08 October 2010

Critical Theory vs. Theoretical Criticism

Nina Paley's "bonus" Friday installment of Mimi and Eunice.

Critical Theory
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07 October 2010

New pdf links on "Writings" page

Thanks to the generosity of one of my readers, I've been able to add links to pdfs of three additional articles on my "Writings" page:
“Mozart’s Reception in Vienna, 1787-1791,” in Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Essays on his Life and his Music, ed. Stanley Sadie (Oxford University Press, 1996): 66-117. [pdf]

“A Newly Discovered Autograph Source for Mozart’s Aria K. 365a (Anh. 11a),” Mozart-Jahrbuch 1996 (Salzburg, 1996): 177-96. [pdf]

“Manuscript Parts as Evidence of Orchestral Size in the Eighteenth-Century Viennese Concerto,” in Mozart’s Piano Concertos: Text, Context, Interpretation (University of Michigan Press, 1996): 427-60. [pdf] Based on a paper read at the Michigan MozartFest, Ann Arbor, 16-18 November 1989.
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06 October 2010

New "Writings" and "Projects" pages

I'd like to point my readers toward two new "static" pages (the ones with the links across the top of the page).

"Writings" contains a list of:
  • All my published writings in musicology, with links to pdfs whenever I have them;
  • A list of my "magnificent torsos" in musicology (that is, substantial projects that exist in some more or less advanced state, but have never been published for one reason or another, usually because I was either so overworked at that there was not time, or because I was unemployed and broke);
  • Links to posts in the major series on this blog, Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist and Reflections on Life with BDD;
  • Links to other substantial original posts on this blog.
"Projects" contains brief descriptions of my main areas of current research and writing.
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04 October 2010

Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 4

The following is the conclusion of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

What steps can be taken to combat the problems that I’ve outlined here?

First and foremost, every musicologist (and ethnomusicologist and theorist) who is involved with graduate education can (and should, on ethical grounds) make every effort to reverse the overproduction of Ph.Ds. This will not be easy for those of you (a large proportion, I expect) who are under strong pressure to have at least a few graduate students to protect your department and faculty lines from the depredations of administration. The AMS, for its part, can make a very clear public statement about the problem, which is the structural basis for all the other issues that I’ve introduced here.

Second, it is essential to provide opportunities for those who believe they have been wronged or who have witnessed abuse to have a forum where they can speak out without fear of reprisal or destroying their own careers, and procedures must be developed to allow those who have been wronged to take appropriate action, again without fear of reprisal, both through institutional and legal channels. I have recently pondered whether it might be possible to set up a website similar to Wikileaks[1](which, as many of you will know, provides an outlet for the online publication of documents that vested interests wish to suppress). Perhaps this is something AMS can consider, or perhaps it is best set up as an independent entity. Various obvious problems would need to be worked out: most importantly, it is essential that such a site not become an outlet for anonymous unsubstantiated accusations. But it is nevertheless essential that those who are afraid to speak out be provided a voice.

Third, ways must be found to allow more accountability and transparency in hiring and review. This will be difficult, because the current system is very deeply entrenched and its secrecy jealously guarded, at least in part out of fear of legal action. Most of you reading this will probably feel that you do your best to maintain integrity and objectivity when involved with searches. But if you look deeply into your hearts, I think you will realize that perhaps you, too, sometimes put applications in the reject pile because of the applicant’s age, the school the applicant graduated from, or unsubstantiated rumors you may have heard over cocktails at national AMS.

Fourth, it is high time that someone or some organization began to keep objective and comprehensive statistics about graduate education and employment in the field. How many students are entering graduate programs, how many become candidates, and how many complete their Ph.Ds.?  What is the employment state of graduates after six months? After two years? After five? As with the legal profession (see note 2 in Part 1 of this essay), it should be a requirement for departments to provide accurate and timely information on the employment of their graduates to a central authority on a regular basis. Perhaps this central authority could be AMS, or perhaps a new independent organization.

A rumor has gotten back to me that I have “left the field,” which came as a surprise to me; I’ve never said it (and frankly, no one has asked). It’s true that I feel that the field has left me, and it became clear that it was foolish (as well as economically impossible) for me to continue to make scholarly and intellectual contributions to the field for free.

But I have a very large basket of relevant skills and experience, and I’m still more than happy to entertain any and all reasonable offers.

This is the concluding part of the essay "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"


[1] This essay was written long before Wikileaks unleashed a media firestorm by publishing a large cache of documents on the Iraq war. As of the date of publication of this essay, Wikileaks is offline, "under[g]oing scheduled maintenance."
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Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 3

The following is Part 3 of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 1, 2, and 4 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

As some respondents have pointed out, ‘twas (to some extent) ever thus in academia. The venality and petty corruption of academia has long been the fodder for novels and films. But there are several points to be made in response to those who think that it is sufficient to say (and it seems invariably to be the securely employed who make this point) “Grow up and deal with it”:

(1) The fact that similar abuses have happened in the past does not absolve members of the profession from the moral responsibility of standing up to such abuses now;

(2) There is a very strong case to be made that the level of abuse has increased considerably because of the long-term chronic problems of the musicological job market and the overproduction of Ph.D.s; and at the very least an extremely strong case can be made that there should be a disinterested empirical investigation of this situation;

(3) The personal damage to the lives and careers of far too many fine scholars is both morally unacceptable and is a long-term cancer that is eating the field from within.

From a practical standpoint, hiring committees often lack the competence to judge the scholarly qualifications of the very specialties that they wish to hire. This is perfectly understandable. If, say, a department wishes to hire an expert in eighteenth-century music, it is almost always because they haven’t got one. This is only natural, but how do hiring committees compensate? Mostly they don’t. Instead of, say, asking the eighteenth-century specialist from the university down the road to help out or even asking the advice of the local eighteenth-century specialist in the departments of art history or literature in their own university, committees tend to fall back on not always well-grounded rules of thumb: “Well, the candidate is from Great University X, so she must be good,” or “I recognize the name on this letter of recommendation, so I’m going to give it more weight than the recommendation of this person I don’t know anything about.” Lack of specialist competence on hiring committees does not, in itself, necessarily lead to abuse or corruption in the hiring process. But it does make it easier for a hiring committee to be led astray by factors that have nothing to do with the qualifications or competence of the applicant.

This general problem of lack of competence may sometimes also apply to the selection of papers for national meetings of the AMS. I’m sure many of you have attended meetings (I certainly have) where you know personally of abstracts in your specialty that were rejected (and perhaps had been repeatedly rejected) even though you know the work to be first-rate, important, in the mainstream of developments in your specialty, and something that you definitely would want to hear. And conversely you’ve almost certainly had occasionally to endure extremely weak papers in your specialty that were accepted. I do not at all mean to imply that all AMS papers are bad. I’ve heard many excellent papers in my field (as well as others) at national AMS meetings, and I’m sure that the selection committees have kept me from having to listen to quite a few that would have been dire. But at least in my areas of expertise, poor or derivative work is accepted for national AMS meetings more often than it should be, and part of the reason for this may be lack of sufficient specialist competence on selection committees.

The chronically dismal job market has also led to a serious erosion of common courtesy and respect toward applicants by hiring institutions. Treatment of applicants can sometimes be truly appalling. Applicants have not infrequently failed to receive notification that their application has been received, and distressingly often, not received any final notification of the outcome of a search, even after a face-to-fact interview. (And of course, such notifications, when they do arrive, often come six to nine months after the closing date, with no word of any kind in between.) I am willing to provide several examples from my own experience to substantiate all of these points.
In general, the academic “job search” in the U.S. has become an unconscionably protracted and ill-defined process. Jobs are now often advertised as early as July of the year before the starting date, even when there is no intention of interviewing until late fall or after the New Year. Job descriptions, particularly from second- and third-tier schools, have not infrequently begun to request ludicrously large baskets of skills, so large that no one could be adequately versed in all of them. And conversely, there seems to be no accountability regarding whether the published criteria have actually been met. I’ve often been told that I was foolish to restrict my applications only to those jobs where I felt that I was a reasonable fit to the job description. Yet I’m often advised that “everyone” applies for everything, because “you never know what a hiring committee is going to decide they want.” But if this is the case, and the hiring is really a free-for-all, what exactly is the purpose of a detailed job description that isn’t going to be honored? The absurdly protracted length of job searches is unnecessary and is one aspect of this process that could surely be improved without undue pain. Whatever problems the British system may have, the job searches there are much less protracted: the turn-around time between closing date, call to an interview, and final decision is, in my experience, typically less than two months.

The hiring process is currently also characterized by continual inflation in the rhetoric of recommendations and statements of qualification. In my experience on hiring committees and as a referee, one has to learn to “discount for inflation.”  How is one to distinguish among 15 or 20 applicants described as “the most brilliant student I’ve ever had”? What is one to write about (and how is one to distinguish) an applicant who truly is brilliant? How is one to evaluate the applicant who claims (and whose referees attest) not only to have done ground-breaking work on depictions of gender in the early-late Renaissance Transylvanian madrigal, but also to be a tuba virtuoso and distinguished opera singer?

There is much much more that could be and needs to be said about the current state of hiring in musicology, and the long-term effect of this unsustainable situation on the field as a whole. I could (and may) write a separate essay about the role of fads in “Theory” (and I don’t mean music theory) in the continual jockeying for position among job applicants. There is much to be said, too, I think, about the overall health of the field. For as I have now spent some time outside the locked gates of this particular ivory tower, and wandered down the hill a bit, looking back I can see that musicology isn’t so much an ivory tower, but more an ivory trailer. And it isn’t so much on a hill, but rather down in a glen behind some trees, out of touch with much truly exciting work that is going on in the rest of the intellectual world, and largely out of touch with much ground-breaking work that is going on in music in the cognitive and biological sciences. It has also become distressingly clear to me just how irrelevant musicology is to nearly everyone outside of it: not just to the person on the street in Roslindale (where I live), but to professional musicians and serious music lovers in all genres. And of course, musicology has virtually no presence in the discourse of other fields. Musicology, from my view outside, is in very real danger of marginalizing itself out of existence.

Continue on to Part 4 of "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"
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03 October 2010

Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 1

The following is Part 1 of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

I have read with great interest the responses on AMS List over the past ten days to Ilias Chrissochoidis’s essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Like many who have responded to the essay, I was initially put off by its rhetoric. What struck me quite forcefully even on a first reading, however, was that Chrissochoidis had dared to hint at unethical and even corrupt behavior in musicology, something that many (most?) of us know to exist, or at least suspect exists, but which is seldom if ever mentioned in print. Because I have worked in musicology for many years at a high level without ever landing a secure position, and because the level at which I worked and the topics I worked on brought me into contact with a perhaps unusually large number of well-established figures in the field, I have had ample opportunity to see the dark side of musicology. I am also perhaps one of the few respondents who has shuttled between both sides of the professional divide:  I have been on hiring committees, I have been an anonymous reviewer for several refereed journals and a reviewer of fellowship applications, as well as a writer of many letters of recommendation. I am also now on the outside of what seem to be the permanently closed doors of the field, and taking a breather (perhaps temporary, perhaps not) from beating my head and hands in vain on those doors. This post is long—for which I do not apologize in advance, for the topic is an important one, and I have a lot to say about it (after 25 years in the field), although I shall try to be succinct.

It was obvious to me from a first reading that the central point of Chrissochoidis’s essay had nothing to do with the use of music as torture per se, but rather with hypocrisy among the membership of the AMS in issuing a high-minded pronouncement on the immorality of that practice, while ignoring unethical and immoral (and perhaps even illegal) behavior in its own backyard. I have been heartened to see that at least some (although by no means all) of the respondents on AMS List have been able to see past the strained irony and to begin to address some of the very real issues that the essay raises. (As a friend has pointed out, the essay must have touched a nerve, because the volume of response is so great: around 72 responses within 10 days, from nearly 54 different individuals; this on a list that has lately seemed moribund.)[1]

However, the responses so far have, to my mind, been too narrowly focused, in two particular ways: many respondents have focused on whether the AMS as an organization is somehow morally culpable (as if identifying and rectifying that failing, or passing a resolution about it would fix the problem); and the discussion of employment has focused largely on the travails of the “freshly-minted Ph.D” to the exclusion of the wider population of Ph.D.’s, ABDs, and former graduate students in musicology (and related fields) who have never landed a secure job in the field, and may have simply disappeared from view. We all know people in this category, and some of us know very many. To my knowledge, no one has been keeping comprehensive statistics about employment in the field, and someone should.[2]

But to address issues of ethics and possible corruption within musicology, it is necessary to look at the field as a whole, including all of the individuals and institutions (universities, societies, publishers, and so on) that constitute it, across national boundaries; for to function as a scholar on an “international” level (an explicit desideratum in so many job descriptions, even from second- and third-tier schools), one has to negotiate all of those playing fields, not just the local and parochial ones; and corruption in any of these institutions can have a devastating impact on individuals and their employability, both locally and globally.

In any case, I, for one, would never suggest that the AMS as an organization is corrupt. Bob Judd’s temperate, thoughtful, and serious response at an early stage of the present discussion underlines that the organization, as represented by its staff and officers, does its best to behave ethically and with integrity. That some of the principal activities of the society—the production of JAMS and the selection of papers for the annual meeting—may not always be similarly unblemished is more a function of the individuals involved in those activities at any given point than it is of any structural problem with the organization per se.

In the remainder of my post, I’m going to examine the issue of ethics and possible abuse within musicology from two standpoints: on the one hand, I will discuss, from what I hope will be a reasonably dispassionate perspective, whether some aspects of current institutional practices and structures may abet unethical and even corrupt behavior; and I will interleave these comments with references to some of my own experiences and observations. By necessity, I will not name names or institutions. Some writers on this list have taken Chrissochoidis to task for not providing specific evidence of his charges. But obviously he would not have been allowed to do this on legal grounds, and I would not be allowed to do it here, even if I thought it were the right course (and I don’t; this is not the proper forum for specific accusations of that sort). So I will be as concrete as I can be without being specific.[3]

More than one respondent has claimed that the job market in musicology has “always been bad.” In fact, this is not so, as those of you will know who remember the career histories of members of an older generation—such figures as (in my case) Gene Wolf or Chappell White. However, the job market has been bad for as long as I’ve been associated with the field (since the early 80s). When I was in graduate school, we were told repeatedly that things would soon improve: that the older generation would retire and positions would open up. But as everyone who reads this list knows, things didn’t work out that way. Mandatory retirement ages were done away with or pushed upward, the number of students entering college decreased as the baby boom passed, and the increasingly managerial bean-counting mentality of university administrators saw opportunities to cut tenured faculty lines and to move toward increasing reliance on adjuncts, usually staffed by desperate Ph.D.s, who have continually, over several decades, been churned out in much greater numbers than the system requires or can absorb; this chronic overproduction has been driven, at least in part, by internal university politics, by departments that need to justify their own existence (and the continued existence of their tenured faculty lines) to the bean counters. Professors like Robin Wallace who give students an “apples on the street corner” speech are to be commended.[4] But such speeches are, in my experience, extremely rare (I’ve never heard one, or talked to anyone who mentioned hearing one). And one might also point out that giving the speech once does not necessarily absolve one of all further responsibility for the fate of one’s students on the job market. Many students will also receive frequent and much more positive estimations of their prospects: many will also be told (quite often repeatedly) how brilliant they are, and how interesting and potentially significant their work is. It’s simply not realistic to expect a single reality check to cut through the other blandishments that many students will face.

There are, it is clear, vastly too many Ph.D.s in musicology and related disciplines chasing an ever shrinking pool of jobs (a pool that has recently shrunk even more dramatically because of the current economic crisis). And this problem appears all the more intractable if we (realistically) include the ever growing backlog of Ph.D.s from the past two or three decades who have never found secure positions in the field, many of whom have been cobbling together an existence from poorly-paid adjunct positions, program notes, pre-concert lectures, and the like. Given that most of these people are fully qualified to do any teaching work that might be required of them and to function as productive scholars (although very few of them will be world class, because very few of us overall are truly world class), then the variance in quality of candidates will, on average, be quite low. In a very real sense, one hire will be pretty much as good as another for most jobs in most colleges and universities most of the time. Given that there are far too many people of roughly equivalent levels of skill chasing far too few jobs, it is only common sense to realize that such a situation may easily lead to abuse and even corruption; in fact, it very likely will, given that everyone on that market will be strongly motivated to make use of any advantage that he or she possibly can, however tiny, whether it is ethical or not. (Consider the analogy with black markets during and after World War II, in which many people of “good character” in normal times were driven to illegal behavior by the necessity to survive.)

Continue on to Part 2 of "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"


[1] Some statistics may be of interest. By my informal count, between 4 May and the time that I posted this message [14 May 2009] there have been 72 responses on the various threads elicited by Ilias Chrissochoidis’s essay in the CHE, by 54 different people. This compares with around 16 messages on AMS List in the entire month of April [2009]. Of the respondents so far, 35% have been tenured faculty or equivalent (including emeritus), 20% junior faculty, adjuncts, or equivalent, 17% otherwise employed in musicology or a closely related field, 15% students or not currently unemployed in musicology, and 13% unknown. Thus at least 72% of the respondents so far are employed in musicology or a closely related field, and (so far) only 15% are explicitly not. Tenured faculty and equivalent have so far generated 42% of the responses, and over 75% of the responses overall have been generated by people employed in the field. I have not included my own message in these statistics. With one possible exception, the responses so far that can be characterized as strongly critical of Chrissochoidis have come from tenured faculty.

[2] In a letter published in the Boston Phoenix on 7 May, Randi Friedman, Assistant Dean/Director of Career Services at Northeastern University School of Law, writes: “All law schools are required to survey their recent graduates regarding their employment status and provide that data to the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) every February. We are required to report all types of employment, which includes legal, non-legal, temporary, and permanent positions.” One wonders why the same is not done in other academic fields—although one suspects that the results in musicology would be sobering, to put it mildly.

[3] [New note:] I may be more specific in future posts on this blog.

[4] [New note:] Wallace's reference to the "apples on the street corner" speech is found in his message to AMS-L on 8 May 2009, in the thread “What do we owe our graduates?"

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Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 2

The following is Part 2 of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 1, 3, and 4 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

Are there structural aspects of academic hiring and review in musicology that offer opportunities for abuse and corruption?

First and foremost among these, to my mind, is the lack of transparency and accountability in hiring. Hiring committees in the U.S. (and also in Britain, a system with which I also have personal experience) are independent of oversight to a degree that would seem astonishing to someone from almost any other profession or industry. To be sure, the recommendation of a hiring committee can be overruled, and the institutional community from which the committee is drawn will usually have some chance to voice its opinion on the candidates who are actually interviewed. But crucially, committees are not typically required to account for the applicants they reject. There may well be cases in which someone from outside a hiring committee vets the 140 candidates who didn’t make the cut, in order to assess whether the rejections were fair or whether potentially excellent candidates were overlooked—but this has never happened, to my knowledge, in any search with which I’ve been involved, either as an applicant or a committee member.

Absence of accountability obviously allows at least the possibility of abuse and corruption. Does such abuse and corruption happen? Here I can speak only from my personal experience and draw on my conversations with many professional colleagues over the past couple of decades. Let me start with a pedestrian example. When I was most recently on the musicological job market in 2005-6 and 2006-7, I applied for every job that was at all reasonable: I applied for something on the order of 30 to 35 positions each year (I can provide exact figures if you’re interested). My professional friends who were helping and advising me in my job search were universal in cautioning that my age would work against me (I was, after all, applying mainly for junior positions in middle age). But with a six-page list of publications and papers (including six national AMS presentations in a span of 13 years), a long laundry list of publications to come, a wide range of teaching experience in more than 20 different undergraduate and graduate courses, a stack of enthusiastic student evaluations, a packet of glowing recommendations (including, at long last in 2006-7, a letter from someone who had actually seen me teach), two prestigious fellowships in 2006-7 (one of which I declined), a book in process, and a well-established international reputation in my field, I thought (and my professional friends thought) that surely someone would be interested. In both of those years, there were several job descriptions that sounded as if they had been written with me in mind. (Lest anyone think I’m exaggerating, I still have these job descriptions, and would happy to send them or post them here). And after all, age discrimination is illegal. The outcome? I had one phone interview in 2005-6 (and this not from one of the positions that sounded as if it had been tailored for me), and no response whatsoever in 2006-7. Was age a factor in at least some of the decisions to exclude me from serious consideration? Very likely. Can it be proved? Of course not. Because age discrimination is illegal, and no one would admit to it. Did I have any recourse? Of course not. Was there accountability or a system of checks in place to prevent that kind of abuse? Of course not.  (Some of you might be thinking, “Well, he was probably overqualified for some of the jobs.” But a moment’s reflection will show that the idea of “overqualification” for an academic job is, to say the least, bizarre.)

Lack of accountability and transparency in hiring also increases the power of old-boy/old-girl networks. Everyone on the musicology job market knows (or soon learns) that there are some universities that have prominent networks of graduates placed in schools around the country, and that there is a marked tendency for these people to hire their own. This may be human nature, to some extent, but it can also lead to unjust favoritism. Some of you, no doubt, may be tempted to retort: “But the most important thing about an applicant is that she (or he) be a good colleague, because we may have to see each other every day for the next twenty-five years,” as if that hoary chestnut were sufficient grounds to pick someone from your alma mater over more qualified and promising scholars. But in fact, this rationale is most often specious anyway. At any rate, to judge by the evident social dysfunctionality of such a high proportion of departments (and be honest; you know this is true, if not of your own department, then of those in which many of your friends work), the strategy of hiring “good colleagues” would not appear to be working very well.

Lack of accountability and transparency also allows unfair preference to be given to internal candidates. I have been told of one case that what was, for all intents and purposes, a false search, where the incoming applications from a national search for an academic position in musicology at a prominent American university were basically ignored because there was never any intention to hire anyone other than the internal candidate. An acquaintance of mine, who was in possession of a “smoking gun” regarding this particular incident, refused to come forward for fear of negative career consequences. This case may be extreme, but I see no reason to assume that it is unique. With greater accountability and transparency in hiring, it likely would not have happened. The unwillingness to stand up against injustice and malfeasance within the field is, in my experience, pervasive. I know of another case, regarding an important non-academic research position of considerable power and influence, where the job was allegedly advertised only in an obscure local newspaper where no one would see it—this so that the anointed candidate (one who on the basis of qualification and scholarly profile in that particular area of research almost certainly would not have been hired, and indeed, might well not have made it past the first round) could simply be installed without a legitimate search or vetting of alternative candidates. This hire is likely to have a profound effect for many years on the course of research in the area of scholarship with which it is connected. That several prominent and distinguished scholars in this area remain unemployed makes the incident all the more repellent.

There is also a crippling lack of any realistic recourse and legal protection for job applicants and junior faculty who feel that they have been the victim of injustice. An applicant who suspects discrimination or unjust favoritism has no access to any information about the selection process, which is entirely closed and which provides no feedback. Similarly, “everyone knows” that junior faculty must keep their mouths closed, smile, and take whatever is dished out (while, of course, attempting to brown nose as successfully as possible), because there is no protection from a rogue senior faculty member, who can easily make you or break you, or even destroy your career. Again, because there is little or no true accountability or transparency, and very little possibility that a perpetrator of any injustice will suffer significant consequences, the system is ripe for abuse. In one job review, my employer (to avoid any identifying job titles) systematically marked me much lower in every category than my actual production and performance warranted. In fact, he admitted to me cheerfully that he did this as a matter of policy with all new faculty (I wish I’d had a tape recorder). In effect, he had given himself the ammunition to get rid of me if he felt like it—and not long after, he did. I had no recourse. And “everyone knows” that even when legal recourse exists, one could very well be destroying one’s chance at a future career in the field to take it. We probably all know at first or second hand of cases in which this has happened.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we all know of other examples of ethically questionable behavior, blatantly unethical behavior, and perhaps even corrupt or illegal behavior in cases of hiring and review, or in the evaluation of fellowship applications or article and paper submissions. Many of us know of scholars who assisted their career development by sleeping with the right people. Many of us have witnessed or been victim of anonymous and behind-the-scenes denunciation.  (For those of you who have not been a victim of such a denunciation, I can assure you that it gives one a very vivid sense of what it must have been like to live under a totalitarian regime.)  Many of us know of cases of the unethical or dishonest appropriation by one scholar of the research and ideas of another, without proper (or any) credit being given. I have personally been involved in one case where I was asked to review an article that, in part, presented as original (that is, without citation) information and ideas that I had previously published or presented in public papers that the author had attended. The article was also unacceptable for publication on a wide variety of other grounds, and I presented all of this information to the journal in as dispassionate a form as I was able (while making clear that I wasn’t happy about the situation). The editor of the journal (not my principal contact during the review process) elected to publish the article with virtually no revision, without addressing any of my concerns or even contacting me. That there was personal collusion and favoritism in this case between author and editor, and perhaps also another reviewer seems very likely. I have been told (although I have no personal experience of this) that there is even corruption in the hothouse world of program notes and pre-concert lectures, where at least in one case that I have had described to me in great detail, pre-concert gigs have been given to the lover of someone in a position of influence over the selection (this was with a major orchestra, not a local community symphony).

Continue on to Part 3 of "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"
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Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Introduction

The following is the introduction to an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009. See also Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.


On 15 March 2008, the Board of Directors of the American Musicological Society approved a statement condemning the use of music in physical or psychological torture.[a] By that point, similar resolutions had already been issued by the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Society for American Music, and the U. S. branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. All were in response to revelations over the preceding few years that the United States had been using long-term uninterrupted exposure to very loud music among its arsenal of extreme interrogation techniques at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and elsewhere. The AMS had been slower than the other scholarly organizations to approve such a resolution; in fact, the AMS had failed to pass a similar resolution in 2007.

On 8 May 2009, The Chronicle of Higher Education published two items related to these resolutions. The first was an article by Lara Pellegrinelli, “Scholarly Discord: The politics of music in the war on terrorism” (available here, now behind a paywall), a well-researched piece of contextual reporting, that did not, however, refrain from expressing the author’s opinions. The second was an opinion piece by Ilias Chrissochoidis, “Composed in Hypocrisy: Music, torture, and the drama of American musicology” (available here, likewise behind a paywall).

Chrissochoidis, a relatively recent (2004) Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford, expressed in quite direct and emotional language his feeling that the anti-torture resolution of AMS was deeply hypocritical, given the various “tortures” to which those on the musicological job or fellowship market were regularly subjected. Chrissochoidis’s essay quickly became the subject of lively (and sometimes nasty) discussion on AMS-L, the e-mail list of the American Musicological Society. The first message pertaining to the essay appeared on AMS-L on 4 May 2009 (the essay had appeared online ahead of its official date of publication). Within the next 10 days, there were at least 72 messages relating to Chrissochoidis’s essay or related topics by at least 54 different respondents.[b] These messages are available in the AMS-L archive (access through the listserv requires a password, but registration is free). The relevant subject headings are:

“CHE article”

“Chronicle article: “Composed in Hypocrisy,” Re the AMS and its resolution on the use of music in physical or psychological torture:

“Chronicle article: 'Composed in Hypocrisy: Music, torture, and the drama of American musicology'”

“controversy & hermeutics”

“Fwd: Chronicle Review article, Scholarly Discord: The politics of music in the war on terrorism”

On 14 May 2009, I submitted to AMS-L a response of my own, with the subject line “Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? [LONG].” The message was indeed unusually long, over 5000 words, and I realized that there was some danger that the moderators of AMS-L would balk at publishing it for that reason. However, because of its relevance to the ongoing discussion on the list, and because of the unique perspective that I had to offer on the topic, I had hoped that the moderators would see fit to allow it, perhaps broken across several separate posts.

Later that day, I received the following message from one of the moderators, James Zychowicz:


Thank you for submitting your posting to AMS-L. It is an impressive statement, and I admire the time you spent to write such a thorough response to the recent thread. That stated, it is an extremely long essay, and I do not believe that this listserv is the best venue for it. The fine points you raise may not reach all the readers successfully with the posting as it stands. Yet I do not want to dismiss it out of hand, but request a revision: I would ask you to submit a precis of no more than 1,000 words, with your main points summarized. In that version, you are certainly welcome to mention the longer article to the readers and offer to send it to them individually upon request. This would allow you to convey your message to the listserv effectively and also make available the full version to those would would want to read more. When you do submit the shorter statment, please include your full name and e-mail address in the body of the message, as required by AMS-L Guidelines.



As I had just spent many hours composing a 5000-word essay, it seemed more than a little dispiriting to be asked to write a new essay about my first essay, and so I let it ride for the time being.

I am publishing the original essay here now as part of my larger ongoing project under the general rubric “Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist.”  I have made only a tiny handful of editorial emendations to the original essay; otherwise, it is published here exactly as I submitted it to AMS-L on 14 May 2009. Because of its length, I am dividing it across four separate posts in addition to this one. (All four posts and this introduction will include links to the full series.)

What I say in this essay should by no means be considered my last word on any of the topics I address; it should be seen, rather, as an introduction to them. I intend to address all of these topics in more detail (and more explicitly) in the coming weeks.

It is worth noting that according to his current CV (available here), Chrissochoidis seems to have been unusually successful over the past two years in obtaining grants and fellowships. So at least in the short run, the publication of his essay seems not to have caused irreparable damage to his career, as some who read the nastier responses on AMS-L in May 2009 might have feared that it would.

Continue on to Part 1 of "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"


[a] “AMS Board Condemns the Use of Music in Physical or Psychological Torture,”  AMS Newsletter, 38:2, August 2008, p. 5. The text of the resolution reads:

Whereas, we, the Board of Directors of the American Musicological Society, join the chorus of protest and dissent against the use of physical and psychological torture, finding such torture incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons; and

Whereas, we, as scholars and musicians who devote our lives to sustaining musical cultures throughout the world, protest the contamination of our cultures by the misappropriation of music as a weapon of psychological torture;

Now, therefore, we condemn the use of music as a weapon of torture, and we call upon members of the American Musicological Society to exercise their rights and petition their political representatives to ban this use.

Approved 15 March 2008
Board of Directors, American
Musicological Society

I have been unable to locate this statement anywhere on the AMS website.

[b] I accumulated these statistics in May 2009, while preparing the response that I am publishing here. I have not gone back to verify them, and there may be a few subsequent messages on the topic that are not included in my count.

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