This article came to my attention this morning. While number 3 doesn’t apply to me (and is very impressive), numbers 1 and 2 do to a certain extent, and number 4 really applies.

I have written before about the problems inherent in our discipline; I am still working on formulating part 2 of that particular discussion. So, consider this part 1.5 – You Are Not Alone. This discipline of music theory is wider than you would know from examining our journals (which showcase a fairly wide discipline to begin with).


I had the good fortune to read this essay by someone who is currently teaching at my Alma Mater. It resonates with me, because it points to a couple of flaws in the current system of training college professors.

First of all, in what is supposed to be the great equalizer, we still privilege a very narrow few universities and colleges over all others. A certain amount of that is understandable, as places like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford et al have access to means of getting better labs/buildings/resources, funding for grad students, etc. Still, I would put my MSU education – especially in my major – up against anyone, anywhere, anytime. I might not be able to match them class for class or skill for skill, but it is precisely that experience which has allowed me to succeed. When we say, “Oh, you only teach at a regional state university or a small liberal arts college or a community college,” we are, in effect, saying those are not real institutions of higher education. This is grossly unfair to the students and to the faculty.

Secondly, our PhD programs are guilty of this (arguably more than anyone else). What does a PhD program do, in essence? It gives you the skills to be a researcher at a research university. Most PhD programs do nothing to prepare you to be a faculty member at an institution other than a research university. This does a huge disservice to graduate students, as there are only so many research university positions out there; it further does a huge disservice to all the non-research universities out there. (To be fair, some PhD programs are trying to remedy this.)

Essentially, we do ourselves no favors when we marginalize professors like Dr. Skallerup-Bessette, anyone tenured or tenure-track at a non-research university, or those who are not on the tenure track and/or those who adjunct. When we say that they can be replaced by MOOCs, we are saying, “You don’t count as an academic.” Folks, that’s most of us.


The title is accurate for the meetings I’ve been running, as I make sure everyone has their own agenda before we start. (I send them out via email.)

Today’s topic is everyone’s least favorite part of their job: meetings. I had two this morning back-to-back, and had to “lead” the second one. No one ever seems to enjoy this part of the job, but I have found that making sure everyone is well-prepared and no personalities try to dominate make for happy, quick meetings. We disposed of six little things in 15 minutes, and could spend the remaining time getting inside a particularly thorny issue. I am pleased to report we came away with some fine plans that are easily implementable and will have a positive impact on the program.

Academic administrators at any level – even my “Temporary Honorary Colonel” referenced above – should have the following as their primary goal:

What can I do to make sure our faculty can engage in their teaching, research, and service to the best of their abilities? If the faculty can do their jobs, the students benefit by having engaged, professionally-satisfied teachers and mentors. I know there are those who might disagree with me, but the faculty have to be at the center of any academic enterprise. Maybe that’ll change when and if I move up the ranks, but for right now, that’s how I feel.

Oh, and concerning students: I refuse to think of the students as “consumers.” Rather, they are students. A university has no customers.


Here’s an interesting story about credential inflation, and I believe it highlights a disturbing (but sadly not new) trend from the Socialism For Corporations, A Hobbesian Dystopia For The Rest Of Us brigades.

Back in the proverbial day, when we had tax rates on the highest earners even I think were too high but somehow had unprecedented economic growth, companies used to hire people right out of high school and then train them in the ways of the company. Sometimes, they would seek out graduates of vo-tech programs, then give them a few months training themselves – with pay – and put them out on the line.

Of course, that’s not the case now. Why? Easier to outsource to higher education, looks better to the big shareholders (bigger dividend, don’tcha know). Meanwhile, as a college professor, I deal with kids who are not prepared for college-level work (none recently, for the record) but who feel compelled to go because jobs that shouldn’t require the BA/BS now do.

Because the article featured the field of dental hygiene, I sent the link to a dear friend who is a dentist. Here is a quote from his reply:

As you are no doubt aware, in response to the rapid rise in healthcare costs, there is considerable shift from the physician or dentist down to lesser trained individuals, such as the nurse practitioner, etc.

I believe this goes right to the heart of the matter. Someone – and it certainly isn’t the faculty, I can tell you – is making money on this, and thus has a vested interest in keeping it this way. Until you solve that particular issue, I fear this will not change.

On an ancillary topic, I sure wish that aforementioned dentist would blog. His interests are wide-ranging and fascinating.


This article resonated with me, because I understand why the author feels the way she does.

Believe me when I tell you this – and I tell you this not to elicit sympathy (as I recognize that I have had it so, so much easier than so many people) nor to brag or humblebrag: When you grow up academically-inclined in an area that is not particularly understanding of or sympathetic to those who are so inclined, you fight these battles. There are many, many things about my hometown and my upbringing that I love, and I would not be the successful, mostly-stable person that I am today without those aspects (including an informed love of country, a strong moral code and a thorough grounding in basic education).

However, no one would ever mistake Bedford, Indiana for a place that nurtured young scholars. It is a decent enough small town and county seat, and if one knew where to look one could find a support network to indulge academic whims. But one must know where to look, and the community does not go out of its way to help you in that particular search. I am lucky in that I found that network, and there are teachers (some of whom I will now mention by name, because they deserve it; if your name isn’t listed and you feel it should be, I do apologize – Jane Goodwin, Loretta Bailey, Paul Hinman, Bill Tatom, Jo Stuckey, Dennis Whitaker) who encouraged academic rigor and success by their examples. I am also lucky that I had a family who tried to get it, though to be fair, they didn’t always. I don’t begrudge them for those occasional failings, as even people who have been around academia their entire lives often fail to get it. Still, explaining to people who think in terms of grommet bearings and socket sets that the work I do, while not physically taxing, is incredibly challenging and rewarding in its way is usually an exercise in futility. I take as much blame for that as anyone else, for there are times I failed to recognize that grommet bearings and socket sets are vital and important as well.

Some people are content to be where they are, and I envy them that contentment. Others must flee the nest, and I was very much part of that group. When “nerd,” “geek,” “smarty-pants” “too big for your britches” and the like are the words most people use to describe you, and your only crime has been liking books more than basketball*, it does tend to sour one on a location. I fought back with the tools at my arsenal. I developed a quick wit – some would say “biting” – at an early age, and I will cop to a certain smug superior attitude at different times. It took a long time to accept that, while it will always be where I’m from, it is probably best for all involved that I’m not living there.

I’ve made my peace with Bedford, and I keep that peace primarily by minimizing interactions, but it will likely be an uneasy peace for my entire life. I love my home and my family, and as many of you know they are inexorably tied to the community (though Dad did say if he was a few years younger, he would be looking to buy some land up here in Minnesota, as the soil is so rich and black); because I love them, I feel it necessary to stay away most of the time, lest old wounds with the community be reopened and my bitterness spill over into relationships that I value.

Wow. This was harder to write than I thought, and it also turned out longer than I thought.

For further reading: William Pannapacker’s stimulating “A Class Traitor in Academe” and Alfred Lubrano’s Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams.

*In Indiana, this is a capital crime.


I’ll admit up front that this may seem a little hypocritical, as I remain convinced there is a very real chance that, had this mindset been in place when I applied for my PhD, I probably would not have been admitted. So it is easy for me to say “there are too many of us!” when I have already gotten across the finish line.

Having said that, I do think perhaps we turn out too many PhDs for the academic world.

However…perhaps we need to do a better job convincing folks outside of the ivory tower – and potential PhD students – that a PhD is more than just a path to an academic career. Further, we need to be serious about that. We cannot shake our heads and withdraw support when a PhD student decides to pursue a career that is not exactly like his/her adviser. We cannot shirk our duties to the world at large. (This also ties into my belief that we need more public intellectuals, not fewer ones.) We need to offer a PhD program that both trains the future faculty and leadership of the academy as well as the future business, political and economic leadership of our state, our nation, our world.


I have submitted – and am optimistic that it will come to pass – a proposal for a new course. This will be an undergraduate music theory seminar. First topic: 20th century analysis. I recognize this is an involved topic, so I’m trying to think of ways to narrow it slightly.

By way of background, our students get a rudimentary knowledge of atonality and 12-tone music in the second half of Theory IV. I also add a little bit of minimalism into the mix, and the year always ends with an in-class performance of In C.

These are what I’d like you, Gentle Reader, to think about:

(1) Given a seminar for undergraduates, what topics do you think are appropriate? An overview of techniques that would help them with the totality of 20th/21st century music, or paring it down to one to three ideas and working the heck out of them?

(2) The class will meet twice a week for 100 minutes at a time. I am thinking that, say, Tuesday meetings will feature discussion of the readings and Thursday meetings will feature analysis projects. Thoughts?

(3) Any recommended books/articles? I do like Miguel Roig-Francolí’s Understanding Post-Tonal Music, but I will admit to a certain bias: Miguel was and is a faculty member at CCM, and was both on my dissertation committee (and always helpful and appreciated) as well as a colleague for a year.

(4) I remember taking Danny Mathers’s Copland seminar at CCM back in 2000, and the seminar included a performance component (though added after the fact and at the instigation of the students in the seminar). Do you think a seminar such as this would benefit from a performance component?

I look forward to the discussion.


This week, I’ll be starting research on a new and exciting composition project. Bulletins will be issued as events warrant.

Also, I’m going to force myself to do more work on my Rocky Horror paper, even as I no longer think it’s going in the direction I thought it was and thus won’t be submitting it for publication at the originally intended place. I am going to salvage it, though, and make sure it gets out there somewhere.

I think it’s time to get the Susannah paper into a place where it can be published as well. Any and all suggestions as to a good journal for a paper on (American) opera and philosophy are appreciated.