The first school of music in the University of California system will soon have its first dean.
The Herb Alpert School of Music, designated as a standalone school at UCLA in January, launched a dean search with a job announcement in May. The search was open to both national and international candidates, said Neal Stulberg, a search committee member and chair of the music department.
According to an email from the Office of the Chancellor, three candidates now remain as finalists – Peter Witte, Ellie M. Hisama and Benjamin E. Juárez.
Witte is the current dean of the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and has previously served as chair of the Department of Music at Kennesaw State University.
Hisama, a professor of music at Columbia University, formerly served as director of the Institute for Studies in American Music at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.
Juárez, a professor of fine arts from Boston University, previously worked as head of Music and Dance at the National University of México and as associate conductor of the Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra.
The newly appointed dean will be charged with establishing the Herb Alpert School of Music’s brand as a professional school on and beyond campus, said interim dean Judith Smith. Smith, a former chair of the Academic Senate at UCLA, was called out of retirement in 2014 to write a pre-proposal, outline a plan to establish the autonomous school of music and serve temporarily as interim dean.
“It is in UCLA’s best interest to have a broad-based search,” Smith said. “This is not just a dean of a school … but it’s one of the chancellor’s leadership.”
A search committee of 12 individuals, made up of the school of music’s faculty, staff, administrators and community stakeholders,f reviewed the applicants, arriving at the final three. The school then invited each finalist to come to campus in November for two days to meet with additional students, faculty and staff, Smith said.
Some of the questions asked at the meetings involved candidates’ perspectives about delegating rehearsal spaces and collaborating with departments outside of music, said Armando Wood, a fourth-year music performance student who attended all three public town hall forums. Most of the attendees at the hour-long forums were faculty and graduate students, Wood said.
“I’m sure some of the people in that room were looking for someone that was going to support their research, and some of the people in the room were looking for someone to support the performance aspect,” Wood said.
Smith said selecting the inaugural dean by way of a search committee, town hall forums and community feedback has closely followed the prescribed process for dean searches at UCLA. The School of Arts & Architecture, for instance, is also conducting a search for a new dean and is following the same due process, she said.
But while the school of music’s dean search follows standard procedure, it sets an unchartered precedent, as it will result in the naming of the founding dean of the first school of music in the UC system, said Robert Fink, chair of the school of music’s music industry minor. The Herb Alpert School of Music brought together the departments of ethnomusicology and music performance from the School of Arts & Architecture along with musicology from the College of Letters & Science to create the standalone professional school that the new dean will spearhead, Fink said.
“I think the process is even more public than it might be for any other dean search,” Fink said. “There’s a gravity to the administrative situation. … It is going to try to be a 21st-century music school in a way there’s no model for.”
Comprised of three constituent components – musicology, ethnomusicology and music performance – the Herb Alpert School of Music follows an untraditional approach to music education by incorporating both the theory and practice of music-making, Fink said. The new dean will need to maintain the balance between the three departments in order to best serve the academic and practical aspects of a college music education, he said.
“You have the opportunity from the ground up to have a school that asks the question of, ‘What’s the correct balance between scholarship and performance?’” he said. “How can the two of them inform each other and make each other better?”
Stulberg said the search committee could not comment regarding how many UCLA faculty members initially applied for dean candidacy. Alan Elliott, a lecturer in UCLA’s music industry program who publicly ran for the dean position, was informed that he would not be among the final candidates in September. Elliott said he feels the new music school should invest more in teaching about popular music and the music industry, while also fostering collaboration with other departments at UCLA including the School of Theater, Film and Television for courses such as film scoring.
“I hope there’s really opportunity to expand diversity, to expand interdisciplinary opportunities and to really serve the students,” he said.
Fink said he believes one of the reasons the final candidates come from outside UCLA is to minimize potential partisanship internal candidates might have toward their respective components – musicology, ethnomusicology or music performance.
“If you hire somebody to be dean from one of the departments, it’d have to be a very, very judicious human to transcend all of your loyalties to the department you’re from,” Fink said. “I think if the person comes from outside, there’s a natural sense that they will look at the whole picture.”
Anyone who interacted with the candidates was invited to anonymously submit their feedback about the finalists to Chancellor Gene Block and Executive Vice Chancellor Scott Waugh via an email submission, Stulberg said.
“The inaugural dean needs to be a dynamic figure who can relate well to all the constituencies of our school, who can advocate for our school with university administration and who can represent our school in an exciting way to the music community at large,” Stulberg said.
UCLA spokesperson Tod Tamberg said he anticipates the Office of the Chancellor will name the new dean early winter quarter.