity from those whose children and grandchildren receive instruction. Also, many Prep and Community students later enter their respective conservatories. Perhaps now that it is part of Bard College, Longy can rely on the proven fundraising acumen of President Leon Botstein rather than on an inclusive local community. It may also feel that it can benefit from a larger applicant pool because of the Bard merger.
Lesley Foley, dean of the NEC Prep Department, told us, “We’re interested in long-term relationships between students and teachers. There’s a place for everyone, but we do have auditions for placement, especially in ensembles where everyone has to be at the same level. NEC gets some of the Prep School graduates for its undergraduate programs, but most of the Prep School graduates do not go on to do music professionally. On the other hand, they do become advocates for the arts—that’s our greatest contribution and success. And many of the parents and grandparents of Prep students do take on valuable leadership roles at NEC.
“In the 90s I was Dean of Admissions for Longy. Back then we were discussing how we could improve the level of our undergraduate experience for 150 students while also nurturing a Community Music Program benefitting 1000. It was really tough to have to tell one of our master’s students that there was no practice room available to her on a busy Saturday. So I was not entirely surprised by Longy’s announcement. Their facilities are just too small to handle both demands.”
Others have said that Longy’s Community Music program became more costly after many of the instructors shifted to full-time employment, some with benefits as required by the settlement of last year’s contractual disputes with the Longy Teachers’ Union.
According to Jonathan Cohler, Longy Teachers’ Union spokesman, “This had nothing to do with salaries or allocating space, it’s just vindictive behavior on the part of Longy management. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating and has already found merit to 10 of our charges against Longy. The key to Longy’s actions has been its assertion that it’s making a strategic decision to change its direction because of space requirements. There have been no discussions with us on the issue and when Karen Zorn first came in 5 years ago, one of the first studies she commissioned about space and the allocation of overhead at the school. One of the conclusions that she announced to the entire staff and faculty was that the space crunch was a “myth.” Furthermore, since that study there has been no growth in the student population. The real story is that Longy wants to bust the union before NLRB can act. This action will result in 54 layoffs, including 39 individuals in our bargaining unit. I’m not sure that it’s a coincidence that these layoffs will include the majority of the union’s executive board and all of the remaining union founders.
Longy’s Chief of Staff Kalen Ratzlaff countered, “Our decision is 100% mission-driven—this has absolutely nothing to do with the union. Long-term, we expect the numbers of unionized employees at Longy to grow as our mission to offer more degrees to more students in our expanding programs develops. This really is about space. It took us a long time to realize that since we’re a 100% commuter campus, it doesn’t help relieve problems by extending our hours. Students need guaranteed access to practice rooms during normal teaching hours, and this was something the overlap with our Prep and Continuing Studies programs prevented. From a business perspective, Prep and Continuing Studies consumes 50% of our resources and generates 30% of our revenues. Short-term it’s going to be hard to give up that revenue. Longer-term we expect to grow it with expanded populations in our degree programs.
“Look, I’m a product of Prep and Continuing Studies, and it really hurt me when we decided we had to close it. I can really understand what parents, students and employees feel, and we’re doing what we can to help.”