Recent financial convulsions at The University of Akron led to the inclusion of the classical guitar major on a list of 55 majors recommended for elimination from the institution's course offerings. This list was offered by the administration to the press in February in a way that could only be construed as callous and indifferent to the faculty, our educational programs and even the basic mission of the university.
The announcement indicated that the cuts were merely a proposal, but the press minimized that part and it was widely assumed this decision had been made, and that, therefore, there would be no more classical guitar at U Akron. Rumors began to fly. People contacted me from far and wide lamenting what they thought was the end of my job and the program there.
The proposal itself was the purported result of a nine-year administrative cost-benefit-analysis study. The faculty, in turn, was given only weeks to respond. We were told that we could try to defend our programs if we wished, and that a final decision would be made by the Provost in late April.
I immediately gathered materials to defend the guitar major. I assembled a comprehensive list of every student who ever majored in classical guitar during my 33-yr. tenure, whether or not they graduated and with what degree, and what they are doing now, that is, whether or not they were still in the field. This list had to then be subjected to statistical analysis so I could indicate what PERCENTAGE of guitar enrollees had graduated, etc.
I assembled additional proofs of "worthiness"--a complete list of all the composers whose chamber works involving other (non-guitarist) musicians had been performed there; a complete list of the guest artists who'd visited Akron for concerts and master classes (over 100); information about the presence of classical guitar materials in our library--more than for any other instrument, and about the GFA Archive, housed at U Akron since 1989, and a reminder of the special endowed scholarship, established by a wealthy alumnus solely for classical guitar majors. I enumerated community and campus outreach activities by students and alumni, the countless recordings, websites, teaching posts, scholarship, luthiery, retail activity and of course concert careers of alumni.
In addition, I solicited letters of support from numerous alumni and professional colleagues and was thrilled to get many excellent and flattering letters supporting the program. In various ways, these letters stressed the perceived national prominence of the program, and enumerated the many positive impacts it has had on the field both regionally and nationally.
The defense was handed off to a deliberative body, our Faculty Senate. It was considered by a small committee who then prepared a report for the entire Senate. This committee was unanimously in favor of salvaging the guitar program, and stated as much to the Senate, which then voted to remove guitar from the cut-list in its recommendation to the Administration.
This sounds like a win, but it wasn't. It was merely the recommendation of the faculty. The final decision was purely in the hands of the upper administration, and they could easily cut the program anyway, in spite of the recommendation. Nevertheless, it was reported to the press that the Senate voted to keep the guitar program, along with 12 other of the 55 majors originally listed. I was delighted to see in the news piece the following:
“ 'Although small, this program [Classical Guitar] has achieved national recognition for its excellent quality, thanks to the acclaimed work of Professor Stephen Aron,' according to the faculty panel. He was the only faculty member named in the faculty recommendations…" (Akron Beacon Journal)
Still, though, this was not a decision. In spite of this fact, rumors again began to fly. People started congratulating me. But I knew better. Until a final decision had been made by the University President and Provost, and was approved by the Board of Trustees, it was not clear the program would survive.
I finally got word last week that I had won. The upper administration would accept the Faculty Senate's recommendation and remove the classical guitar program from the cut-list.
I want to send a special thanks to my many colleagues and alumni who took the time to write on behalf of this program. These are strange times at the "academy." Inappropriate economic models are being applied to higher education in many states, with almost universally detrimental results. These economists have a hard time understanding the value of one-on-one instruction, the basis for serious collegiate music education. And guitar is always going to be low-hanging fruit in these battles. The major ensembles can succeed without us. Targeting us looks like an easy cost-saving measure.
But we guitarists know better. It helps when we stick together like this, and make a loud noise. In this way, there seems to be a chance of success. As in the recent and very similar experience (and success) at my alma mater, the Hartt College of Music, we succeeded here in Akron. Thank you, thank you!!!
Here's to many more years of classical guitar at The University of Akron!!