Columbia College Provost Foolishly Suggests Closing Center for Black Music Research

I was utterly shocked by the headline I read earlier this morning indicating Columbia College is considering closing its Center for Black Music Research (CBMR), as reported by the Chicago Tribune.  It should also be noted, the school is also considering ending the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media.

It’s sad.  And of course, it has to be the artistic centers and institutions that represent the study of black and women cultures that may get the axe.

The CBMR is a catalyst to understanding of the common roots of the music, musicians, and composers of the global African culture. For the College to even consider its closure is a disgrace, and if the proposal passes, would be a grave tragedy.

Since its founding in 1983, the CBMR has accrued more than 5,400 cataloged books and dissertations, 11,000 sound recordings in all formats, 4,500 scores and pieces of sheet music, and 72 archival collections including personal papers or organizational records that contain research materials, published and unpublished music scores, manuscripts and typescripts, audio-visual recordings, paper-based and photographic materials, ephemera, publications, and oral-history interviews devoted to black music.

The closure of the CBMR is proposed in a document outlining the restructuring of the school as a result of declining enrollments.

“In this time of declining enrollments and increasing student debt, Columbia is realigning its resources to focus on support for student learning and persistence to graduation. To do this, the College must prioritize its available funds in new ways. Regrettably, this necessitates the elimination of financial support for several worthy organizations that have been a source of institutional pride for Columbia.” (For now, the entire Blueprint is available here (PDF).)

What’s ridiculous about this proposed closure is that enrollment in the music department is booming, while other departments falter.  However, the CBMR is not part of the music department and instead under Academic Research department.  Sadly, integrating the CBMR into the music department is not on the table.

Tribune reporter Howard Reich wrote:

No other institution on the planet studies, archives, documents, disseminates, records and performs music from the vast diaspora of African-American culture as comprehensively as the Center for Black Music Research. And precious few ensembles in America regularly perform jazz orchestral works — historic and brand new — as brilliantly or innovatively as the Chicago Jazz Ensemble.

Other members of academia have also responded with similar sentiment.  The full story can be read here.

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