Feature > Friends of UE Music

Three months after UE publicized its draft realignment plan, UE Music announced that it would be transforming into the UE Music Conservatory rather than facing elimination. For all who rallied in support of UE Music and other at-risk programs, the news brought their hopes to reality. But this happy ending was only possible through the quick response and collaboration of UE Music and its community network.

When President Pietruszkiewicz unveiled the drafted realignment plan on December 10, music faculty were shocked to see their department slated for elimination. But within twenty-four hours, they began channeling their frustration into a counter proposal with the help of their long-standing fundraising partner, Friends of UE Music

“We really presented this as a joint proposal between the department of music faculty and the Friends of UE Music,” Dennis Malfatti, professor of music and department co-chair, said.

Their plan to rescue the program relied heavily on increased donations gathered through Friends of UE Music, who aim to double their fundraising in the next year from $35,000 to $70,000. The organization is optimistic about this goal after seeing the community push-back against UE Music’s proposed elimination.

“I think some people are realizing that they may have taken for granted in the past what we have in terms of the music program…I know that there have been some people that have come forward now that have not financially supported the department before, and then through this event have decided to,” Tad Dickel, Friends of UE Music board president, said.

            Friends of UE Music saw a comparable uptick in donations about five years ago, when the organization discovered a surplus of fundraising opportunities lay outside the bubble of UE Music alumni. At UE, students of all majors have the chance to perform in instrumental ensembles, and many younger students in the community receive lessons from UE Music students and faculty. Dickel and his colleagues found that people with less traditional ties to UE Music were often just as ready to donate as music graduates, because the department played a similarly large role in their lives.

            Strengthening community ties also underlies the department’s new identity as the UE Music Conservatory, a rebranding that will build on and open up existing opportunities beyond campus bounds.

            “The word conservatory can either mean a school of music that offers degrees, or it can mean a community music school…so it shows that we are continuing to offer the same five degrees we normally do, the ensemble experience both to majors and non-majors, but now also this community piece for high school students and adult learners,” Malfatti said.

            Fundraising alone wasn’t enough to ensure the survival of UE Music, so the groups who worked on the counter proposal had to creatively find other sources of revenue. Without a fine arts magnet school in the area, there is a demand for advanced music education, which the conservatory plans to fill by working with local high schools to develop dual enrollment courses. The department is interested in targeting adult learners as well.

            UE Music also hopes to attract students with an improved performance venue to replace Wheeler Concert Hall, which was built in 1961. In August of 2019, a burst coolant pipe destroyed the stage floor and ceiling and damaged several important instruments.

            “The funny thing about that is, having facilities is important for your major. I would think if you’re majoring in one of the hard sciences, you would want to make sure that the laboratories are of sufficient professional quality to warrant studying there, and same thing with music,” Malfatti said. Instead of diverting the department’s needed revenue, Friends of UE Music has created the Wheeler Concert Hall Fund to raise money for this renovation.

            Because UE Music was able to adapt, none of its faculty will face termination, but sacrifices have still been made. Positions within the department will be phased out through planned retirements, and revenue from private lessons, which usually goes directly to instructors, will be redirected to maintain the program. Faculty are also very conscious that although their department continues, many others are still slated to be cut.

            “One of the things this realignment plan has done is, it’s actually allowed the faculty to have much more connection with one another across departments than we’ve had in the past,” Malfatti said.

            This interdepartmental collaboration can be largely attributed to the UE chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which over half of UE faculty members have joined since it was formed in September. The UE AAUP has outspokenly opposed the realignment plan through its Save UE campaign “to restore shared governance” in decisions impacting the university’s academic programs, including the music department’s proposed elimination.

            “Of course we also recognize that this is just one piece. There’s still many other departments we don’t know about. We’re a part of the team, so we want to be supportive of those departments, too,” Malfatti said.

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