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Susie Jones retires due to actions made last year by administration

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December 9, 2011 | Living Arts | 1 Comment »
 


Many people feel the number thirteen to be unlucky or ominous.  For music instructor and jazz band director Susie Jones, this will be her thirteenth year and possibly the year that proves to be ominous.

It will be her last at MHCC.

Jones, an MHCC alum and current jazz instructor, is officially retiring at the end of fall term. Her classes — keyboard harmony, jazz band 1, music theory, symphonic band, jazz improvisation and private lesson coordination — will be taught by “a handful of part-time instructors . . . for the rest of the year,” said Jones,  “[They’re] very quality people.  I’m pleased with who they were able to pull together to teach my classes.”

Music instructor and performance director Marshall Tuttle said, “Well, I’m happy for her, but it’s bad for the school and department.  Certainly, they can get someone to replace the job, but not the person.  She’s the best colleague I’ve ever had in my entire career.”

Dave Barduhn, music instructor and jazz ensemble director, said of her replacements, “Well, the interim part-time replacements will possibly be fine and we will do our best to stumble on.  Unless a vibrant full-time replacement happens soon, things may not survive.”

Lack of program exposure

Jones’ decision to retire began as a result of last year’s contract negotiations between the full-time faculty and the District Board of Education and college administration. And, when the music major and transfer degree vanished entirely from the 2011-2012 catalog and the college website, her decision was catalyzed.

“Without our knowledge or discussion with the music department, it (the music program) was removed from this year’s catalog.  If you look here at your programs and majors,” said Jones pointing at the 2011-12 MHCC academic catalog, “there is no music.” She added that if students look at the school website for the music major in the programs of study section, they would not find music.

“So a student who thinks that they’re interested in music, might want to major in music here, does not see we have a music program and therefore is going to somewhere else. We still have under the course listings, some music classes.  So, what they’re saying is, music is a collection of classes.  There is no music major,” she added.

Janet McIntyre, dean of integrated media, performing and visual arts, said, “The college vigorously supports the Music Department, the students studying music and department faculty.  Music combines the intellect, emotion and physical expression essential to a vibrant, healthy community.  This past year music faculty have been working diligently to establish articulation agreements and letters of transferability with their four-year university colleagues,” adding that changes in the program that show department information and curriculum and course descriptions will appear in the 2012-2013 catalog.

“Our goal is to assist our students in achieving a rich and relevant education at MHCC and to also provide appropriate associate degree options to enhance transferability and students’ continued success in their field of study,” said McIntyre.

Barduhn said of the negotiations, “Most of last year, the music department felt under attack and under siege, that we were being disrespected.  I can tell you, I love this job, coming and making music with students every day.  Last year wasn’t about that. It was about defending ourselves. It wasn’t a happy place.  That being said, a lot of the damage the administration has gone down,” adding that a lot of the damage done is irreversible. He did add that key personnel changes in the administration have given the music department hope.

Jones said of the new presidential search, “My understanding is the new president won’t be selected for quite some time, that Dr. Hay is going to be with us for two years. In that time, if changes aren’t made, the music department won’t last.  We can’t wait that long.”

Talent grants redistributed

In addition to the removal of the music major from the catalog and website, last year’s administration also took away the music department’s talent grants that came from instruction, which is the financial umbrella the music department falls under. The other financial umbrellas are athletics and co-curricular.

“Between last year and this year, while the overall amount of talent grant money awarded by the college went up $85,000 and while athletics saw no cuts and co-curricular saw no cuts, all performing arts talent grants were eliminated.  That was without any discussion from us,” said Jones.

The performing arts’ talent grants, were also taken away, according to Jones, to “equalize talent grants over a broader instructional area.”

“Board policy and regulations state that tuition waivers should be evenly divided among three areas: instruction, co-curricular and athletics. However, disbursement was not equitable. Last year, the college made a commitment to adhere to policy and regulations. Consequently, we now offer four tuition waivers to each dean per term, for disbursement to students. This process is more beneficial to students because it creates a massive opportunity for a large number of students to receive tuition waivers,” said director of communications Maggie Huffman in an e-mail Tuesday, adding that instruction allocated 73.5 waivers per each term with 70.8 for co-curricular and 71 for athletics.

Incentive accounts

The music department also used to have special accounts called incentive accounts. According to the college website, incentive accounts exist, “to encourage students and staff to be creative about developing income producing activities which will provide funds separate from the College budget to enhance their College areas.”

“Our primary fundraising activities are the festivals that we run, where we charge entry fees for schools to come and participate, which became a money making event for us, where we would in turn use that money to do things like fund our CD recording, bring in guest artists, buy instruments if needed, those sorts of things that wouldn’t be covered by the general fund of the college,” said Jones, adding that “last year, the college closed down the incentive accounts of the Jazz Band, Symphonic Band and Jazz Choir and transferred all the remaining balance into the general fund and we have no access to that money. They took nearly $20,000 from us that students raised, that we can’t touch.”

Classes that are required for music majors were cancelled without any notification or discussion with music faculty,” said Jones, adding that a student, not the administration, reported this to the music faculty.

The music performing groups were also not allowed to perform off campus last year, although this year the groups are allowed to perform off campus, except it is still under the administration’s decision-making process.

Future of the program

“The cumulative effect of that, to me, spells the death of the music department, and if those things aren’t changed, I don’t know how the music department can survive, in my opinion,” said Jones, adding that student enrollment dropped by about a third according to her estimates, most of those being first-year students.

“Another non-recruiting year will be very hard for us,” she added.
Barduhn said, “They also gave away our music scholarships, which has been devastating. Even if we got half of our music scholarships back, I could see a future in a way the program has succeeded for 45 years.

“The environment that the previous president and board have created over the last few years is not jazz friendly, with examples being that the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival was evicted from campus three years ago, KMHD was evicted, partitions to our jazz program, that’s a theme.  Our campus was known for its jazz, that Susie and I have worked our tails off to maintain it, it’s not appreciated as it should be,” he added.

Administrative appeal

In a May 2009 press release from the board meeting on May 13, in which the board unanimously voted to move KMHD to Oregon Public Broadcasting, then MHCC President John Sygielski said, “We are excited about this new partnership and the many opportunities it will create for our current and future students through internship opportunities with OPB’s radio and television stations. For KMHD, the City of Gresham, the College and those who have supported it for almost three decades, this agreement ensures a more stable and robust future for all who greatly enjoy the station and its jazz format.”
McIntyre said of the tuition waivers, “For many years (decades) the vast majority of waivers intended for instruction (which is the area that the music department falls under) were primarily going to music students. Students in other areas of study with financial need or who demonstrated academic excellence did not have the same opportunities for these waivers. In order to make the distribution more equitable and reach out to a greater number of students; starting this academic year, the Board approved to distribute the waivers across all divisions and departments giving priority to those eligible students who reside in the district” She added that faculty are “in the process of working on alternative strategies and club activities to increase scholarship opportunities for our music students.”

Jones said, “All of these things happened without our knowledge. You can kind of describe it like, when looking at the music program the administration was kind of like thieves in the night. They came and took a program away behind closed doors; they were not very out in the open.
“I would hope that the current administration would rescind the destructive actions of last year and restore the music program to its previous successful level,” she added.
“It was never a big announcement or obvious move to eliminate the music department. It was more like tearing off limbs and watching us bleed to death,” said Jones of the administration’s actions.
Jones and the rest of music faculty met with vice president of student success and enrollment services David Minger and vice president of instruction Christie Plinksi and interim President Michael Hay separately in order to address their concerns.
“We (Jones, Barduhn and Tuttle) met with them (Minger, Hay and Plinksi) regarding our concerns and we are waiting for an outcome,” said Jones.
Looking back on her time at MHCC, Jones is not quick to forget the successes of the music department. She made a partial list 46 alumni from the music department at MHCC who have earned their living in the music industry at one point or another.

That list includes performers such as Chris Botti, a Grammy-nominated solo trumpet player who has performed with likes of Sting, Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon; Peter Dyer, who played keyboard for Mariah Carey; and Ben Wolfe, who played bass for Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.  The list also includes alumni who now teach music from New School for Jazz in New York to University of Denver to David Douglas High School.

Jones said, “This is just a partial list. We just got started making it. It’s pretty substantial,” adding that many of them would attribute their success to their education at MHCC.

Festivals

Jones has coordinated two festivals — MHCC Symphonic Band Festival in March and the NW Jazz Band Festival in May — at MHCC for the last 12 years. Although students do most of the work, meaning very little cost to the college according to Jones, the MHCC Symphonic Band Festival is not happening this year because the high schools that would’ve been involved are already booked.

The newly formed Mt. Hood Jazz Club this year is intending on holding the NW Jazz Band Festival.

The aforementioned CD recordings resulted in seven of the 12 CDs being picked up by the label SeaBreeze.  The 2005 recording received a national award for being on of the top 10 campus CDs and two other CDs received first-round Grammy nominations said Jones.

Jones also helped the Jazz Band take six trips to play events in Taiwan, including the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung.

“The primary focus for me has always been helping students be successful and reach their potential.  My secondary goal has been to promote the program and the college,” said Jones.  She estimates that the festivals she coordinated over the 12 years have brought MHCC and the music program to around 30 thousand prospective students interested in the campus as a whole.

Before and after MHCC

Prior to working at MHCC, Jones worked at 16 other schools in the David Douglas and North Clackamas School Districts as an itinerant music teacher before MHCC.  She was a student here in the late 1970s before going on the University of Portland to get her bachelor’s of music education and masters of music and composition degrees.
“I enjoyed every age level.  They each have their challenges and rewards.  I think it was probably best to end at the community college level, rather than start there, because you can see the progression. If you start teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade and then you teach middle school and high school and then community college, you can see where those community college students come from so it gives you a better understanding of what they’re bringing into the classroom,” said Jones.
“I’ve always had a passion for the college and especially the music department. And when that job became open, I was at a point in my life where I thought it was a good time to make the move to my dream job. Teaching music at Mt. Hood Community College was my dream job,” said Jones of her career experiences, adding that she came to the realization that teaching at MHCC was her dream job while a student here.
In her spare time, Jones still plays tenor and alto saxophone, currently with the Art Abram’s Swing Machine Big Band. She said she has played with many other bands throughout her years, many of them big bands.
“I still gig,” she said, adding that she probably will never stop playing music.
As a result of the actions of the last year’s administration and their decisions regarding the music program, Jones will retire and live out her retirement doing, in her words, “anything I want.”