PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS - Current Year

Presidential Address, January 27, 2017
By Dr. David Scott

I love maps. I remember the days when you could get a map of any given area at a gas station, often for free. Part of the fun was unfolding the accordion-like paper, trying to find a landmark or road or shape that was recognizable, and then expanding your view to see what else was around, where you could go next. Granted, in those days I was too young to be driving, or actually in charge of the decision regarding the next destination, so that was mostly an exercise, but it remains a memory of possibilities that provides pleasure, excitement and a continuing feeling of hope, expectation and joy.

In addition to gas station maps, I have vivid memories of my father coming home, usually around Christmas each year, with a new Rand McNally Road Atlas of the United States. You may remember them, and I know some stores still carry them; hundreds of pages on oversize paper, lots of colorful representations of cities, states, regions, interstate highways, national parks, and virtually anything else of interest or use in transportation, all there in one source, ready for perusing, dreaming, and planning. As I completed my undergraduate studies, I actually kept up the family tradition and purchased a new atlas every year or so. The last one I bought was in 2002, I think, and, even though I am sure it is woefully out of date, we still have it in a corner of the house somewhere.

I could go on and on about my family and our thing with maps; maps with pins representing places visited, historic maps of what people thought the world looked like at a particular point in time, maps of the night sky, and so many more. And trust me, as I mention each of these, my mental representation of each is causing me to smile inside! The technical term for a map lover is “cartophile,” and I think I definitely fall into that category. Maybe you do, too. I doubt I am particularly unusual, at least in cartophilia terms. Perhaps there is less interest now that so much of our world is available on a computer screen, although it certainly allows more and quicker access to information. So, maybe there is more interest in, or even love of, the graphic representation of everything around us.

I find it interesting that my career path has led me to a field that has so little in the way of a concrete map, path to follow, set of questions to ask and answers to find. Some of that is exciting, and I hope you describe your administrative experience in terms of excitement, at least most of the time. However, academic administration in general, and arts administration within the academy in particular, is often a murky, uncharted, and often just plain scary set of situations, decisions, reports, and questions.

The following statement from a 2005 research article is not going to surprise anyone: “The leadership of an academic program or department has many challenges.” Indeed, our individual and corporate experience shows, as does most research, that those new to a leadership position are not likely to have had any previous leadership experience or a clear understanding of many, or perhaps most, aspects of the job. Generally, new leaders rely on the advice and support of those in similar fields within the campus community, and while much of the mentoring in these settings is informal, therefore hard to notate and study, it has been a regular and significant part of the growth process for generations. Only recently have organizations focused on providing training and specific mentoring for incoming academic leaders.

But even when they are available, traditional mentoring models are usually based on the experience of current upper administrators, who generally have come from traditional fields within the academy. Unfortunately, fields that do not fit the traditional academic mold are at risk of losing qualified new leaders before they gain any significant expertise, simply because answers to basic questions and recommendations on how to deal with issues unique to their field may not be available, fit the circumstances, or meet the criteria put forth in the training model. Again, I will surprise no one by stating that Music programs definitely fit into this category; while music has been an accepted subject in the academy for millennia, how our craft is shared with students and the way in which the program interacts with the campus and greater community is very different than most other academic fields. Because of these differences, it is often a challenge to find mentors on individual campuses capable of offering the right kind of guidance, or of providing acceptable answers to the specific questions about music programs.

Leading any academic unit is a diverse affair, but, if you will pardon the pun, I am preaching to the choir when I suggest to you that leadership in a Music unit requires far more diversity than most other units on campus. A few examples:
  • Music has a regular need for high-expense capital equipment, a challenge shared with agriculture and some of the sciences;

  • Music deals with presenting the results of much of its coursework in a public setting, shared with theater and art;

  • Music requires an immense amount of individualized instruction, similar to work at the graduate level in most subjects;

  • and Music regularly represents the university in very public settings (concerts, sporting events, ceremonies) that are generally only matched by athletics.


Each of these areas, as well as many others, require understanding, financial support, and the support and understanding of campus leadership. Bringing a new person into a position that not only requires knowledge of their academic subject and a willingness to learn personnel, fiscal and other regulations, but also how to effectively hire transportation for tours and concerts, interact with the athletic department staff, effectively present cases for unique instructional methods to the upper administration, and the understanding of myriad other issues is a steep challenge. With no other single department on campus that effectively and regularly relates to the full range of these issues, bringing in new leadership is often is a recipe for quick and constant turnover.

If I can extend the analogy just a bit longer, I also find an interesting paradox in the whole map thing. By definition, maps were, and are, intended to bring a consistency, a similarity, to everyone’s understanding of that which is being mapped. If every map of Texas were different, there would be no need for any of them, since they really would not serve the intended purpose. If Christopher Columbus’ map of the Atlantic, and his version of the general circumference of the Earth, had shown the same breadth that most other cartographers of the day had calculated, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain would likely have turned down his funding request, just as so many other heads of European powers had previously. But, since his version was 30% smaller, therefore that much closer to the desired destinations, it made the trip more affordable, and apparently a reasonable investment. I suppose I am glad that particular example worked out as it did, but it just goes to show that consistency is important in this field. That call for consistency being said, we actually use maps for very individual, unique reasons. Some seek general information; some seek a specific location; some want directions because they don’t know; and others want to confirm that of which they are already certain. So, for every effort to make any map consistent, the end use will be widely varied and perhaps even unimaginable to its creator.

So it is with our jobs. Each of us has been tasked with being pragmatic at the same time as we are artistically creative. We are expected to keep our faculty in line while asking them to try to expand their, and by association, our students’, horizons. We must make our programs comfortable, relevant, and unique to our specific population and culture, while at the same time meeting academic and artistic standards, rubrics, and expected outcomes that have been in place for decades or even centuries, and imparted to and expected of all institutions. And yet, we provide maps, to our faculty, our upper administration, our students, donors, alumni, and so many other groups. We create the direction, note the hills and valleys around us, and attempt to find the best way forward.

I mention all of that not to scare of any of our new colleagues (or any continuing ones!), or to cast dispersions on any administrative leaders on any of our home campuses or national accrediting bodies. I mention all of that for one very specific, important, and geographically relevant purpose: The answer to this dilemma, the “map to success,” if you will, is here, in this room. TAMS, and its annual membership in all of its iterations, has 78 years of experience in mentoring programs and executives; young, old, experienced, fledgling, big, small, comprehensive, community, and every adjective in between. If you have been a member for a while, attending previous meetings, I am certain you have seen, and probably been part of, examples of mentoring, hand-holding, explaining, suggesting, or at least being a sounding board for a colleague’s issues or struggles. Likely, you have been the recipient of the same, perhaps on numerous occasions. If you are new, either to administration or our organization, you may have already seen, heard, or felt an example of unfolding the map available to you through this organization. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity, I bet one will reveal itself to you soon.

You can look at TAMS in a few different ways, a “Fork in the Road,” if you will. TAMS can be one of the most important tools you have at your disposal as you create your own map. You can take advantage of the mentoring opportunities, the Commissions, the list-serv, and so many other aspects that allow us to share our corporate knowledge and institutional understanding. You can also view TAMS as The Map in and of itself, a guide to the successful cultivation of a community of scholars and artists, waiting to show you the way to the proverbial “Next Great Place.” Both seem to me to be accurate representations of what we strive to do for our colleagues and our art form.

Regardless of how long or intimately you have been involved with TAMS, you have likely not taken full advantage of all there is to offer. I urge you to find at least one new element you can use during this conference, or confer with at least one person you have not interacted with previously, or maybe both. I am confident you will add to your map, whether it is a dog-eared, time-warn version or a fresh, neatly folded one.

No matter where you have come from, how long you have been where you are now, or where you think you are going, either personally, professionally, or programmatically, TAMS can, should and will serve you as you travel your own unique road. Because that’s the great thing about maps; while they really aren’t unique, how they are used by each individual user makes them so. As you continue, I invite you to make TAMS and its members your unique, personal, and fully interactive map to success in all its forms. Thanks for being here and thanks for all you have done, are doing, and will do, for the association, the art form, and the academy!







© 2017 Texas Association of Music Schools