Music matters: Students invited onto UND president’s lawn for demonstration

GRAND FORKS -- Immediately after pulling into his driveway, University of North Dakota Interim President Ed Schafer walked right over to say hello to a group of about 30 students holding a demonstration near his home on campus Monday evening.

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During the demonstration by the music theory students Ed Schafer and his wife Nancy Schafer suggest the students perform on the front lawn of his house for his dinner guest as Senior Melea Hoeffner smiles at UND on Monday March 14, 2016. (Joshua Komer/ Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS -- Immediately after pulling into his driveway, University of North Dakota Interim President Ed Schafer walked right over to say hello to a group of about 30 students holding a demonstration near his home on campus Monday evening.

Soon after, he and his wife Nancy invited the group to move closer and as the sun began to set, students clapped and cheered to a revamped “Sweet Home North Dakota” for a group of legislators, university administrators and higher education officials.

The group was there during a State Board of Higher Education social to protest the suspension of the UND music therapy program, something event organizer Melea Hoeffner said had been done based on incomplete information.

“We just think that cutting the UND music therapy program is going to be detrimental to the entire music department," she said as those at the rally played music behind her.

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs said it wasn’t an easy decision, but she has already decided to not accept new majors into the program.


“I think this is the right decision for the college,” she said. “It’s not a popular one, it's not an easy one, and I understand why people feel so strongly about it, but the university can't continue to look like it does today under the budget realities we're facing.”

Storrs said students currently enrolled in the music therapy program will be supported through to obtaining their degree, something Schafer also said in emailed statements.

“I believe it was huge step forward for us,” Hoeffner said after the rally. “We got to hand out some information to the president, board members and others who are important figures in the Grand Forks community … and we just want to make sure they have those facts and the correct information. That’s our goal.”

What is music therapy?

Meganne Masko, director of the music therapy program, defined music therapy as the use of music to help clients reach specific therapeutic goals, but said it’s a lot more complicated than that sometimes.

Masko once worked with a woman who had terminal breast cancer to assist her in composing music for the weddings of her children she didn’t think she would live to see.

“Even though she can't be there, she can be there,” Masko said. “That was important to her."


music therapy became more mainstream in 2011 when on ABC News former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona credited the treatment, in part, for re-learning how to speak after a shot to the head damaged her brain. Giffords shared a video on her Facebook page in 2015 singing part of a song from the musical “Annie,” praising music therapy.

According to its website, the program has existed at UND for 16 years, producing its first graduate in 2004. North Dakota was the first state to pass a bill requiring music therapy licensure in 2011, somethin Masko said is important to protect consumers.

“The growth of music therapy in North Dakota has been a grassroots effort, an unbelievably successful grassroots effort,” she said.

Masko said there are currently 48 students enrolled in the program, making up almost 2 percent of the College of Arts and Sciences. Current enrollment is up from the 43 students enrolled in 2015 but down from the 51 enrolled in 2014.

Since Masko came to UND in 2011, she said every one of her graduates has gotten a job in music therapy or gone to graduate school like Anna Andersson, a 2015 graduate of the program now studying Swedish in Sweden who said she sees music therapy becoming more mainstream as healthcare becomes more holistic.  

“I understand it’s a budget issue but I don’t think that we can put a dollar amount on the positive impact of this program on the community of Grand Forks, the state and the university,” she said.

Masko said music therapy is useful for pain management, treatment for veterans and enrolled servicemen, end of life care and physical symptoms like anxiety and nausea.

One study in a 2006 volume of the “Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing” found patients treated with music therapy had reduced levels of pain and anxiety, another in a 1988 “Journal of Music Therapy” found the practice could assistant in adolescent recovery from chemical dependency and a 1997 study in “Music Therapy Perspectives” found it decreased perceived pain levels in chronic pain sufferers.


"We use art and music as a modality to help people,” Masko said. “What's not to get behind?”

Budget woes

But due to the state’s decreased revenue forecast, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple in January announced all state agencies would have to cut 4 percent from their budgets at and UND, this applied to state-appropriated money.

In early February, Schafer announced a bottom-up process of submitting departmental budgets cutting both 5 and 10 percent that would be passed up to respective deans, vice presidents, and ultimately to his desk April 1 for final considerations.

Overall, UND must cut $9.5 million from the ongoing 2015-17 budget and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences must reduce its own by $3.1 million.

UND music department chairman Michael Wittgraf said he gathered input in formal and informal gatherings and meetings to develop his budget proposal and suspending the music therapy program wasn’t part of the plan he submitted to Storrs, the dean, Feb. 24.  

“You try to generate things from the group up but certain things, as they move up, there are budget realities that I'm unaware of … it's just too bad that some bad things happened that are unexpected, but that’s the reality when you’re working within a budget,” he said.

Storrs said she made the decision to suspend the music therapy program partially because the one remaining tenure-track faculty in the program -- Masko -- is leaving to work at another university at the end of this school year.

“But it’s not like it’s anybody’s fault,” Storrs said. “Nobody is losing their job. They’ve chosen to leave and I’m happy for them.”

Former UND professor Andrew Knight was a tenure-track faculty member in the program who left in 2011. Storrs said she didn’t replace him because the American Music Therapy Association was considering requiring a master’s degree to practice, which would have meant considering whether UND could provide that educational opportunity.

In the meantime, Storrs said Natasha Thomas was hired as an assistant professor and while a successful search commenced this school year for another tenure-track faculty member, the announcement regarding budget cuts changed everything.

“We weren't going to be able to hire two tenure-track in any near future I believe that's what is needed to hold a program of that size,” Storrs said.

According to a Friday memo from Storrs to faculty, part of the plan for a 5 percent budget reduction will also include not accepting new students into the master’s in theatre arts and doctorate in communication and science disorders programs though those students already enrolled will be provided a path to graduation.

Other aspects of that plan include not filling staff vacancies as they come open.  

Fighting back

Masko brought up her concerns that the program might be cut at a budget forum in early March and the community was quick to respond.

Masko said she doesn’t think  eliminating the program will save any money and by Hoeffner’s calculation, tuition and fees from enrolled students annually.

Storrs said while keeping an instructor employed to get the remaining music therapy students through the program will not save money initially, she’s looking at future, long-term savings of eliminating two tenure-track faculty lines.

“It will change things,” she said. “It will change things in music and I recognize that but it’s the reality we're dealing with."

Several people immediately contacted Schafer via email. Rachelle Norman, a music therapist in the Kansas City, Mo., said she was devastated by the news, pointing out the department had identified it as a priority.

Mary Altom, the owner of Sounds Starts Music Therapy in Frisco, Texas, said it’s untrue that administrators are claiming they can’t retain qualified faculty in the program and wrote an email complete with references about the need for qualified music therapists across the country.

“Music therapy is a vitally important program to the citizens of North Dakota, provides training to young professionals with a solid salary base, professional opportunities and rapid, projected job growth,” she said.

Storrs said in an interview she feels in order for the program to be successful, it needs two tenure-track faculty.

“The decision is based on an imperative to live within our financial means and requirements to reshape our University budget,” Schafer said in statements sent to those who emailed him. “In addition, we simply cannot continue to admit new students into all programs, including those that, while very valuable, are programs for which we are unable to retain qualified faculty staffing despite student demand.”  

Music therapist Kat Fulton with Sound Health music in San Diego, Calif., also emailed Schafer with examples of how music therapy has been successful.

Masko has also been updating the community and encouraging advocacy on a UND music therapy Facebook page. A #SaveUNDMT hashtag has also circulated on Twitter.

“Music is important. music students are important. Help them to make your community better, UND #SaveUNDMT,” @EllenRicksMTBC tweeted.

What now

Budget proposals are due to university administrators today and those budgets are then due to Schafer’s office April 1. Schafer told the campus community he would publicize those budgets for comment and wants feedback.

Other budget solutions so far have included requiring approval before any hires are made, staff and faculty buyout programs and looking at course-delivery loads and methods and space utilization on campus.

Schafer is slated to make final decisions around April 15 and has said there is a possibility positions will be cut while every effort will be made to minimize negative impacts on students.

Storrs said Schafer has the ability to reconsider when all proposals get to his desk but he has supported the decision to suspend the program thus far.

At the rally, Schafer took out his phone to take a photo of the students at the rally.

“For my scrapbook,” he said.

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