Friday, September 15, 2006

Mi Vida Loca! Part II: My fight with beurocracy and Da Man... (Repost from MySpace)

I am going to be very careful about how I word this, because a wise mentor of mine once said not to put ANYTHING on the internet you don't want someone to find eventually…

Am I crazy, or isn't a university's goal to educate their students, prep them for their careers, and get them OUT WORKING IN THE REAL WORLD?!?!?

I have been going to Wayne State University for 13 years for my bachelor's degree and state certification in music education. I have been a music education student from day 1. I have not changed majors, nor have I ever decided to STOP pursuing my goal of being a certified public school music teacher. I have, admittedly, had several personal bumps along the way that have nothing to do with Wayne State. Marriage, kids (both worth the degree delay), jobs, money troubles, etc., have all made this trek towards my BA and certification a slow and arduous process.

As of late, however, it seems that the powers that be at good ol' WSU have decided to completely block any and all attempts for me to accomplish said goal.

4 years ago, I was anticipating graduating in Spring 2004 – roughly 6 years behind most of my classmates. This didn't disturb me much, as I didn't have the benefit of rich parents, a trust fund, or significant financial aid. However, since delving headfirst into my courses and attempting to plow through my degree at as close to full speed as my schedule, life, and finances allow, Wayne State has managed to come up with about every speed bump and obstacle they can find to prevent it.

There have been mysterious, unspecified complaints about my classroom behavior resulting in my transfer from my practicum assignment without explanation or appeal, course requirements that have changed mid-stream, lost paperwork and the like constantly popping up and further postponing my graduation, and now the biggest blockade – my private lessons.

I have about 2 semesters of classes to take to graduate, excluding lessons. I need 8 semesters of a 'C' or better to graduate. I have 4, despite having taken and paid for 8 so far. I took lessons with Ron Kischuk back in da day (93-95), and always passed with a 'C' or 'B'. He was a nice, easy goin' jazz player. Comfortable to work with and fun to discuss methods with, even if his ego was the size of Wisconsin, I worked well with him and progressed well.

Upon my return to Wayne after a brief financial hiatus, Ron was gone and I was assigned to Ken Thompkins – the lead trombone for the Detroit Symphony. A remarkable player, and a decent enough guy outside the 'biz'. However, from day 1 in lessons, I was constantly made to feel inadequate, unprepared, and above all – a waste of his time.

In college, he was a performance major. All of his students (other than myself) have been performance majors. This requires a level of playing ability I could never hope to achieve, even if I wanted to; a level of dedication to one's playing and a time commitment I could never possess. The world of professional performers is ridiculously competitive and getting more so by the day. These musicians need to be taught and rehearsed to prepare for that world.

I am a music education major. I am a fairly decent trombonist, when properly warmed up, relaxed, and prepared. I have NO plans or aspirations to make a living from playing my horn. I am also NOT a 20-year-old with lots of free time and parents paying my bills and tuition, bailing me out of time and financial difficulty. I am an adult, husband to a busy and working wife, and father of 2 with 3 jobs.

Yet, Ken seems to believe that he should have the same standards and expectations of EVERY student, regardless of their background, current ability, situation, or personal or professional goals. He seems to have no regard for anything his students think, want, or need (aside from occasionally acquiescing to a scheduling change for the lesson). He only has his goals, his standards, his outcome, and his perceptions of how things should be. 'Your graduation – or for that matter, education – is not my concern. If you're a student of mine, you must play to a certain level,' is the only impression or attitude I seem to get from him. Regardless, as much as I hate it and think his expectations and treatment unfair, I was prepared to have to press on if it was the only way to my degree. I would try and see if there were other options, through the department regulations and proper hierarchy and chain of command.

Back in May, my dear wife, Sonya, attempted to contact my old teacher, Ron, to see if there was a way for me to take lessons with him over the summer and have them credited toward my degree. This used to be a possibility in the early 90's, provided the teacher was approved by the department. He imparted that he would be on staff at Wayne again and I may be able to take lessons with him again. I never said word 1 to Ron Kischuk. This was all done as a surprise birthday present for me.

Since then, the word has circulated around the department that I am a renegade, trying to usurp the system and weasel my way out of the credits by going behind everyone's back. By rumor, conjecture, and hearsay, they have determined that I will not follow the rules, and therefor they will make it that much harder for me to graduate because of it. Yet, no one asked me to explain, confronted me with the situation or said a single thing to me. I only heard a rumor from a friend and colleague that I wasn't very popular with the department right now.

As if this unfounded resentment and treatment of me weren't enough, a new development has made the idea of lessons with Ken, quite simply, impossible.

I was selling a euphonium on Ebay for a friend. He had no Ebay account and my Ebay rating was good. It was a Willson – a very nice, professional horn. He eventually sold it to one of his old students and had me pull the listing. The next day, Ken sent an e-mail to one of the salesmen at the music store I work at, asking why I was selling a Hirsbrunner (not a Willson) euphonium on Ebay and why I suddenly pulled it.

Hirsbrunner is one of the brands the store I work at sells exclusively. There is no other place to get, and more to the point, no way I could afford it. Naturally, this made my boss suspicious, and I was called away from a band camp to explain myself. I explained it was NOT a Hirsbrunner, but a Willson, and it was for a friend, even going so far as to print out and SHOW them the listing and give my friend's number. Situation over, thankfully, at work.

Never the less, Ken's lie (pardon me - factual inaccuracy) nearly got me fired, and quite possible worse had I not had the evidence that Ken's information was inaccurate. Why he LIED to my BOSS about a situation that clearly would at least result in getting me fired, if not arrested, and was CLEARLY out of the scope of his role as a teacher, I won't (publicly) presume. Regardless, it was unprofessional. I will bit my tongue and take lessons from a teacher I don't like if it means my degree, but I WILL NOT take lessons from someone who almost caused, through deceit or misinformation the loss of my livelihood.

I don't enjoy my lessons with Ken. After several semesters with him, and by his own account, I don't seem to progress with him. At this point, I loathe and resent my lessons with him, which makes progress even more unattainable. I don't enjoy dreading every hour I spend under his disapproving glare, critical sighs, overwhelming workload, and contemptuous attitude. I don't enjoy wasting the credit fees, registration fees, and departmental fees semester after semester while I get no closer to my degree. In my entire tenure with Ken, I have passed his course only once – when he wasn't there for the jury. Despite this, I was willing to keep trying, if that's all I could do. Now, however, I will not accept him as my teacher. If it means transferring to another university after 13 years and re-taking several classes, so be it.

More on the Music Department's response to this situation to come...

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