Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire At Interlochen

The past several months have been a very traumatic time for me with regard to Interlochen, and the past few weeks have been the most wrenching.

Since publishing the first series of articles about the flawed decision making process used to eliminate the challenge system I’ve received numerous email messages from individuals associated with Interlochen telling me dozens of different, equally flawed procedures the camp’s President, Jeff Kimpton, and Director of Music, Michael Albaugh have implemented.

In confidence, I am not able to reveal much of those details without exposing individuals and therefore putting their jobs at risk. But fortunately there are some details I can talk about.

Remember back to my original articles when I outlined how Director Albaugh created a new level of academic bureaucracy. One of the flaws I pointed out in that decision was that Director Albaugh simply appointed people based only on whether or not they saw eye to eye with his views.

There was no input from faculty members (some of which have decades of service), some weren’t even informed that these coordinator positions had been created.

When I interviewed Director Albaugh I asked about the functions of the Area Coordinators. At that time he said their function was to improve communication between his department and the faculty members and to participate in strategic planning sessions.

What Director Albaugh apparently left out of that description is that these individuals have also been given the authority and responsibility of evaluating the faculty members in their area. These evaluations are what director Albaugh will be using to determine whether or not to renew faculty contracts for the following summer.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with evaluating your faculty members, but don’t you think that you would want an evaluator to be among your most experienced and successful faculty members?

But instead, Director Albaugh’s insistence on selecting faculty members based only on if they agree with his pedagological philosophy. So what Interlochen has ended up with is younger faculty members with little to no full time orchestra or soloist experience “evaluating” senior faculty members who have experience in orchestras such s the National Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Florida Philharmonic, San Antonio Symphony, the U.S. Marine Band, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

These evaluations include the following topics:

I. Teaching effectiveness A. Systematic, clear and organized presentation B. Promotes open communication, information and ideas C. Responsive to various levels of student abilities and learning styles D. Meets all assigned classes/lessons for the appropriate amount of time except in case of illness or emergency E. Maintains respectful atmosphere conducive to learning

II. Student Welfare A. Outlines a program of study with clear expectations and manageable goals B. Assists and is accessible to students in helping to meet needs and solve problems C. Exhibits high professional standards D. Maintains confidentiality with personal information, and communicates with appropriate personnel in a timely manner

III. Service and scholarly work A. Active in professional field B. Promotes and supports cross-disciplinary….. C. Participates in dept meetings and programs D. Maintains cooperative relationships with dept staff E. Supports the institution by striving for personal and programmatic excellence

For each category, the evaluator assigns the following three ratings:

  1. Exceeds expectations
  2. Meets expectations
  3. Below expectations

The evaluator can leave individual remarks and then they have to make one of the following three recommendations and answer one possible follow up question:

  1. Eligible for rehire
  2. Do not rehire
  3. Conditional (If conditional, state the steps to be taken to become eligible for rehire:)

The one aspect of these evaluations I have not been able to determine is whether or not there are any written criteria which the area coordinators use to administer the evaluations.

Given Director Albaugh’s previous actions throughout the decision to eliminate challenges, I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t.

But reasonable people would assume that professionals are going to behave like professionals and there isn’t anything sinister behind these actions.

And all things being equal I would agree, but things are far from equal right now. At the beginning of the summer session, President Kimpton held a meeting with the faculty and staff where he announced that 1/3 of the people in the room would not be returning next summer.

Then, shortly before the end of camp faculty and staff members, many of which have been working at Interlochen for decades, were told to completely clear out their summer housing. Since many faculty and staff members return to the same housing year after year, they leave some of their things behind so they won’t have as much to travel with the following summer.

This is a serious indication that these evaluations may very well be used as the “justification” to remove veteran faculty along with many newer members that don’t see eye to eye with President Kimpton and Director Albaugh.

I hope these area coordinators will realize that by filling out and submitting these evaluations, they are setting themselves up as potential scapegoats if things get out of hand.

It doesn’t take a blind man to see what’s going on here. And this mess is just the tip of the iceberg.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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