‘Con Council’ hosts student-faculty forum

Conservatory students are taking initiative to call attention to concerns they have about their school. 

The Conservatory Student Council — known as Con Council for short — hosted an open student-faculty forum at noon on Feb. 20. The forum was designed to allow students to pose questions and concerns directly to Conservatory faculty and administration. Approximately 20 faculty members and 30 students were in attendance. The hour-long discussion encompassed a variety of topics, ranging from academic and music performance-related issues to broader questions about the power of student voices in the decisions of the school. 

Casidy Reed, junior music education major and vice president of Con Council, planned and moderated the forum. The idea to hold a forum arose when Susan Van Vorst, dean of the Conservatory, approached the Con Council about the overall morale of the Conservatory community. 

“I came to them to just see what they were feeling, and what their feelings about the pulse of the Conservatory was from the student perspective,” Van Vorst said.  

Reed said that she had noticed “tension” in the Conservatory long before Van Vorst spoke to the Con Council. She said she felt much of this tension resulted from “faculty conflicts” and “politics,” which lead her to feel that students “were no longer the main focus” of the school. She said that while the recent campus-wide discussions about sexual misconduct and Title IX issues “partially” prompted the forum, she felt that there were other problems in the Conservatory that also needed to be addressed. 

“I think there are a lot of other issues going on in the Conservatory that aren’t just Title IX problems, and I think that we really need to bring those into light…they’ve been ignored for way too long,” Reed said. 

Students questioned at the forum whether the feedback they provide — both for current faculty members in end-of-semester course evaluations and for new faculty hires during the search committee process — is valued or taken into consideration by the Conservatory. Other concerns included the selection process by which students are chosen to be showcased on convocation recitals and the confusion regarding the reporting process for Title IX issues. 

Many of the questions were submitted to the moderator prior to the meeting and read anonymously. Reed said that she believes many students chose to ask questions anonymously because they worried about the possibility of negative consequences for speaking out. 

“My biggest worry, as a student, was saying something and getting backlash from faculty members about it, which I think was a lot of people’s concerns at the forum, which is why a lot of people didn’t really speak out right away,” said Reed. 

Faculty members at the forum said that students will not face repercussions for calling attention to issues they perceive in the Conservatory. 

“There are no ramifications for having your voice heard, for saying what you believe, whether that’s for you guys as students or us as faculty members,” one faculty member said at the forum. 

Reed said that a theme that was highlighted at the forum was that some students feel that their voices aren’t being heard by Conservatory faculty and administration. She hopes the forum helped students feel like they had an opportunity to voice their concerns. 

“The overarching thing is that we just don’t feel like our opinions are being heard, and that’s why I started this forum,” Reed said. 

Conservatory faculty and administration emphasized, both during and after the forum, that they value student feedback and are committed to addressing student concerns. 

“It’s very important to me that student voices be heard,” Van Vorst said after the forum. 

Josh Ryan, professor of percussion and chair of the woodwinds, brass & percussion department, said that many of the concerns raised were ones he had “heard about before.” He said he appreciated the opportunity to directly discuss these concerns and would like to see more forums and conversations in the future. 

“It’s rare that we can stop to talk to each other,” said Ryan. “I think it’s probably a good corporate practice to have shared discussion time like that.” 

Destinee Siebe, junior music history major, also found the forum to be helpful and informative. 

“I definitely am walking away as if I had learned more about how my Conservatory works,” said Siebe. “I would like to see the forum again in the future.” 

Reed said forum was a “productive conversation” even though she felt like they “barely scratched the surface” of many of the issues. She said that to continue the discussion, the Con Council is looking to host another forum as soon as next month. 

“Honestly, I think this should be a regular occurrence around here. I don’t think it should just be this semester and then it goes away,” said Reed. “Even after I graduate, I would like to see Con Council do these things more often.” 

Van Vorst said that she “absolutely” supports the efforts of the Con Council to continue to promote these discussions, and that she is proud of the work they have done so far. 

“I really applaud the students for caring so much about the Conservatory community, and I think that it is certainly a positive [thing], and I very much value their leadership.”