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CIM students peacefully protest during first orchestra rehearsal

Protest spurred by dismissal of formal sexual harassment complaint
CIM+students+walk+together+to+Kulas+Hall+in+order+to+peacefully+protest+the+continued+employment+of+Principal+Conductor+Carlos+Kalmar%2C+wearing+blue+to+symbolize+unity.
Courtesy of Dmitri Ashakih/Ideastream Public Media
CIM students walk together to Kulas Hall in order to peacefully protest the continued employment of Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar, wearing blue to symbolize unity.

On Sept. 13 at 3:45 p.m., dozens of students, faculty and staff from the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) sat silently in Kulas Hall during the school’s first orchestra rehearsal of the academic year.

The protest, dubbed a “sit-in to stand up,” was spurred by the dismissal of a formal complaint of sexual harassment against CIM’s Principal Conductor, Carlos Kalmar. Kalmar remains in employment with the institute and continues to conduct orchestra rehearsals, resulting in skepticism from many students.

When asked why they were protesting, one student remarked, “I’m protesting because the current CIM administration has shown a disregard for the well-being of its student body, as well as for the community guidelines it claims to uphold. All members of the CIM community are supposed to feel welcomed and safe while at CIM, and I fear that that is no longer the case.”

At 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, students met in the lobby of the1609 Hazel Apartment Building, CIM’s student dorm, before walking over to Kulas Hall as a group. The plan was simple: Those playing in this orchestra cycle who wished to participate in the protest would sit on stage without instruments, while supporting students would sit in the audience. The protest was completely silent—neither audience members nor players on stage said a word during the process. Additionally, many students wore blue, a designated symbol of “unity” and also CIM’s school color.

The rehearsal itself initially began as usual, despite the visible lack of instruments on stage and the large number of audience members. Kalmar shook the hands of the concertmaster and associate concertmaster before giving some background on the piece they were set to rehearse—however, after talking for less than 10 minutes, he promptly ended the rehearsal, citing the lack of instruments.

The protest began to take shape during a student forum held on Sept. 6, which aimed to discuss “the matters of ensembles and concerns within the orchestra program.” When a communal discontent with the current state of affairs was found, students jumped into action, creating a letter to the administration detailing some of their most common concerns. A link to sign the petition, named or anonymously, was also circulated among the student body. The letter was delivered to CIM President & CEO Paul Hogle in hopes the institution would comment on the current state of affairs.

The letter detailed concerns not only with the administration’s lack of action in regards to the Title IX dismissal, but also with their lack of consideration of faculty opinions during the initial search for an orchestra director. The letter claims the administrative members responsible for hiring Kalmar blatantly dismissed the opinions of faculty members, reading, “During the process of Mr. Kalmar’s hiring, the higher-level administration chose to disregard numerous alarms raised by faculty members. By disbanding the Orchestra Director Search Committee, the administration empowered its own execrable selection while silencing the concerned voices of the faculty.”

Though several faculty members have expressed sympathy for the situation and a desire to support their students, CIM’s lack of tenure positions and short-term contracts have prevented several of them from taking action in fear of losing their jobs or facing other repercussions. Additionally, according to an anonymous faculty member, the administration has locked distribution list links, disabling members of the community from sending mass emails to groups of students, faculty or staff.

Additionally, a message was sent through the CIM Symphony Orchestra’s Canvas page on Sept. 12. The message, titled “S1 [Severance concert one] series rehearsal Administrative memo,” indicated the senders’ wish to “confirm that CIM supports each person’s right to free expression.” However, it also implied that those participating in the protest, by refusing to play their instruments, could receive an unexcused absence and thus a lowered grade.

Citing CIM’s Student Code of Conduct, they argued that those protesting were interfering with the non-participating students by inhibiting their ability to play in orchestra. As is stated in this code of conduct, “Regular, punctual attendance and preparation for rehearsals and classes are crucial to the attainment of professional artistic goals.” Despite being in the rehearsals on time and prepared, the administration argues that not playing is sufficient grounds to be marked as an unexcused absence.

Community members who attended the protest have made their position clear: per the students’ letter to the administration, “We will not participate in any activities directed by Mr. Kalmar,” suggesting that protesting students will refuse to participate in orchestra rehearsals or performances as long as Kalmar is directing them.

When asked about necessary steps to come to a resolution, one student said, “[Kalmar] and the CIM administration must demonstrate that they are taking steps to address the issues raised by the students and faculty protesting here today.” Another stated that “The only way I see an end to this is if Carlos Kalmar steps down as conductor of the CIMO. Entire sections of the orchestra are refusing to play under him. My colleagues are justifiably furious with how the upper administration has turned a blind eye to the way he has treated them, and I stand with them.”

Regardless of their individual opinions, the overall consensus was that CIM’s administration must dedicate some level of support to their students in order for the protest efforts to end and orchestra rehearsals to resume to their full capacity. With the school’s first orchestra concert of the semester scheduled for Sept. 26 at Severance Music Center, the administration will need to act fast if they wish to reach a resolution prior to the concert.

“The only way for things to change at CIM, is if we never settle and are continuously acting and working to see improvements,” urged Student Government Association President Erika Cho in a personal statement delivered via email the day before the protest. “CIM has the capabilities to become a world-renowned institute that provides students the environment they need to become the best of the best. If we only settle with what’s been given to us, we can never challenge ourselves to become the best musician and citizen we can be to society.”

 

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About the Contributor
Lexy Jensen, Development Editor
Lexy Jensen (she/her) is a fourth-year dual-degree student majoring in vocal performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music and English at CWRU. When she is not busy practicing or studying, she can usually be found reading a book, playing video games or walking her dog, Finn. In addition to working at The Observer, she can frequently be found in performances of contemporary, classical or jazz music across the Northeast Ohio area.

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