$400,000 to burn

Buried in the seamy tale of the UConn music department—included almost as an afterthought—were the salaries of these two accused vis-à-vis their current status. David Woods, the former dean of the School of Fine Arts, who is apparently still a professor in good standing currently receives a salary of $237,547. He is the man alleged to have ignored years of formal and informal complaints against Robert Miller, his department member who we now know was behaving in a reprehensible manner for what appears to be decades. Miller, currently on administrative leave and barred from campus, is receiving a salary of $140,907.

If this weren’t so tragic, it would almost be funny. Here’s a university whose tuition rises every year—which has recently stated openly the desire for more out-of-state students because they would pay more—frittering away close to $400,000 a year (or this year anyway) on two employees, one of whom has allegedly harmed students directly, and the other who has harmed them, it appears, by omission. I understand that there are contracts that need to be honored—that unless formal charges are brought against Miller (or less likely against Woods) they cannot summarily be drummed out of Storrs penniless and debased. What I don’t understand is why an individual music professor—even one at a large university—deserves twice the salary of a high school music teacher whose responsibilities are possibly more diverse.

Most high schools—even larger ones—have fewer than five music teachers, and very often have but two—one for instruments and one for voices. The instrumental teacher becomes ex officio the orchestra leader, the band leader, the marching band leader, and probably the supplier of music for every assembly, event, and theater production in the academic year. And since the likelihood of the school having a music librarian is nil, he’s that too. And he teaches.  The voice instructor handles everything that involves singlng, from the holiday concert to the graduation exercises and every National Anthem in between. He’s at everyone’s beck and call. And he teaches. I’d be willing to bet that Robert Miller has never had that number of responsibilities in any given year; instead they are probably spread out among fifty staff members in the music program at UConn. Most of these instructors are undoubtedly performing their jobs at a high level but not earning anywhere near $140,000 a year. Half that. Less.

Centering this discussion on UConn is unfair: every major university must have its share of staff members turning a blind eye and men and women who exploit and abuse their roles as instructors. And harping on salaries can sound cynical, for it’s very likely that real harm has been done here—done to a lot of young people over a long period of time. (And before anyone reminds me that the acts were consensual, let’s remember that the word loses its meaning when one of the so-called participants holds a position of authority over the other.) In the end there’s that $400,000 which could be put to better use—maybe to set up a fund to counsel the victims who, now that the story has broken, may very well appear in greater numbers. 

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Chuck Radda

I'm a former high school English teacher, currently a literacy volunteer and novelist. I invite your responses right here or to chuckradda@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Facebook and on Twitter—where I tweet annually at @chuckrad45.

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