[Smt-talk] Advocating for the humanities

Ann K. Blombach ann at macgamut.com
Tue Apr 8 12:43:08 PDT 2014

When I was a grad student at The University of Michigan at the peak of the Vietnam War protests, the University cancelled all classes and meetings for a day to allow for the University community to discuss the Vietnam War.  In the School of Music, Wallace Berry volunteered to lead a discussion group on that day, and to the great surprise of many of us, he made his strong opposition to the war very clear.  However, he also made it clear that he would never discuss this topic in class or at any other time when he had his “Professor Hat” on because he strongly believed it was inappropriate to express his political views in the normal academic context.  


I have a feeling that Dr. Whitcomb views the current topic in the same way—simply not appropriate in the context of the SMT discussion group.  However, Dr. Berry’s position, once he stated it, made sense to everyone, no matter how they felt about the war.  The case here is demonstrably not so clear-cut, and Dr. Whitcomb is having difficulty convincing people that his perspective is the correct one.  But on the off chance that some facts interspersed with some personal observations may help resolve the stand-off:  


1)      The two calls to advocate for the humanities appeared on the SMT-Announce line (as others have pointed out), which is the place to announce items SMT folks think might be of interest to others in the group, whether or not a specific news item is necessarily of interest to every individual SMT-Announce line member.  That’s the place for “news” items like job postings or book releases or even specific appointment announcements—items inappropriate to discuss on the SMT-Talk line that is typically devoted to items specifically about music theory.  In terms of a “news” item, the calls to advocate would seem to fall within the scope of items relevant to the theory profession and/or of general interest to music theorists but not directly about theory itself.

2)      Judging from the ongoing discussion on the SMT-Talk line, a super-majority of SMT-Talk members believe the original calls on the SMT-Announce line are indeed of interest to many SMT-announce (as well as SMT-Talk) members, and they were therefore appropriate.  If we believe in majority rule, there should be no question that the two calls to advocate for the humanities should have been allowed.  As for whether the follow-up conversation is appropriate for the SMT-Talk line, that was started by Dr. Whitcomb who must have felt that the “Talk” line was the only possible place to hold this discussion.  Again, a super-majority appears to believe the discussion is appropriate even on the SMT-Talk line.

3)      Finally, I know several people who are no longer participating in the SMT-Talk line because they have been offended, either personally or theoretically, by discussions on this line.  That’s a fact of discussion-line life, no matter what the topic.  For me, I continue to check out the SMT announce and talk lines because every now and then, someone says something brilliant, or sometimes on dreary days, something that makes me laugh.  If I don’t think I’d be interested in a post with a particular subject line, or even a post by a particular person, there’s nothing that forces me to read that post.  That’s the beauty of freedom to choose how you participate in a discussion line.  I do that knowing I may be missing out on something enlightening or inspiring I really should have read, but I want that to be MY decision.  I don’t want anyone to take away our freedom to post items we truly believe might be of interest to others on the line.  


Ann K. Blombach

Associate Professor Emerita

The Ohio State University


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