Students in LIU Post’s music education program are protesting weekly outside the gates of the Brookville campus, decrying the decision to freeze new admissions to their major amid an ongoing downsizing of liberal arts programs.
The freeze, announced after the fall semester started and a new class of freshmen had begun their studies to become music educators, means current students could face dwindling classes as enrollment shrinks. They were told they would get what was needed for graduation, although it was unclear if classes would be in-person or as independent study, students said.
A bachelor's of science in music and a bachelor's of fine arts in music technology, entrepreneurship and production are the two surviving music department programs. LIU's music education program long has provided music teachers to K-12 school districts, primarily on Long Island.
"I’m not going to lie, I feel betrayed," said John Natale, 18, a freshman music education major from Holbrook. "I’m angry about the lack of communication, how sudden it was and not warning incoming freshmen it was going to happen."
The university, in a statement, lauded its arts programs at its School of Visual Arts, Communication and Design — which includes the music department — and the School of Performing Arts, and maintained that its commitment to the arts "remains unwavering and steadfast for the future."
Programs were consolidated because "the collaboration needed with student peers in many arts programs necessitates enrollment levels, which in this case were not supported by demand," the statement said.
The university, in the statement, said it is working "with our arts faculty on curriculum review to pursue additional in-demand programming to ensure healthy enrollment and a positive student experience. All currently enrolled students will be able to complete the course of study in the degree they are pursuing."
Programs revamped amid enrollment decline
The music education program has more than 30 undergraduate and graduate students, its chair, Jennifer Miceli, said.
Freezes also were announced in September for art education and dance. The music performance major and master's in music and in art history were among other arts programs frozen in recent years.
Liberal arts majors in areas such as chemistry, physics, history, philosophy and sociology were frozen last year, on top of prior freezes affecting foreign languages and other programs.
Ed Weis, LIU's president for academic affairs, said in a statement last year "over the last several years, LIU has been expanding program offerings in high-demand areas while assessing programs with low enrollment."
Since coming to LIU, a private nonprofit institution, in 2013, President Kimberly Cline has revamped offerings and added new schools. During her tenure, net assets have risen and financial ratings have been upgraded, even as enrollment trended downward. Total enrollment is 15,066, down from 17,583 in 2015.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, "total full-time-equivalent undergraduate and graduate enrollment at the Post campus has declined from 6,029 in 2015 to 5,458 in 2019, a drop of about 9.5 percent."
Cline could not immediately be reached for comment.
Michael Soupios, a professor of political science and an outspoken critic of Cline’s administration, said in an email interview the round of freezes reflected "the misguided application of an ill-fitting business model to a university environment. ... Were there appropriate success in admissions and fundraising, there would be no need for these retrenchments."
Those in now-frozen degree programs question whether they will get the quality education they anticipated when they enrolled. Natale said replacing in-person classes with independent studies and ever-smaller musical ensembles would not provide the same experience he was promised by the admissions office and the music department when he applied.
"I was promised so much with this program," he said, adding if courses were no longer available as classes, "that will be breaking a promise to us."
Scholarships seen as a factor
LIU Post’s website promises "a full curriculum of bachelor’s degree programs taught by more than 40 nationally and internationally recognized performers, conductors, composers, researchers and music educators."
Miceli, director of the music education program, said LIU music education majors enjoyed a "100 percent job placement." The number of graduates has declined in recent years, she said, attributing that in part to the department’s loss of control over scholarship offers to prospective students. Figures on past enrollment were not immediately available.
"It’s now out of our hands, and admissions handles it," Miceli said. "Without the scholarship money readily available as it once was, the students and their families will make decisions to go elsewhere."
"What we've learned so far is they are looking to restructure programs in music; that's what we understand," said Miceli, adding she didn't know if an attempt would be made to revive the music education program.
Julia Bremer, 21, a senior music education major from North Bellmore, is a leader in the protests, which have taken place since Oct. 28 on Thursdays with from eight to 14 participants.
"We’re trying to bring it back and brainstorm a way to increase enrollment," said Bremer, who is president of the Collegiate National Association for Music Educators. "But there’s no history of any frozen arts program coming back."