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Brandeis to close music PhD program

Brandeis plans to put its two music PhD programs (Musicology and Composition and Theory) on “hiatus” beginning this semester with plans to permanently close the programs.


According to information obtained by The Boston Globe, Provost Carol Fierke and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) sent a letter to Music Department chair Eric Chasalow and Department Directors of Graduate Studies Yu-Hui Chang and Bradford Garvey on Aug 24. The letter said that the faculty and students in the programs had done well with “limited resources,” but informed the recipients that Brandeis is not in a position to “invest in the programs as is needed.”


The letter also noted that GSAS would support the students that are currently in the PhD programs, but the shuttering of the PhD program is intended to “strengthen the undergraduate program in Music so it compares with those at elite liberal arts colleges.”


In a phone interview with the Boston Globe, Chasalow noted how shocking the news was to the Music faculty members. He also said that when the Carnegie Classification of Institutions in Higher Education projected that Brandeis would be downgraded to an R2 institution from its current R1 status, a kind of “crisis” was created in Brandeis’ administration. Chasalow went on to say that the arts have been cut during past crises, citing Brandeis’ failed plan to close the Rose Art Museum during the 2008 financial crisis. Chasalow said that the university has made it clear that the sciences are the priority going forward with this decision, but added that “this is not going to save the kind of money they need to really change things.” He also told the Globe that there are currently 14 PhD students, including eight musicology students and six composition and theory students.


In an email sent to the Boston Globe, Interim Senior Vice President of Communications Julie Jette reiterated that music will be an important part of the Brandeis experience, adding that “it was determined that the two Music PhD programs needed more investment than Brandeis could provide to maintain the excellence they have been known for.”


In a statement published by Brandeis’ Music department, several of Brandeis’ reasons for cutting the program were called “staggeringly untrue,” “impolitic” and simply “bonkers.” This statement was titled “Response to the Proposed Closures of the PhD Programs in Music:

Why should we aim to become a second-rate MIT when the world so desperately needs a

first-rate Brandeis?” and noted that “killing off two ‘excellent’ doctoral programs will help solidify Brandeis’ R1 status is a proposition perhaps only an administrator can understand.”


This statement refutes Jette’s comments in the Globe, saying that those “statements are as staggeringly untrue as they are staggeringly impolitic; we sincerely hope the administration has girded its loins for a barrage of angry calls from the parents of music majors, demanding their tuition dollars back.” They add that it is bizarre for the program “to have to remind the Brandeis administration that undergraduate and graduate programs do not exist in a zero-sum relationship, and that the administration’s own ‘Framework for the Future’ identifies ‘vertical connectivity’ between undergrads, doctoral students, and faculty members as the bedrock ‘Academic Value Proposition’ of a Brandeis education. By the Framework’s logic, eliminating a department’s doctoral programs would worsen the academic experience for undergraduates, to the point of making it un-Brandeisian.”


The statement goes on to say that “the administration’s proposed cuts have nothing to do with the performance of any Music department program, undergraduate or graduate. To establish conclusively the excellence of our doctoral programs–as well as the futility of the PhD review process–we attach an appendix below with data produced by the PhD review, demonstrating that Music ranks at or very near the top of all Brandeis PhD-granting departments by many metrics.” The statement also says that “We contend that–amid a 75th birthday celebration and an expensive ‘national branding’ campaign–the Brandeis administration has chosen a course of action that betrays the university’s very identity” and notes that “the administration’s actions put Brandeis squarely at odds with intellectual currents in the broader world.”


In the appendix of this statement, the music department included data compiled by Professor Karen Desmond that proved the following claims: “Brandeis’ PhD programs in Music are excellent,” “[the Music department has] achieved our success despite having a smaller faculty than our peer departments at Brandeis” and “[the music department’s] enrollment statistics support the hiring of more tenure-line faculty.” The statement backed these claims up with data that compared the Music department to other academic departments, with the Music department appearing favorably against the other unnamed departments.


Brandeis alumni and friends of the music program, including professors from other universities’ music programs, sent a separate letter to President Ron Liebowitz, Provost Carol Fierke, and Dean Wendy Cadge asking them to reconsider their decision to shut down the program. They wrote that they “come together with a shared sense of concern and disappointment regarding the recent decision to discontinue this esteemed degree program.” They add that they feel that “this decision was reached without adequate consideration of its implications both within and beyond Brandeis’ campus.”


The letter adds a criticism of Brandeis’ apparent focus on the sciences, asking “What message does it send when an R1 institution, founded on a liberal arts ethos, implies that the arts can be sacrificed on the altar of the hard sciences, instead of understanding the symbiotic role between the arts and sciences as part of a holistic approach to the university’s mission? Regrettably, the decision to trim a marginal fraction of the budget has sent waves of uncertainty throughout a national network of institutions. This decision conveys the notion that music lacks the value to merit the limited resources it currently receives. The elimination of a high-achieving program not only adversely affects its own faculty, students, and alumni but also casts a shadow over the entire academic landscape of the arts.” The letter asks the university’s administration to reconsider this decision, as the authors believe that “it is within the power of Brandeis to preserve these esteemed degree programs and honor the musical legacy that Brandeis represents in American music.” The letter has received over 100 pages of signatures on the Google Doc that hosts it.


Brandeis graduate students also authored an open letter to Brandeis’ administration, “imploring” them to “reconsider the proposed elimination of the PhD programs in Musicology and Composition and Theory. Although small, the PhD programs in Musicology and Composition and Theory have repeatedly proven themselves to be invaluable to Brandeis’s ethos, its interdisciplinary contributions to the Brandeis community and beyond, as well as strengthening the liberal arts at Brandeis.” It received over 25 pages of signatures.


On Leonard Bernstein’s official Instagram account, Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein posted a letter that they sent to Brandeis’ Board of Trustees. The letter bemoans the closing of the music doctorate programs and expresses disappointment that Brandeis made the announcement on Leonard Bernstein’s birthday. Leonard Bernstein was involved heavily in the promotion of Brandeis University shortly after its founding, and was responsible for the creation of the university’s Arts Festival and has a scholarship named in his honor. The letter calls the decision to “cut off at the knees” Leonard Bernstein’s contributions to the university “rash and short-sighted.”

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