I am not economically viable

I’m annoyed. I teach as an adjunct in a university music department. It’s not a full job and that is why I am posting this rant in my pseudonym space, rather than under my real name. I could lose it in the blink of an eye. Because I am an adjunct, I need to supplement my income by playing, teaching from home, and editing.

Music departments are strange beasts. They are expensive to run, since there is a small student-teacher ratio, considering everyone has to have private lessons on their instrument with a master teacher. For that matter, it makes online courses all but impossible, except possibly for music history. Theory and eartraining are practical courses in which the student needs to be constantly assessed, and especially in eartraining, class sizes must be small. There are several quite small courses that you need to take to become an adept, so you always end up over-loaded with credits as a student. That means they cut down how many credits courses are worth, to the point that ensembles (which are the most important) are worth 1 or even 0 credits. Of course, adjunct professors are paid by the credit hour. Say you are teaching an eartraining course that meets three times a week. You need at least a hour per class of prep time, plus you need to offer office hours for a specific length of time per week. If that is the only course you teach, you are probably being paid around $10 an hour. If you teach more sections of the course, you have less prep per class, but you are lucky if you can work that up to $20 an hour. The full-time faculty needs to teach the 3-5 credit courses to keep them up to load, which means the adjuncts are habitually paid less than a truck driver, who needs only enough education to get a driving license and physical skill to maneuver a truck. To teach in a university, a musician needs at least a masters degree (if they are a working musician) or a doctorate (if they are an academic musician). That more than equals the expense that a self-employed truck driver would have if he had to buy his own rig, and it took us 8-10 years of hard work and practice to get that degree.

Now states want to monetize the worth of university professors. I heard a report on NPR today that Texas A&M went through an exercise that analyzed the cost of each professor and compared it to the money each brought into the university. It was no surprise that professors that taught finance and engineering were rated the highest, but scientists (who need to fund labs) were ranked as net losers of money. The report didn’t even mention the arts, who were probably the lowest on the list. Scientists, at least, can attract grant money for specific projects, whereas, that just isn’t going to happen in music. There are cases where notable donors have funded programs, but those are usually music industry-related, and are only a miniscule (but public) part of a music education. Unfortunately, to be good at their jobs, they also need that not-so-public part of their educations. My parents pushed me into music education when I went to college. I wanted to play my horn and that was that, but instead they directed me into a “sure” job that paid almost nothing. A starting teacher makes on average about $34,000 per year, less in rural areas (in SD, it’s $26,000). Minimum wage is about $15,000 a year. Basically, teachers are down near the bottom of the pay scale, and they have to put up with students that don’t really want to be there, and parents that can act like idiots sometimes.

I never made it there. I’ve lived hand-to-mouth as a freelancer and editor, where I usually make more than that average teaching wage, doing things that I’m more interested in doing.

But I’ve digressed. You would notice it if there were no music around. Sure, people can self-teach popular instruments like guitar and drums (to a point) and some can get by without being able to read music. A select few will even go on to make it big. However, those who make it big are supported by the rest of us – the string players and brass players that needed to play on the backing tracks, the composers and arrangers who write the tunes, or at least put them in a form that the rest of us can comprehend. (Think of Paul McCartney going “do do-be do” while a real musician transcribes it for him.) Paul gets the royalties, while the people that did the real work get a (usually meager) salary. Yet, where would Paul be without all those sweatshop workers toiling on his behalf. I’ve nothing against him. He paid his dues in Liverpudlian and German clubs before the Beatles became famous.

Unfortunately, the bean-counters at universities see it differently. Money doesn’t filter back to the universities through well-off music graduates because there are so few of them. Hence, they see music departments and their poor slave-workers (adjuncts) as a drain on finances and therefore surplus to requirements. Thinking on a purely capitalist scale, survival of the fittest, would leave musicians out in the cold. In the UK, Universitites of Exeter and Reading dumped their music departments in favor of small “music appreciation”-type programs. I can’t remember the other departments that Exeter axed, but one of them was in the sciences. Chemistry?

The other way of thinking is the holistic approach (taken by Univ. of Texas at Austin in the same report). Every business has portions of it that earn money, while others cost money, yet are vitally important to the running of the operation. (Think of that guy who delivers the internal mail or that secretary who polishes the poor writing of their boss – I was one of those, once.) To run smoothly, all parts of the organization join together as a team. The profitable parts fund the less profitable, vital parts.

Yes, I could have studied finance or law, but I chose something more artistically fulfilling for me and hopefully those consumers of my skills.

We need skilled practitioners in all walks of life, not just those who earn lots of money. We need to have the government (and the bean-counters) recognize that not all value can be measured by the almighty dollar.

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