Music Department chair resigns amid budget cuts

Daily Sundial

Music Department Chair Diane Roscetti has resigned following a budget dispute and notification from the college dean that she and the department were subject to an early evaluation, according to faculty and staff members from the department.

The early evaluation of Roscetti’s three-year term by Dean William Toutant of the College of Arts, Media, and Communication was announced publicly during a meeting with Music Department faculty on Oct. 21, shortly after Roscetti had been notified of Toutant’s decision, according to Roscetti and Music Department faculty and staff.

Roscetti became chair in Fall 2004 and would have been up for review following a full three-year term under the normal timeline. Toutant said he would not pursue the early evaluation in light of the resignation, which was confirmed by the college Tuesday. Toutant said he would move forward in finding an acting chair for the department.

News of the early evaluation was made public during a meeting between music faculty and staff and Toutant that focused on actions the faculty could take to help the music program retain its shape and strength in the face of a second consecutive year of heavy budget cuts.

The meeting was called by faculty members who expressed interest in finding out more from Toutant about the department’s budget situation, which had grown worse in the second year of cuts, regarded by many university administrators and faculty as the most severe in the three years of reductions. Several faculty members in attendance said the meeting provided some information about the department’s situation, despite whatever poor communication that existed before.

The meeting ended with the announcement by Toutant that he had called for the early review of Roscetti as chair. Shortly thereafter, Roscetti sent an e-mail to Toutant announcing her resignation, which faculty and staff confirmed.

No official reason for the early evaluation has been made public, and Toutant and Roscetti declined to comment further, as the matter involves active personnel.

“The Music Department faculty have been, and continue to be, actively engaged in the process of making required budget cuts, while maintaining as much of the integrity and structure of the programs as possible,” Roscetti said in an e-mail to the Sundial. “Through the most serious budget constraints, the well-being of our students is our primary concern.”

The College of Arts, Media, and Communication experienced a cut of approximately $493,000 this year, according to Toutant and the college’s manager of academic resources, Cathleen Fager.

“This is the result of the fact that the state budget was in extremely very bad shape, and that simply trickled down to the CSU, then to CSUN, then to each unit within CSUN,” Toutant said. He said that the problem for making cuts in the College of AMC was unique because its programs are very equipment and performance-intensive.

According to the college, the Music Department’s operating expenses budget for the 2005-06 academic year was cut approximately in half from 2004-05.

Additionally, the department’s part-time faculty allotment was cut about 15 percent this year, according to college officials. Operating expenses and part-time faculty are the only real areas the college can cut from during budget shortfalls, officials said.

The department’s percentage cuts in those areas fell in line with what the other departments in the college experienced, according to Fager and Toutant.

Faculty and college administrators both stressed the fact that the entire university is feeling the effects of a CSU budget crunch that has contributed to increased fundraising efforts, packed class sizes and a reduction of part-time faculty utilization across campus.

Music is widely considered an expensive program by faculty and administrators because of its reliance on one-on-one private lessons, equipment and facility usage. In the wake of three consecutive years of cuts, some faculty said they worry openly about the future, which was the original purpose of the Oct. 20 meeting.

“Music does a lot of one-on-one instruction,” Toutant said. “That is not the most cost effective way to conduct a budget.”

A majority of people interviewed said they did not know what prompted the early evaluation, but many suspect it was tied to the department’s continuing need to make budget cuts on schedule in accordance with the college. Some faculty, staff and students expressed displeasure that they did not know what was going on within their own department, prompting one professor to comment that he was not happy to be learning all of his information about internal personnel matters from students.

A group of students from the music program met Oct. 27 to discuss what some had heard through various channels at that time: that Roscetti is now up for early evaluation.

“The overall consensus of the group is that an early review is unfair,” said Kenny Williams, senior music performance major.

Williams and other students at the meeting said they did not understand what had happened with Roscetti. Aware of budget cuts that have already started to affect students across campus, the students said Roscetti and the music faculty did a good job of keeping students away from “the bureaucracy” that comes along with budget cuts.

Matt Keating, senior music performance major, said he was aware of how the second year of budget cuts were supposed to be the worst for academic programs, but was surprised when things never got that bad for students.

“They said things would be bad,” he said. “A lot of it didn’t happen. That’s why it’s so weird.”

Several students said Roscetti had done a good job of making herself available to them and their concerns. Williams and Keating said hundreds of music students passed around a petition to request that the early evaluation not take place, prior to her official resignation.

“She never made us feel like our ideas were unimportant,” said Crystal Fischer, another student in the department, who added that Roscetti was very available, constantly opening her office door and walking around the first-floor hallways in Cypress Hall.

“A lot of (department) chairs have been through a lot this year in terms of handling all the cuts, and she was no different,” said Mary Reale, head of public relations for the department.

Some faculty members have pointed to the possibility of a communication problem among college officials, the chair and faculty members about what needed to be cut and when.

“The confusion (about the early evaluation) is there for all of us,” Roscetti said. “Yes, there are deadlines, and yes, we try to meet them within the understanding of exactly what they are. The (communication) issues go beyond specific instances, to an overall situation that is difficult to work in, most certainly for a new chair external to CSUN.”

“Unfortunately, for some reason, there’s a communication problem,” said Matt Harris, professor in the Music Department. “For some reason, things don’t get down to the faculty.” Harris said one example of this had to do with faculty being unsure of how many private lessons would need to be cut to fall in line with budgetary demands.

“We’re almost being asked to do administrative things, but we’re just the faculty, and we’re not given the information (that) administrators have,” he said.

Music professor Dan Kessner said communication between the college and the department had picked up a lot in recent months, but that prior to that, communication about the cuts was not that effective.

“We didn’t really know the extent of what we had to cut,” he said.

Kessner said the way Roscetti had handled the budget cuts decision-making process, through discussion with the faculty because of the department’s shared governance policies (implemented prior to Roscetti’s arrival), was a good thing, even if it was not the most efficient way of getting th
e cuts done on time.

“The (shared governance) process was experiencing growing pains upon my arrival, but the faculty are now making decisions that require them to be informed,” Roscetti said. “They are doing a fabulous job, and they understand the dean’s needs for deadlines to be met.”

Toutant expressed similar sentiments about the faculty.

“For the most part, I’ve been amazed how resourceful and cooperative the faculty have been (during this process),” Toutant said.

A music professor who preferred to remain anonymous said the budget cut problem may have been compounded by some sort of friction between Toutant and Roscetti, and that the miscommunication reached a point where Roscetti felt she needed to resign.

Music professor Elizabeth Sellers said the different perspectives of both administrators and faculty need to be looked at to understand any communication between the two. Administrators view things with a larger perspective, she said, and faculty are actually “on the street,” interacting with students on a day-to-day basis.

“At this point, we don’t know what we’re going to do,” Sellers said.

Kessner said the faculty is trying to determine what cuts can be made in the program for next semester. He said faculty members are discussing parts of the program that people could “try and do without” if need be, including the re-examination of which music students are offered state-sponsored private lessons.

“There’s nothing final. But we think we’re finding ways,” Kessner said. “We’re getting close.”

Kessner said a number of full-time faculty members already had taken on overloaded classes and that program offerings had already been reduced.

“We’re being professional about it, with the department chair in taking care of the problem, little by little, to make things work,” said John Roscigno, music professor. “Unfortunately, it means shrinking the faculty and fitting more students into less classes. And that’s basically what it boils down to. And I don’t think many people are happy about it at all.”

Some professors and students see the budget cuts as potentially shaping the future of the music program in terms of faculty and student development.

“I feel like I’m on a sinking ship,” said one music professor, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The professor said the department is getting to a point that cuts suggested are signaling a program that is getting worse with every turn.

“You want to create an environment where faculty want to say and feel good about what they’re doing, and I’m not sure that’s happening in our department.”

Sellers said that due mainly to the hard work of faculty picking up the slack with extra workloads, the quality of education has remained high.

“I don’t believe it has affected the students,” she said.

“(Regardless), there’s a severe budget cut that’s here to stay,” Harris said. “We have to keep the integrity of these programs while making these cuts.”

The group of students that met Oct. 27 stressed the fact that the quality of their education had remained high, and many of them attributed that to the faculty and to Roscetti.

Williams, one of the students, pointed out the effect an early review or resignation could have on the students and the positive progress made recently in the department.

“My concern is that with all the controversy, it will hold everyone back,” he said.

Roscetti declined to comment over the phone, but in e-mail communication with the Sundial said the faculty are pursuing budget cuts with students in mind.

“The students in the Music Department are special and unique and have exhibited exemplary attitudes through frustrating times,” she said. “The faculty is doing everything possible to make responsible choices that will minimally impact these fine students.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at