Seeing the Light


Guest Commentary: Full Review Needed

For six of the thirty years I spent on the Drake University music faculty, I was the Department Chair. I got the job by being the least objectionable of the two or three people the department and dean felt could do it. It’s a lousy position. You’re not a dean, director, or even department head. You have all the responsibility but none of the real authority. Everything is supposed to be accomplished by consensus, not decree. The best thing that can be said about it is that, like hitting your head against a brick wall, it feels so good when you stop.

During the first year, I could get away with the Sgt. Schultz (Hogan’s Heroes) response, “I know nothing, nothing.” The second year was the big trial, because the department was scheduled to go through an every-ten-year re-accreditation evaluation by the National Association of Schools of Music, the agency that determined the department’s fitness to exist. The procedure is time-consuming and exhaustive. Every aspect of the operation is examined – every degree curriculum, course, faculty member and physical facility and equipment. It also must include a section about where the department hopes to be in the next ten years. The final report is at least an inch thick. The culmination is an on-site visitation by a team of two music executives from other well-respected schools who sit in on classes, lessons and student performances to be sure we were really doing what we advertised. (The idea being that a performance major really ought to be able to play and an education major ought to know how to teach.)

It’s a double-edged sword. A poorly-functioning department could lose its accreditation, but a good one can get ammunition to present to its own upper administration for things that needed to be funded better. For as big a pain as the whole process is, the primary benefit is that you got a complete, unvarnished picture of where and what the department really is – what you’re doing right and what needs to be improved. All things considered, it’s a very good thing.

This brings us to last week’s Sand Paper editorial. In it, Missy Layfield described the town’s Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan as “out of date stilts supporting our community.”

More than twenty years after both documents were drafted, we’ve come down to patching them with duct tape and baling wire, fixing every “glitch” as a reaction to something, usually bad, that has happened –  often after it has cost the town a pile of money. A self-study, like the one described above, could do the town a world of good. The LDC and Comp Plan, as well as every ordinance in the book, planning and permitting procedure, Council and staff handbooks, as well as physical facilities and equipment should be scrutinized as well so we get a clear picture of what we are, what we have and what we need to be doing. We had a thorough review of the Town Charter a few years ago which cleaned up a number of redundancies and some conflicting and outdated sections. The rest of the operation deserves such a study. It would be time-consuming and exhaustive, but worth the effort. I’m not suggesting tossing everything out and starting at square one, but a close, thorough and calmly executed look can only be good.

By the way, in case anybody cares, the Drake Music Department passed its examination with flying colors. The evaluators’ biggest complaint was the smoking lounge in a hallway that everybody had to walk through to get from one end of the building to the other. It was removed immediately.


Jay Light