CIM fires viola faculty member, spurring dissatisfaction among students

On March 27, students at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) received an email from Provost and Executive Vice President Scott Harrison stating that Mark Jackobs, a member of the viola faculty at the institute, is “no longer employed” by CIM. The move led to widespread student dissatisfaction and even protests. CIM’s action against Jackobs follows pushback regarding the administration’s handling of the Title IX investigation into former Principal Conductor Carlos

Kalmar and his lawsuit against the institute for $260 million.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Jackobs indicated that he received a separation letter from CIM by courier over spring break and that “no reason [was] given for my separation.” He remarked that the decision to terminate him now, in the middle of recital and audition seasons, is an “unforgivable act by CIM administration.”

Given the lack of information, rumors started to swirl as to why Jackobs was fired. An anonymous student, Student A, explains the most common one: “This is just speculation, but I believe that to be because he has been very vocal about advocating for his students and keeping their best interests in mind and fighting for a safe learning environment for them. And I think they just finally got sick of dealing with him and cut the cord.”

In his Facebook post, Jackobs noted that he can “only imagine that my separation has to do with me voicing my opinion when I believed that either the students or faculty would be hurt by various actions taken by the administration,” which he accused of implementing “cost cutting measures.”

CIM students are paired with a single faculty member to work with during the course of their education. Consequently, students develop deep relationships with their assigned faculty and cohorts in the faculty’s studio. As a result, those who reported to Jackobs were not only left without a teacher but also left without their assigned faculty member, and therefore had to establish relationships with different professors. CIM advertises how students can work individually with their professors, thus throwing the promise of the institution into disarray.

Many students are drawing an explicit connection to Jackobs’ termination and the case of Michael Sachs, the former head of the trumpet department. In a Facebook post last fall, he revealed that he decided to resign when he received an email from “HR and CIM’s lawyer” and that “[t]his email asserted that I had made a statement which I have never made.” Sachs then “inferred from the remainder of the email that they were threatening me with legal action.”

This led students to fear that “if two teachers can either be removed or forced to remove themselves from our position, then it could happen to any other teacher at the institution reasonably.” noted Student A.

“Seeing how other students are suffering … it’s just not fun,” said Student A. “It’s not a conducive learning environment anymore … I’m genuinely afraid that one day, my teacher will just be fired for no reason. And then I’ll just have to find another teacher.”

Student A noted that this worry is driving students to be “actively applying to schools to transfer to or have just decided that they’re not coming back to CIM, that they are going to take a break to transfer to another school or figure out what they’re doing.”

“In the case of one of my friends, he’s just not taking lessons anymore. And like, they’re just letting him pass because he doesn’t want to study with anyone else,” said Student A regarding how the scandal is impacting students’ learning and their ability to function.

These student worries can be best expressed in the Instagram account @whosnext.cim, which was created one day after Jackobs was fired. This anonymous Instagram page allows current and prospective CIM community members to share their current fears caused by Jackobs’ departure.

One post reads, “I spent a whole year of my life working to get into this school just to be afraid that my teacher will be fired.”

The timing of Jackobs’ separation is set against the backdrop of recent protests against Kalmar, who was the subject of a Title IX investigation that students claim was dismissed to allow him to stay. Since the student uproar, he was placed on administrative leave and is no longer actively working with students, but many in CIM still feel distressed. Now, Kalmar and his wife are suing CIM for upwards of $260 million in federal court.

This—in addition to Sach’s departure—is causing many students to put the blame on the higher levels of administration and wish for more transparency. Student A remarked, “I would just want admin to tell us what the f*ck they’re thinking right now.”

CIM students are not the only ones who are criticizing upper administration. In early March, CIM’s faculty senate voted no confidence in both President Paul Hogle and Harrison. In the resolution, faculty members cited increasing staff turnover, Hogle’s $111,282 raise which coincided with CIM posting a deficit and an overall lack of credentials and leadership from both individuals. Against Harrison, the faculty senate specifically found fault with CIM’s handling of Title IX complaints.

In October, Chair of the Board of Trustees Susan Rothman sent a letter to faculty and students stating that a “public campaign designed to damage CIM is being waged by a small group of people who oppose the evolution of the institute.”

Much of this emotion culminated in the March 28 CIM orchestra concert. When Hogle stood up to address the crowd, students can be seen on the livestream standing up and turning their backs to the speaking president. They were promptly escorted out of the building.

That same evening, CIM announced recent new funding to transform and renovate the Kulas Hall, leading to online ridicule by students for CIM being out of touch with both faculty and students.

The institution continues to display the strides they are making in terms of the hall renovation and new faculty members without publicly addressing the concerns of its community. As current and prospective students begin to look for different education options, it remains unclear what CIM’s next move will be.

Even if CIM is a smaller institution, the waves of public opinion are directly related to the welfare and experiences of many at Case Western Reserve University.  Not only do CIM and CWRU students freely take one another’s courses, but the tides of student experiences and feelings easily permeate through to both institutions.

CIM has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

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