Reader Response: Ethical Dilemma At Interlochen

I recently received a note from an individual who asked to be identified as “a former loyal employee” of Interlochen. They have some intense viewpoints regarding the decisions made by the new administrators over the past year.

As such, they recently submitted an essay they’ve written on these subjects which they hold dear to their heart:

Missing from Interlochen: Ethics

The dictionary defines ethics as an unwritten code of conduct that asserts the moral principles of the society.  Does music education have any ethics?  Most public school systems have a written code of ethics for employees and students.  Employees are given the list and are legally held responsible for understanding and following these written rules.  Why is it important that these rules of ethics appropriate and fair expectations for everyone are written down?   It takes the legal and personal issues out of the formula.  You have what is expected of you in writing and if you follow these rules and are given a positive evaluation of your teaching, your job is intact.

Ethics inserts into one’s teaching career the element of honesty. This means that only through facts, observed and written down, can a person lose his teaching position.  Even then a person that is accused of unethical behavior or has an observable teaching weakness is given the opportunity to defend himself or improve the teaching problem.  For the past year there has been a serious breach of ethics, written and unwritten, by the administration of the Interlochen Arts Camp.

Ethics requires honesty. Honesty requires facts.  At Interlochen Arts Camp, faculty and staff have been blatantly lied to by the administration and even by some of their teaching peers that are in department head positions.  Observations and written evaluations have been administered unfairly and under false pretenses.  Communication between administrators and employees has been impersonal and incomplete.  Faculty members with teaching credentials that far exceed their evaluators were given highly positive evaluations even told they were recommended to be rehired only to find out that they were not needed for the summer 2005.  They were informed that the curriculum and
scheduling made it necessary to create a different position that they could not fill.  In truth, new faculty were hired to do the exact same positions and the position titles on the new contracts remained the same as in years past.

Besides all of this, former employees have had to stand by helplessly and hopelessly during interviews and written communications from IAC that included outright lies, distortions of the facts, and unsubstantiated statistics.  This is the false view that is being given to the public.  It is true that Interlochen “summer” employees that were not rehired for this coming summer are hurt, angry, and bitter. However, the reasons behind these feelings are the lack of honesty and fairness by the administration with regard to the employees.  Telling a group of highly qualified and dedicated teachers at the beginning of the 2004 IAC season that a certain percentage of summer employees will not be rehired for the following year because of camp curriculum and scheduling changes and then rehiring employees for the exact same teaching positions, is an unethical manner in which to treat an educator.  Interlochen refuses to be honest, supposedly to avoid a lawsuit, but the truth is that music faculty members were not rehired for personal reasons, not professional reasons.  That is the truth behind the hurt and anger.  Why don’t you just tell the truth, Interlochen?   It may hurt, but at least it is honest.  I guarantee you that all 2004 music faculty employees would have gladly adjusted their teaching schedules and teaching salaries to continue to teach at Interlochen.  Many of the faculty members not rehired are the very teachers that have made Interlochen what it is despite the 8 week sessions, inadequate curriculum, and scheduling that we are now told are unacceptable.

The campers are the ones that will be hurt in the long run.  They will not gain the invaluable educational knowledge that comes from many years of experience and the establishment of expertise in a specific area that characterizes so many of the long-time, but not rehired Interlochen employees.  The old camp motto was “do more in less time.”  There was a challenging eight-week camp environment that instilled in its students an urgent desire to become better musicians or be left behind.  The new camp motto should be “less time, more money” to describe the shorter, more expensive, no-challenge camp experience that awaits the campers of 2005.

Interlochen, where are your ethics?

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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