In the spring semester of 2011, President Stanley announced to Think Magazine a new project in the works: the then separate fine arts departments would be brought together to function as a larger unit. Such a proposal came in the wake of prolonged state budget cuts. At a time when many speculated the need for departmental closures to maintain a balanced budget, Stanley’s response asserted the continued existence of the fine arts departments. Stanley insisted instead on the university’s need to find alternative ways to save money. He maintained, however, that the proposed “streamlin[ing] of administrative costs” in the fine arts departments had not reached final planning stages. Since that interview, the two departments rumored to have been targeted for closure in the Fine Arts, Art and Theatre, have been consolidated under one staff infrastructure. As it turns out, the consolidation of the Art and Theatre Departments is only stage one of a three step pilot program.
The ultimate goal of this pilot program is to turn the fine arts departments into what administration has called in a presentation given to the Music Department in October a “Shared Support Service Center.” The presentation states that administration has decided to “focus on departments in similar areas and geographic proximity” and, after identifying groups of departments in which sharing service can be viable, attempt to combine individual department services into shared support services. Departments would be more able to “maintain services” and “optimize the [number of] staff per faculty and student” through restructuring the responsibilities of department staff, cites the presentation. These plans to implement “Shared Support Service Centers” fall under one component of Project 50 Forward, President Stanley’s initiative to improve the university in the next 50 years, called “Operational Excellence.” The goal of “Operational Excellence” is to improve administrative performance by refining procedures, programs, and support services, says the Project 50 Forward website.
Nancy Squires, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and member of Project 50 Forward’s 17-person Steering Committee, explained that the movement to consolidate department services in the fine arts was catalyzed by a “critical event” last year when a major staff member in the art department took a job elsewhere. The Art Department then faced an “emergency” when it was left with too few staff. In response, a part time staff member took on the role of serving both the Art and Theatre Departments. Later, staff from both Art and Theatre departments decided that a faculty member from the Theatre Department should chair both Art and Theatre Departments. These two independent events which Squires said “had nothing to do with Bain [& Company consultations] or Operation Excellence” told Squires and administration that the fine arts departments, which had already had history of working together on projects and productions, were “a good place to start putting all the staff together to form a kind of shared service center,” explained Squires.
This summer, staff members of the Art and Theatre Departments took the first initiative to implement “Shared Support Service Centers” in the fine arts departments. During this first stage, staff focused on restructuring duties to facilitate the sharing of responsibilities and balance workloads in support services. In doing so, the Art and Theatre Departments chose to move into the same space to be in close proximity of each other. When asked if the Music Department will be given a similar opportunity to draft their own implementation of the “Shared Support Service” models over the course of the next two implementation stages, Squires said, “absolutely.”
Although Squires foresees no deadline to incorporate the Music Department into the “Shared Support Service” model already in place in Art and Theatre, the administration’s presentation does give a basic outline describing the process of integrating the Music Department. Preparations for sharing services in the Music Department will start in the spring semester of 2012, with Music Department staff members identifying which workloads can be shared across departments. Beginning in the fall semester of 2012, these shared workloads will then be delegated among all the fine arts departments.
Unlike the summer consolidation between the Art and Theatre Departments, however, permanent staff relocation of Music Department staff may be unnecessary. Squires reasoned that staff doesn’t have to be physically located in the same place because many of the shared service tasks can be done virtually.
The music students of Stony Brook University, however, have concerns with the plan to consolidate their department’s administrative services with other fine arts programs. Both graduates and undergraduates of the Music Department came together to draft a response clarifying these concerns. In its drafted response, music students describe the Stony Brook Music Department as unlike peer institutions like Columbia, Julliard, and SUNY Fredonia, which “acknowledge the administrative requirements” needed to serve a diverse set of degree requirements, including tracks in performance, composition, and history and theory. Instead the staff of the Stony Brook University Music Department has consolidated these administrative operations to deal with each diverse field of study and into one functioning unit. In this way, because the Music Department already operates within itself as a sort of “Shared Support Service Center,” students worry that further consolidation with unrelated fields like Art and Theatre will put the staff’s ability to address each music student’s varied and specialized needs at risk. Many tasks like recitals, dissertations, and orchestra performances require administrative approval. “These approvals require special knowledge of music program requirements, a basic knowledge of music, and an integrated approach,” says graduate music student Danielle Sofer. Under the “Shared Support Services Model,” the accuracy and efficiency currently sustaining the complex “logistical reality” of the Music Department will be impaired.
Music students also feel unable to voice their concerns about the impending implementation of shared support services in the Music Department. If the student voice is not being heard, “how are these actions in the best interests of students?” asks graduate music student Daniel Siepmann. Nancy Squires contends that these administrative reorganizations will not affect students negatively. “If there were any chance that the level of support for students would diminish, then we wouldn’t [be enacting these changes.]” Squires’ perspective is optimistic: she cites the ultimate goal of administration in implementing these “Shared Support Service Centers” to better serve students while concurrently improving staff lives.