Dance Department Responds to Criticism

The following letters are in response to an article that ran in the El Vaquero on June 3, the last issue of the spring, under the headline “Dance Students Question Department Decisions.” There were problems associated with this article that are touched on in the responses below. Chief among the problems are the fact, only discovered after the article ran, that the writer’s brother was among the unnamed sources in the article. This was a conflict of interest that El Vaquero strictly forbids, and which may have colored the article. Also, the article relies too much on unnamed sources. In the future, the policy of the paper is to use unnamed sources only in extraordinary cases. This story could have been reported with sources that agreed to go on record. Finally, the writer admitted in hindsight that the use of quotes in the article may have given a false impression of the views of the sources. Shortly after the article ran in El Vaquero, the staff had the article removed from the paper’s Web site and its link to search engines. El Vaquero regrets whatever harm may have been caused by this article.

— Editor

Article Called Misleading

I would think that since an article condemning the work of a whole department and their faculty was being published on the front page in the last issue of the school paper, making any form of rebuttal impossible before ramifications of the article could be felt in enrollment for the summer or the following semester, special care would be taken to verify the following before publishing.

For an article to be published as a front-page story of any paper, three things (at least) should be verified:?

1. That the author has no obvious bias or vested interest in the subject being presented.? That was not done here.?

2. That people on all sides of the issue be interviewed.? That was not done either. 3. That the people interviewed be quoted correctly and in context to what they have said.? That was not done.?
This carelessness has resulted in the paper being used by a “handful of students” to further the agenda of a disgruntled faculty member in an issue that has been ongoing since 1999.?

Some facts:

– The author of the article is the brother of a student who has been the leader in a dispute with the dance department over not hiring Barbara Erfurt as a teacher of Jazz.

– None of the part time faculty in the dance department were interviewed.

– Barbara Erfurt is a full-time tenured instructor, and teaches dance as overload when no other regular dance faculty member is available.

– Melissa Randel is not a part-time teacher. She is a 60 percent contract employee and has lost hours because she was a full-time leave replacement for Dora Krannig, who returned.

– Melissa Randel was misquoted and taken completely out of context. Her words were twisted to seem that she agreed with Ms. Erfurt and the small group of students and made to seem in conflict with the Dance Department.? She is not.

– None of the hundreds of students who have an opinion other than that of those “handful of students” were interviewed.

– The “handful” of students took one of the “old” full-time faculty members’ technique class and gave her glowing evaluations, while saying the opposite in the article.? Were their evaluations a joke or were they lying or misquoted in the article?

– None of the many students who have taken (and passed)
my Jazz I & II class were interviewed.

– None of the many students of the actual part-time teachers of the department was interviewed.

All of the “handful” took my Production class and profited from the smash success of the run of these concerts.

This article was about one dissatisfied teacher’s issue, not about the program of the Dance Department, even though the result of the article could endanger the enrollment of the department.

The numbers used in the article were misleading and incomplete. The week before the articled appeared the Dance Department had just completed a week of dance performances that broke all records as to attendance and quality of work. This series was lauded in the local press and by the college community. Not one word was printed in the El Vaquero, even though a photographer was sent to cover the event.

I will not take up your time by arguing my fitness to teach, even though the article was a personal attack on me.? It will suffice to let my record of experience on the stage, film, TV, and the classroom to do that.? Anyone who wishes may have access to all my student and peer evaluations, present past, or future.

I would like to now discuss the obvious prejudice of ageism expressed in the article and apparently condoned by the paper since the subject was not even questioned in the article.? It was simply taken for granted that teachers who were “old” could not teach dance, even though a lead article in the past issue praised a political science teacher for his “long life experience” and what an asset that was to the students.? In Los Angeles, the “culture” is by its nature ageist and we live in an environment of the worship of youth.? This is not a message we wish to reinforce with our students.

Your printing of this article undermines what we have been trying to do for many years.

The mission of the Dance Department is contained in the first sentence in our brochure: “The program is structured
to introduce students to the joy of movement through dance and an appreciation of dance as an art form.”

The unfortunate facts are that the performing part of a dance career is but a small part of what is available to the choreographic artist.? This fleeting phase is possible only from the age of 17 or 18 to the mid-30s if one is very lucky.

It is an unfortunate fact that most of our students have already passed this possibility due to a lack of training at an early age.
This does not mean that our students cannot have successful careers in the field.? There are many options that are available to them and one of the Dance Department’s prime missions is to acquaint our students with these options.

Lynn McMurrey,
Glendale Community College,
Dance Department Co-Chair

Expression of Support

I delivered my in-depth response to the article by Chuck Reyes to our Division Chair, Rob Kibler, whom, I trust to deal with this matter in the most appropriate manner.? Meanwhile I want to express my support to Lynn McMurrey.

I?have known Lynn for many years and I have known about him when I was working in Europe, where he was a respected professional. As I teach right after him, I have observed portions of his class on a biweekly basis over the spring semester 2005. I can assure you that Jazz I and Jazz II are taught with utmost integrity and knowledge. I observe students who work hard and with enthusiasm.

Obviously, Chuck’s article was strictly written to satisfy a personal agenda of some kind.

In my opinion, he should complete his research, in order to publish a front-page apology, if appropriate. Sadly, he has neglected to give me
the courtesy of an interview before insinuating that my classes are outdated, that the students are not technically challenged
in ballet.

My recent (Spring 2005) student evaluations tell a different story, and I will certainly make them available to you. They will provide ample evidence of manipulative journalism. I also don’t appreciate the accusation, that full-timers cannot get jobs in the industry anymore.

I can prove very recent activities in Europe, where I teach during my visits major with professional dance companies. During my two-year leave of absence (2001-2003) I helped develop a new Bachelor of Dance Degree at the Auckland University of Technology. I also taught open classes in New Zealand. As a result I was approached by professional dancers (among them a former soloist from London Festival Ballet, a former principal of Tokyo Ballet and dancers from several European companies) to start a professional company for them (2003). The company is still going strong.

In early Spring 2005 I was invited to act as research associate in dance science with New Zealand’s universities. I plan to co-publish in depth about injury prevention and to continuously?bring updated information as a consultant to European dance companies.

Obviously, it was not in Chuck’s interest to interview me, or any other of the part-timers mentioned only as “part-timers” in the article. I am really sorry, that Melissa Randel was used in such a shameless way. I know her as an excellent teacher and as a person of integrity.

Thank you,
Dora Krannig

Dance Department Source Misrepresented

????????I took a great deal of time with your student writer Chuck Reyes, to discuss the issue of part-timers vs. full-timers in the Dance Department, and I am very upset with the way I was quoted in the recent edition of El Vaquero. Although Chuck’s quotes are accurate, they are out of context and communicate a very different message than the position I took in discussing this subject with Chuck. The way the article reads seems to put me in a point-counterpoint position against Lynn, as though we are on opposite sides of the subject, when in fact we are not.

For example, when I discussed the difference between an academic institution and a private dance studio, I went on to explain how highly qualified both Lynn and Dora are in the professional world. I encouraged Chuck to investigate their resumes and I detailed the highly competitive process of obtaining a full-time job in a community college. I also said it is important to trust that the people who have been given these full-time positions. I said they both have gems to share with their students, I called them nuggets of gold and I encouraged the students to find them, because they are invaluable and come from extensive life experience.

????????In the section where I discuss how painful it is that a hierarchy exists, with regard to losing some of my classes in the past, I also discussed at length, how I had been in the same position, only a?year earlier, when the state budget cuts occurred, and was put in the position of having to take classes away from my colleagues in the dance department, in order to make my load, I explained that it is the reality of being a full time hire and having a load which must be filled. That is the context for “It’s painful.”

????????With regard to my quote about inflexibility of the institution to change things, I was talking, again, at length, about how different an institution that is funded by state funds is, from a private studio, where changes can occur over night. I went into great detail about my own experience with CSULB and how, as students, we were unable to change what we thought was wrong, but down the road, our suggestions had instigated change. I explained how long it takes to add a new class to the curriculum and how community colleges have a lot of procedure and all of that takes time. If I said “that’s the way this institution is run,” what I meant was that is how ALL community
college institutions are run. The way it reads makes it sound like GCC is unusual,?when in fact, it is the norm.

????????I deeply regret having agreed to be interviewed. What took time and care and thought, has been twisted to fit an agenda which is not mine and had I known this, I would never have agreed to be interviewed. I feel deeply offended by this article and would appreciate a retraction and a personal apology. In addition to the harm this article has caused to the dance department, implying that there is some hidden agenda by the full-time faculty to cheat the students of quality teachers,?it has also done harm to my relationship with Lynn McMurrey, who has been nothing but a generous and supportive advocate for me here at GCC. Also, for the record, Barb Erfurt is not adjunct faculty, she is full-time in the P.E. department, which makes even?the title of Chuck’s article misleading.? I appreciate your consideration of this matter
and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Melissa R. Randel

Context Found Wanting

This letter is in response to an article published in the June 3, 2005 issue of El Vaquero, the last issue of the spring semester. The article leads with the front-page headline “Dance Students Question Department Decisions,” and follows on page 3 with the header, “Dance: Students Prefer Part-Time Instructors Over Full-Time Faculty.”? From the headlines by themselves, an impartial reader would get the impression of widespread reaction within the ranks of dance students to some gross unfairness.? But the body of the article reveals its source to be “a handful of students” who wish to see part-time jazz dance instructor Barbara Erfurt take over jazz classes now taught by full-time dance faculty who also oversee the curriculum.

Some context is wanting. This “handful of students” pays community college prices for a dance program commanding wide respect in the Southern California for its comprehensiveness, numerous performance opportunities and high production standards.? It seems they have rapidly evolved to a state of readiness to direct the program themselves.? They note the popularity of Ms. Erfurt’s jazz class, and, in their wisdom, equate it with the class’s indispensability to the curriculum.

The article is sloppily written.? It quotes an attendance claim of 50 to 60 students per class from Ms. Erfurt, then allows her to build an argument on them in print, while later in the article the claims are refuted by the actual attendance record.?It quotes, without refuting, foolishly erroneous statements by unnamed students who seem bent on denigrating the reputation of the dance department. Its overall impression is that a slew of profoundly qualified adjuncts are being locked out of positions they deserve, while, curiously, only one, Ms. Erfurt, is mentioned.? Finally, it carelessly lends credence to the short-term desires of inexperienced dancers who naturally want academic credit for doing more of what they are good at-dance that is current, familiar, and
a part of the culture they continually absorb as mass consumers.? In sum, the article smacks more of veiled partisanship than of journalistic objectivity.

It shouldn’t be necessary, but in light of the unfair timing of this article, I want to state my objections, as an adjunct dance teacher at GCC, to pressures toward a “Wag the Dog” approach to a dance curriculum. The essence of fashion is change.? Teachers dubbed the hippest are often the young and popular ones, but in the commercial world they come and they go quite rapidly.? It is good for a department to reach out and provide students with a taste of the current, but it is not the primary mission of a true dance curriculum.

A college or conservatory course in dance should impart knowledge that the average student does not seek on his or her own.? In addition to a structured foundation in the techniques required of any professional, this knowledge includes protocols of studio and stage conduct, basics in kinesiology, musical forms, and an understanding of dance’s rich history and its place in the theatre and the arts at large.? These subjects tend to require the perspective of extensive experience and study, which might explain
why, as in other departments, the planners of the study schedule are the teachers and not the students.

In this case, what has not been noted are the track records of Lynn McMurrey and Dora Krannig, the two full-time faculty members who have been slandered by implication in the above-referenced article.? In addition to extensive professional backgrounds and long and distinguished service as teachers, they are both known for their qualities of leadership and compassion.? It is they who have sustained the open policies which give students frequent chances to express themselves artistically even at the earliest stages of their development, and it is they who have constantly brought in fresh guest and adjunct talent to give the GCC Dance Program depth and currency.

It is a sad phenomenon that, while engendering deep appreciation in some students, these policies have resulted in an attitude of arrogance and entitlement
in others.

Yours truly,
Richard Kuller,
Adjunct Instructor,
Tap Dance and Movement for Musical Theatre
Glendale Community College