The Latest Interlochen Spin

The 2005 Arts Camp session is over; the final strains of Les Preludes have drifted away and now reside only as memories in the minds of those who were there this summer. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of spin drifting out of the president’s office as well..

The 8/20/05 edition of the Detroit Free Press featured an AP article which examines some of the events from the 2005 camp season as well as a great deal of commentary from Interlochen’s president, Mr. Kimpton (in addition to a brief reference to positions stated here in previous articles about Interlochen’s new administrative leadership).

The AP article quotes Mr. Kimpton who made the following claims, among others:

  1. The summer camp enrollment was in a “decade-long slide” when he arrived as president but now “camp applications jumped 15 percent the past year and enrollment stabilized.”
  2. The student-faculty ratio was 2:1.
  3. Some former teachers had “underperformed or taught courses that drew little interest” while others were “replaced by people with superior credentials or better suited to particular jobs”
  4. “This summer, we’ve not had one complaint about a teacher. Last year we had complaints all the time.”
  5. The challenge system was replaced because “I’d rather have students learn from motivation instead of intimidation”.

Many of these points have been examined at length in previous articles here at Adaptistration.

Challenges

For example, you can find a great deal of information about the process used to replace the challenge system and the numerous resultant flaws in the process in several articles in the Interlochen index.

Faculty Dismissals

The faculty issues have been a great source of debate and a real thorn in the side of Interlochen’s administration and board ever since the “Thanksgiving Massacre”  of 2004 when dozens of long-time faculty were unceremoniously dismissed via form letter, without any explanation from administrators.

Along with that fiasco is the 2:1 student to faculty ratio repeatedly mentioned by Jeff Kimpton as a source of Interlochen’s out of control expenses. This figure couldn’t be more skewed since the statistic includes not only faculty members but senior staffers and other summer camp workers as well. Cumulatively, the faculty makes up a minority percentage of that figure. As a result, the ratio propagated by Interlochen is merely an exaggeration to make the student to faculty ratio appear worse than it actually was.

Quality of Faculty

Mr. Kimpton’s remarks that some former teachers had “underperformed or taught courses that drew little interest” while other were “replaced by people with superior credentials or better suited to particular jobs” is perhaps the most destructive and misleading comment he made which the AP article reported.

In the AP article, Mr. Kimpton claims that some of the summer faculty who didn’t return left of their own accord for a variety of reasons which had nothing to do with the changes at the camp. However, given the fact that Interlochen has never provided any public explanation supporting why some faculty were dismissed, how are the present and future employers of non-returning faculty supposed to know if those individuals were part of what Mr. Kimpton claimed to be “underperforming” or if they possessed “inferior credentials?”

The professional classical music community is very small and reputations are central to a musician’s career. Comments reported by the AP from Jeff Kimpton could easily be considered careless and callous since neither he nor any other Interlochen representative has distinguished which faculty members were replaced and for which reasons. It would be interesting to know whether or not any faculty member who didn’t return between the 2004 and 2005 summer camp sessions could consider comments like that to be slanderous.

Regardless, Mr. Kimpton’s comments demonstrate what some could perhaps consider a complete lack of understanding of the performing and academic sectors of the classical music business.

Enrollment and Complaints

Going from a system which produced “complaints all the time” to one which produced zero is quite an accomplishment and any institution should be glad to examine those accomplishments publicly.

I’m looking forward to learning about the measures Interlochen used to solicit, process, and investigate complaints about faculty members from the last several summer camp sessions, since Jeff Kimpton’s reported comments regarding these issues are in contrast to what I’ve heard from others directly involved with the camp this summer.

Regarding enrollment, the claim that attendance had been in a decade-long slide contradicts what I have been told by Interlochen’s Director of Music, Michael Albaugh, in an interview from 2004. Nevertheless, this is another issue which can easily be cleared up by an examination of the historical attendance figures from 1995-1005.

Finally, Mr. Kimpton’s claim that enrollment for 2005 has “stabilized” is a little vague. Reports I’ve received from several sources that were on campus during the 2005 summer camp session have indicated that the attendance figures appeared to be noticeably lower than in recent years and much lower than in decades past. It would have been helpful if Mr. Kimpton had provided the AP article with the exact attendance figures for the entire camp as well as for each division. Nevertheless, those figures undoubtedly exist somewhere within the Interlochen administration.

Up until this AP article was published I hadn’t given much thought to examining these concerns, since Interlochen wasn’t making any public claims on these matters. As such, you can expect future articles examining these concerns and more over the next several weeks.

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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5 thoughts on “The Latest Interlochen Spin

  1. It is imperative that statistics re: this summer’s enrollment be published. In EACH DIVISION:
    how many campers went for 2 weeks?
    how many went for 3 weeks? how many went for 6 weeks?

    I have a friend on the ALumni Board, and he said that the “numbers” were skewed because of the fact that some campers were signing up for 3 2-week sessions, so it looked like there were 3 students, when it was only ONE student!~!
    Go figure!!

  2. Heh, it does look like Mr. Kimpton is skewing some of the statistics… My dad though, had some suggestions about the whole 6 week program and cutting out things like the Shakespeare Play…

  3. I am sure hurricane Katrina and everyone’s concern with the LPO has put a kink in your schedule, but this is just a friendly reminder that readers are patiently waiting for your follow-up articles on this topic. Thanks, Drew.

  4. We would love to see an updated article with blogs on where ICA is headed and what has happened there in the last 5 years.

    How many staff and faculty have left in the last 5 years. What new positions have been created to raise more cash. What is the budget?

    What is enrollment?

    Should ICA be a University?

    I would love to write some follow-up articles, unfortunately, ICA has not been willing to share information or unfiltered enrollment data. Nevertheless, should the time come where that policy, or those who make the policies, change I’ll be right on it. In the meantime, I recommend contacting Interlochen to insist that they adopt measures for increased institutional transparency. ~ Drew McManus

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