Readers of my blogs will know how appalled I was to learn of the closure of the Music Conservatory at Kean University, and the devastating effect this will have on their local learning-disabled community. I have been on the receiving end of cutbacks in music myself. It led me to leave my job as a Deputy Head teacher. Feelings of rejection flooded back when I heard the news, but this time on behalf of my friends in New Jersey. I cited the closure as a warning for us here in the UK in my blog “Facing an Uncertain Future”. Rather than using COVID-19 as an excuse to cut music provision, we must invest more in the Arts. We must reach out to vulnerable people with learning disabilities, who are at greater risk of death from the virus, at greater risk of physical and mental harm and at greater risk of being ignored – AGAIN!!
My connection with Kean University began in November 2019 when I visited New York for a month to research music education for people with learning disabilities for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. I discovered a wonderful musical collaboration with the local learning-disabled community and wrote passionately about my experience in my blog and Fellowship report.
I was pleased to be asked to petition the Kean Board of Trustees about the closure, giving an international perspective on their short-sighted decision, which will automatically terminate their special needs provision which I had described as 'world-leading'.
I was on hold to America for two and half hours before my three-minute address! During this time, I listened intently to scores of testimonies from former and current music students, professors, famous alumni and parents of members of the learning-disabled service. By the time it was my turn to speak, fifteen minutes before midnight, I was tired and emotional, but fired up by the passionate pleas of my American colleagues.
This is what I said...
“Hello Trustees from the UK. My name is David Stanley. Thank you for allowing me to address you.
As a master’s graduate of Kings College, London and former student of the Guildhall School of Music, the Royal Academy of Music and the Institute of Education at the University of London, I could easily spend my 3 minutes pleading the case for Kean Music Conservatory purely in terms of the detrimental effect of closing on your international reputation. A top-flight university without music is a silent university. It is a vastly narrowed university with a reduced platform and reduced influence. As technology eventually replaces the need to learn most of the existing skills humans have striven to accomplish to this point, the skill that will be valued more than any other in the centuries to come is creativity - the ability to create new ways to think, new ways to learn and new ways to live. Music has been the epitome of creativity throughout history. It has huge economic value, practical value, social value, entertainment value, therapeutic value, functioning-enhancement value and self-affirmation value. There is no doubt that a decision to close will soon be reversed, but the cost of closing and then re-opening again will be far greater than the proposed financial savings now.
But I am here to address you in my role as Founder and CEO of a UK charity called The Music Man Project, which delivers music education for people with developmental disabilities across the world. In 2019 I became a Churchill Fellow, a prestigious honour awarded in memory of Sir Winston Churchill. This funded me to travel anywhere in the world to learn from the best practitioners in my field. The British Consulate in New York advised me to visit your award-winning collaboration with Community Access Unlimited, and it was my privilege to observe the partnership last November. In my report I describe the level of funding, duration, commitment and quality of teaching from your faculty staff and students as “a world-leading example of the transformative potential of Further Education/Special Education Needs partnerships at an organisational level”. Instead of a priority for cutbacks, music is a jewel in the crown for Kean where your students give back to society and improve themselves by helping others. Your Music Education Major student, Joseph Laurino told me, “It brings a whole new perspective to my teaching and to my music”.
You will never know the impact of your decision on your local developmentally disabled community. The Kean/CAU collaboration is the most important part of their lives. Only one thing is worse than ignoring this neglected society and that is to offer them a world-leading service and then take it away. This is just cruelly showing them a glimpse of what they can’t have. The effect on their mental health will be catastrophic and their disability means they will never understand why. Some may even blame themselves as they struggle to fill the huge gap left in their lives.
I urge you to reconsider this drastic decision to close your music conservatory. I urge you not to leave a creativity vacuum at your world-class university. I urge you not to destroy your culturally rich environment where all forms of creative expression once flourished. I urge you to use your creativity to look for new partnerships, new sponsorships and new ways to grow.
Thank you for your time.”
I don’t yet know the outcome of the meeting, but it felt good to campaign on behalf of like-minded people who have passionately dedicated their lives to the same causes that I have championed for 20 years: music and learning disability.
"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything"
To my absolute delighted, in the early hours of Wednesday 30th September I was informed that the new President of Kean University, Dr Lamont Repollet, has “rescinded the retrenchment of 21 of the 25 full-time faculty and professional staff. This includes all five full-time Music faculty".
Kean Music Department has been saved!!!!
I was pleased to have made what I thought was a small contribution to this effort, but I then received the following message from the “Save Kean Music” team:
“Thank you David for all of your efforts and advocacy. Yours was a particularly important voice in our appeal to the new administration. As a strong proponent of educational equity and closing the "opportunity gap," Dr. Repollet is impressed with the work we do in that direction. We will expand upon these initiatives with his and your support.”
This experience has shown me the impact my Churchill Fellowship can make on others. Whilst the Fellowship might initially have been about my learning, I realise my international research presents me with a unique opportunity to use my expertise, experience and most of all confidence to support and advocate for other people and organisations around the world. It feels so good to make a positive difference!
Read the story on the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website here