School of Music cuts leaders, irking students

In an administrative restructuring, contracts for two top spots weren’t renewed.

Anne Millerbernd

Sylvia Reilly needed some convincing before she chose to pursue her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota. Anne Barnes, the former primary adviser and assistant department director of the School of Music, was a key factor in the music therapy major’s decision to attend the University.

But today, Barnes’ office is empty. The University notified her in May that her contract wouldn’t be renewed because the assistant director’s position had been cut as part of a leadership restructuring — an upsetting and frustrating decision, many music school students said.

The school’s director, David Myers, also won’t be returning to his position –– as he wasn’t reappointed –– but will continue at the school as a faculty member.

Scott Lipscomb began serving as the School of Music’s interim director Monday. Staff members were told Lipscomb will lead the school until it completes an international search to fill the spot for the long term, said the school’s communications manager, Lisa Marshall.

The leadership change is a part of a leadership reorganization initiative in the College of Liberal Arts.

CLA wants more uniformity across administration in its schools, said CLA communications director Kelly O’Brien. To that end, she said, the School of Music will pare down to only one leader.

“[The two administrative positions have] been functioning as dual leadership within the School of Music for some time,” O’Brien said, “and that can be challenging because you want to have a leader who is clearly the one who sets the vision.”

CLA and the School of Music haven’t finalized a new leadership organization, Marshall said, and the school still has to decide who will take over Barnes’ administrative and advising duties.

Students, faculty and staff received an email from the school Tuesday informing them about Barnes and referring them to various advisers and staff members.

“Anne Barnes has been reassigned,” the email said, “but will continue to work with School of Music leadership on class schedule and enrollment issues, faculty loads and new course proposals, as well as assisting with ensuring proper scholarship and TA assignments.”

In the meantime, Barnes said she’s working from home.

University policy allows employees who have served in their position for six to 10 years to continue working for six months after their contract is not renewed. Barnes was the assistant director for about nine years, she said in an email interview, so she can remain employed at the University until mid-November.

Despite all the changes, Marshall said the school still has the students’ best interest in mind.

“Because we have a strong student services office, I think the student experience will continue,” she said.

Reilly, who is now a sophomore, said the lack of transparency through the restructuring process caused students to mistrust the administration. A Facebook group called “Students Supporting Anne Barnes” shows comments from students who were upset and confused by the reorganization. 

“The manner in which her position was taken away, I think, [will] have the greatest effect because now I don’t have a lot of trust for the school of music administration or CLA’s administration at all,” Reilly said.

According to the Facebook group’s page, five students met with CLA interim Dean Raymond Duvall on May 20 to discuss the situation and their concerns.

Moving forward as changes continue

Performance junior Mitchel Stahlmann said Barnes removed him from the wait list and admitted him to the school, something he said Barnes did for other students as well.

Barnes was good at her job and always knew students on an individual level, Stahlmann said, but he’s not too worried about the change.

“She basically created every student’s schedule and created everyone’s curriculum,” Stahlmann said. “It’ll take adapting, but at the same time, I never had the most personal relationship with her where it really changed my academic career at all.”

Because Barnes was the music school’s primary adviser, O’Brien said many students are concerned about who will guide their studies in the future. O’Brien said someone from CLA’s advising team who has experience working with students in the arts will be dedicated to the School of Music once the restructuring is complete.

“In terms of the availability and quality of advising, students shouldn’t see any change,” O’Brien said. “It just means that they’ll have, perhaps, a different person that they’ll be talking to.”

Barnes, who is currently working to complete her master’s degree in higher education at the University, said her family has strong ties there, so she plans to seek other employment opportunities within the University.

“I have strong feelings about the U of M, and would love nothing more than to continue to represent it to the best of my ability,” she said in an email interview.

Reilly said Barnes was her only adviser who understood her needs, and earlier this month, Reilly said she was frustrated that the students hadn’t been formally notified.

“As a student in the school, if there’s significant restructuring going on, I would like to know,” she said, “so that if I find that the program is no longer going to serve me well, I can find another program at a different school.”

Students have since been notified of the leadership changes, Marshall said, and will be continually updated as the restructuring process continues.

Barnes said she felt privileged to have worked with students at the School of Music.

“I miss them terribly, I am so proud of the good I know they will do in this world, and I wish them nothing but the very best as they pursue their dreams,” she said.