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ep1str0phy

Roscoe Mitchell Targeted for Dismissal at Mills College

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Hey, folks-
 
I know there's likely an open thread on Roscoe somewhere on this board--and out of deference and respect to the admins, please feel free to move as necessary. This issue is fairly urgent/critical, so I thought it necessary to grant it as much exposure as possible.
 
As many of you may know, I'm a Mills College alum--I was in the performance MFA, and I had the privilege of studying with and among the likes of William Winant, Chris Brown, Maggi Payne, Zeena Parkins, and many others. I worked very closely with Fred Frith and Roscoe Mitchell, and the time I spent with those two has greatly informed a lot of my subsequent endeavors.
 
Mills is undergoing some pretty severe financial troubles--a lot of this, honestly, tied to some terrible and very public business decisions and gross mismanagement dating back to my time and possibly earlier. All that being said, there have always been some tremendous people and minds working at the college, and since they're in such dire straits, it's basically open season on longterm faculty. Roscoe is apparently being targeted for dismissal.
 
I know that Roscoe must mean a lot to many of you here (for musical and/or personal reasons), and many of his recent creative endeavors have been tied to resources and relationships fostered at the school. Roscoe has been a big part of the prestige of the institution the past decade or so--not, obviously, the other way around. Roscoe would be Roscoe either way; Mills College without Mr. Mitchell would not mean the same thing to its student body or faculty. 
 
Please spread the word and consider the words of Chris Brown (added below, for reference). 
 
--
Subject:  Roscoe Mitchell targeted for dismissal at Mills College
 
I am hoping to reach everyone who has studied with Roscoe Mitchell
at Mills College, or who has otherwise been positively affected by his presence
at Mills and in the Bay Area, to inform that as part of its Financial Stabilization Plan
Mills has targeted his postion as well as the jobs of 10 other ranked and/or tenured faculty
for elimination, effective this July.  I am requesting that letters of protest for this action,
and support for Roscoe in his position at Mills be sent to the following administrators
as soon as possible:
 
Beth Hillman, President  of Mills College  email: ebeth@mills.edu
Chinyere Oparah, Dean of Faculty  email: jcoparah@mills.edu
Katie Sanborn, Chair of the Board of Trustees email: ksanborn@mills.edu
 
Please address the importance of Roscoe Mitchell to your education at Mills,
and describe how you feel his dismissal will affect the interest of other potential
students in studying music at Mills.  Including your personal experiences of
Roscoe at Mills will be very valuable.  
 
The history of financial problems at Mills is a long one, but this proposed solution
radically strikes at the heart of its reputation for innovation and excellence in the arts.  Roscoe
has been a leading composer, performer, and teacher since the 1960s when he
was a founding member of the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  His influence
on contemporary music has been strong and deep, both nationally and internationally.
Most recently his works for symphony orchestra have been performed by BBC sponsored
concerts in Scotland, in Iceland, New York, Bologna, and more.  It has been
an absolute gift to have him as a colleague in the Music Department.  Please help
us to appeal the plan to dismiss him from our community!
 
Sincerely,
 
Chris Brown
Professor of Music and
Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music (CCM)

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This is troubling.  My days "at" Mills predated Mr. Mitchell.  (I put "at" in quotes, since I was involved as a non-enrolled-student learner.)  Still, such a decision can only diminish Mills' reputation, the quality of its educational programs, and its role in the community.  And so I will write.  Thank you for making me aware.

For those who may not be familiar, the legacy of music education at Mills stretches back through Fred Frith, Anthony Braxton, John Cage (if I remember correctly), Dave Brubeck, Darius Milhaud and many others.  

 

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Is this the game now? http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/05/17/mills-college-declares-financial-emergency-as-financial-woes-worsen/

 

Quote

...some former students, including Kathy Schwartz, think the school needs to re-evaluate its purpose. Schwartz graduated from Mills in 1969 during a time, she recalled during a phone interview, “when you wore gloves and hats into San Francisco.”

“I’ve felt for some time that the Mills model was not sustainable,” she said. Why not transform into a highly technical community college of sorts that caters to East Bay residents? she asked. “Become something that’s practical and useful in the community,” she said, adding, “I’m sorry to see the school in trouble, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world.

 

 

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(Clearly) I speak on no one's behalf other than my own, but this mayhem comes on the heels of a series of deeply perplexing and questionable logistical and financial decisions on the part of the administration. This cost cutting is nothing new--the most public of these measures being the undergraduate dance department, which was saved by the raised ire of many alums and compassionate/interested parties--but it comes on the heels of years of questionable financial allocations with regard to both failed enterprises (the business school) and upper administration salaries. The tactical mishaps are manifold and extend far outside of the realm of these capital letter issues. 

The idea to make the school co-ed is really strange--and I say this as a man who was only granted admission into the school because the graduate music department is, well, co-ed. Stuff like this and the business school reflect the administration's extreme obliviousness to what makes the school unique--i.e., that it has long been a bastion for a certain kind of liberal arts education and (literal) psychology. Turning it into just another community college might not even save the school--it runs the risk of driving off both enrollees and faculty who have an interest in the intimacy and overriding philosophy of the institution. 

The long and short of it is that efficiently functioning entities like the music department have been saddled with the shit situation of the larger school's financial woes. The secret history of the place is that Mills College (and folks like Roscoe and Fred and Braxton and Zeena and so on) have been feeding the domestic creative music community for freaking years now. The broader list of Mills music grads both on the West Coast and elsewhere (NY in particular) is actually pretty mind-boggling--comparable to Wesleyan, for perspective. 

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I don't know what the answer is for Mills.  It was after my days that they first considered admitting men.  That was shut down but-quick.  To say that the place is "an institution" locally is a real understatement.   I suspect the same is true among womens' colleges.  By comparison, you could do all kinds of funky stuff to UC Berkeley (to pick a near neighbor) and it would still be Berkeley.  I guess giving up the legacy of greatness in music programs is an easier decision than something else.

 

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1 hour ago, ep1str0phy said:

The secret history of the place is that Mills College (and folks like Roscoe and Fred and Braxton and Zeena and so on) have been feeding the domestic creative music community for freaking years now.

And I get the feeling that there are a whole lot of people "waiting in the wings", and not just around Mills, who have long been waiting to put a stop to "that type of thing" and feel that their time is now.

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Maybe you guys have read the James Newton interview posted on Do the Math--among other things, he parallels the conservative turn in the politics of the 80's with the "conservative" turn in the music. I do think that in a financially conservative environment all sorts of art--including less demanding/historical fare--is imperiled, but there's something to be said for the notion that music that is particularly "strange" or "challenging" is often the first on the chopping block when this kind of stuff happens.

Bebop hits the nail on the head when mentioning the institutional importance of the college, and it's also worth noting that the balance of the arts programs at the school is very delicate. It's one of only a handful of national institutions where music that is (sometimes) self-consciously esoteric is given an environment to flourish. I cannot understate the value of spending one hour free improvising, the next running tonal analysis of Brahms, and the next woodshedding Nonaah with Roscoe giving me tips in person.

That's insane--and it's also the sort of thing that helps develop craft, rigor, and discipline. It's also helped me develop the tools to sustain life as a working musician, and I would not hesitate to send another burgeoning professional in this music to that same school. These programs--here, at Cal Arts, at Wesleyan--are rare, and they're worth protecting as both institutions of rare fabric and infrastructural viability. 

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I spoke briefly with Roscoe about this a few days ago. He was on tour and had no direct information but had hope since his position is an endowed chair.

Edited by Chuck Nessa

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I'm glad to hear that he's hopeful about it--I can't believe he found out about this on tour. All of the faculty has been pushing pretty hard for letter writing--and the extended community is pretty up in arms about it. 

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1 hour ago, ep1str0phy said:

Maybe you guys have read the James Newton interview posted on Do the Math--among other things, he parallels the conservative turn in the politics of the 80's with the "conservative" turn in the music. I do think that in a financially conservative environment all sorts of art--including less demanding/historical fare--is imperiled, but there's something to be said for the notion that music that is particularly "strange" or "challenging" is often the first on the chopping block when this kind of stuff happens.

Bebop hits the nail on the head when mentioning the institutional importance of the college, and it's also worth noting that the balance of the arts programs at the school is very delicate. It's one of only a handful of national institutions where music that is (sometimes) self-consciously esoteric is given an environment to flourish. I cannot understate the value of spending one hour free improvising, the next running tonal analysis of Brahms, and the next woodshedding Nonaah with Roscoe giving me tips in person.

That's insane--and it's also the sort of thing that helps develop craft, rigor, and discipline. It's also helped me develop the tools to sustain life as a working musician, and I would not hesitate to send another burgeoning professional in this music to that same school. These programs--here, at Cal Arts, at Wesleyan--are rare, and they're worth protecting as both institutions of rare fabric and infrastructural viability. 

I agree.  For Mills, what're they going to do, put in some high-zoot MBA program or some tech start-up venture capital thing that every college sees as "The Future", make-a-buck?  It wouldn't be Mills any more.  The place is the educational heart of Oakland (and one of its cultural hearts), one of the things that makes the city distinctive...and makes a 2 bedroom, 1,000 square foot house cost a million bucks.  

Edited by BeBop

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4 hours ago, JSngry said:

Is this the game now? http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/05/17/mills-college-declares-financial-emergency-as-financial-woes-worsen/

       Quote

...some former students, including Kathy Schwartz, think the school needs to re-evaluate its purpose. Schwartz graduated from Mills in 1969 during a time, she recalled during a phone interview, “when you wore gloves and hats into San Francisco.”

“I’ve felt for some time that the Mills model was not sustainable,” she said. Why not transform into a highly technical community college of sorts that caters to East Bay residents? she asked. “Become something that’s practical and useful in the community,” she said, adding, “I’m sorry to see the school in trouble, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world.

 

That quote is some sad stuff, but it shows where much - probably most - of college educated society is at today. It's also interesting and indicative of the article's slant that this was the one former student who was quoted as speaking about the situation.

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Similar problems here. Quoting financial pressures, University of Manchester has recently announced mass dismissal of academics in Arts/Humanities.

Sadly, the area I studied and worked in is invariably seen as the most expendable. :(

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10 hours ago, paul secor said:

That quote is some sad stuff, but it shows where much - probably most - of college educated society is at today. It's also interesting and indicative of the article's slant that this was the one former student who was quoted as speaking about the situation.

I guess that's the same all over ... and those same forces that scream for everything to be "something that’s practical and useful" are the ones that keep complaining that nowadays educational system does not produce "practical and useful" graduates any longer. Will take a few more years if not decades until the capitalists discover the mistake they keep pushing society to make, I'm afraid, but it's a sorry-ass state for sure. Everything gets boiled down to that "practical and useful" aspect, and whole generations (I guess were' into the second by now) with a university degree will not even learn the most basic (and most important) thing, namely to be able to evaluate things on their own, act on their own, take responsibility for their deeds and all that. So basic I guess in nowadays marketing speech it's simply forgotten, but the lack of this quality strikes hard.

And sorry to hear about Roscoe ... but coming at it from a different (and probably way too yurpeen) angle: At his age, shouldn't he be able to retire from teaching (that is: if he wants) and have at least some kind of pension coming from this?

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Many newly created administrative jobs over the past few decades have done nothing but to raise debt and tuition rates. Unless the graduate music program has had a cliff-like decline in enrollment, eliminating unnecessary administrative jobs should be the first priority.

 

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5 hours ago, king ubu said:

And sorry to hear about Roscoe ... but coming at it from a different (and probably way too yurpeen) angle: At his age, shouldn't he be able to retire from teaching (that is: if he wants) and have at least some kind of pension coming from this?

Many people can't given the 2008 financial crisis, which wiped out a lot of people's 401k and savings/investments here in the States.

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4 hours ago, clifford_thornton said:

Many people can't given the 2008 financial crisis, which wiped out a lot of people's 401k and savings/investments here in the States.

Even if Roscoe's 401K got wiped out in '08, he's still 76 and eligible for his full Social Security benefits, right? He should be able to retire if he wants to.

These days, it seems like so many people get stuck working until the day they die. It doesn't seem right.

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Here's an article that clarifies a bit of Chris's statements (above): https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/06/07/jazz-pioneer-roscoe-mitchell-marked-for-dismissal-at-mills-college/

Lest it go unsaid, the issue has nothing to do with retirement and something to do with whether or not a musician of Roscoe's caliber should have the right to dictate the terms of his own continued employment and exit. 

As the article mentions, this would effectively end the Milhaud Chair--a position started in 1978 that has brought a series of prestige hires to the institution. These individuals have been hugely important to the musical legacy of the department--Roscoe, Anthony Braxton, Pauline Oliveros, Lou Harrison, Xenakis, Alvin Curran, and Joelle Leandre among them. These are hands on teachers who have made an invaluable impact on the dynamics of the department.

A lot of the value of the department--the graduate program in particular--is predicated on students having the opportunity to work with these musicians. There is reason to be concerned for what Roscoe's possible dismissal means for both the quality of education in the department as well as the appeal for potential enrollees and the viability of future hires. Less immediately relevant but true: as one of my fellow alums pointed out, Roscoe is one of the most prestigious educators of color on the entire Mills payroll--and there's already a fraught history with this dating back to before he was hired. 

Two things to keep in mind: (1) mass outcry stands to make a difference in this instance, as it has in the past, and (2) this doesn't just have to do with Roscoe, whose legacy is unimpeachable regardless of the outcome of this debacle. 

This is in many ways the outcome of a long-waged war over the soul of both this school and the broader Bay Area. I'm an LA kid at heart but I consider myself an actual local, having arrived well over a decade ago and before the recent tech boom enveloped SF. Trust me, there has been tension with the school over overpaid admin positions and crappy business decisions for the entirety of my relationship with Mills.

It seems with every passing year that those in a position of influence out in these institutions are more and more oblivious to the content of culture and more preoccupied with keeping pace with the playground of gentrification that so much of the Bay has morphed into as of late.

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The World does not share our outlook on life.

On a great day, they welcome it as an additional perspective for them built on a different perspective from us.

On a good day, they tolerate it as a justificational lifestyle accessory.

On an average day, they remain detatchedly indifferent.

On a bad day, they declare war and hope to see it eliminated entirely.

You tell me - what time is it right now?

 

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3 hours ago, ep1str0phy said:

Here's an article that clarifies a bit of Chris's statements (above): https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/06/07/jazz-pioneer-roscoe-mitchell-marked-for-dismissal-at-mills-college/

Lest it go unsaid, the issue has nothing to do with retirement and something to do with whether or not a musician of Roscoe's caliber should have the right to dictate the terms of his own continued employment and exit. 

As the article mentions, this would effectively end the Milhaud Chair--a position started in 1978 that has brought a series of prestige hires to the institution. These individuals have been hugely important to the musical legacy of the department--Roscoe, Anthony Braxton, Pauline Oliveros, Lou Harrison, Xenakis, Alvin Curran, and Joelle Leandre among them. These are hands on teachers who have made an invaluable impact on the dynamics of the department.

A lot of the value of the department--the graduate program in particular--is predicated on students having the opportunity to work with these musicians. There is reason to be concerned for what Roscoe's possible dismissal means for both the quality of education in the department as well as the appeal for potential enrollees and the viability of future hires. Less immediately relevant but true: as one of my fellow alums pointed out, Roscoe is one of the most prestigious educators of color on the entire Mills payroll--and there's already a fraught history with this dating back to before he was hired. 

Two things to keep in mind: (1) mass outcry stands to make a difference in this instance, as it has in the past, and (2) this doesn't just have to do with Roscoe, whose legacy is unimpeachable regardless of the outcome of this debacle. 

This is in many ways the outcome of a long-waged war over the soul of both this school and the broader Bay Area. I'm an LA kid at heart but I consider myself an actual local, having arrived well over a decade ago and before the recent tech boom enveloped SF. Trust me, there has been tension with the school over overpaid admin positions and crappy business decisions for the entirety of my relationship with Mills.

It seems with every passing year that those in a position of influence out in these institutions are more and more oblivious to the content of culture and more preoccupied with keeping pace with the playground of gentrification that so much of the Bay has morphed into as of late.

Okay - from your point of view, what can we here - as a group and individually - do, if anything?

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1 hour ago, paul secor said:

Okay - from your point of view, what can we here - as a group and individually - do, if anything?

In all seriousness, it's a matter of rousing discontent and getting the word out. If anyone has a line on a news outlet in the Bay or elsewhere, getting an article published helps (I've been working on this). Emailing the parties in my first post is very useful if you're an alum, but outside pressure from others (whether it be press or fellow musicians or fans) can't hurt. Most of the dialogue has been on Facebook, but communicating about this on Twitter, Instagram, and so on is useful. This is in many ways a PR battle.

As for what you say, Jim--yes, I agree that the world does not share our outlook on life, but Mills has proven in many ways that it is a hospitable environment for that kind of outlook. It's astonishing just how many world class musicians have occupied Roscoe's chair over the years--Braxton, Xenakis, Lou Harrison, Pauline Oliveros, Curran, and so on. The systematic disassembling of that kind of positive atmosphere is troubling, since so few outlets are left. 

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1 hour ago, ep1str0phy said:

The systematic disassembling of that kind of positive atmosphere is troubling, since so few outlets are left. 

Sounds like the Institutional Fools squandered their leverage/currency and now the buzzards are circling.

Say what you will about buzzards, they tend to guess correctly. But not always!

Yeah, today is a bad day. I hate buzzards.

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just to add, most people bounced back from the 2008 crisis - anyone with a distribution that was not overwhelmingly in stocks in their 401k was not necessarily wounded too deeply.  There are a lot of ways to go in those kinds of investments. I'm retired and so is my wife, and our 401k's are solid.

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There are people who will tell you that "the market" has more than rebounded from where it was pre-crash. Now, when you ask them most of that rebound ended up....

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

There are people who will tell you that "the market" has more than rebounded from where it was pre-crash. Now, when you ask them most of that rebound ended up....

Did you mean to say "Now, when you ask them where most of that rebound ended up...."?

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