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Meganne Masko: Why UND's music therapy program deserves saving

GRAND FORKS--On March 4, I was notified that UND intends to suspend its music therapy program. This news was and is distressing to me, to my colleagues and students, and to other professionals and our clients in the community.

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GRAND FORKS-On March 4, I was notified that UND intends to suspend its music therapy program. This news was and is distressing to me, to my colleagues and students, and to other professionals and our clients in the community.

UND officials have offered varying reasons for suspending the program, to which I offer the following rebuttals:

▇ "Music therapy is not a departmental priority." False. The UND music department worked with two consultants in 2014 to identify the department's strategic priorities. Both of these consultants were paid for by the College of Arts and Sciences, and both consultants identified music therapy as the department's top priority.

As a result, music therapy was identified as the department's top priority in a report to the dean. Music faculty at UND never approved suspending music therapy as a budget reduction option.

▇ "Students will be without a faculty member in the fall." Semi-true. The faculty search committee voted unanimously last month to extend an offer to a candidate. The only reason students will be without a faculty member is if Dean Debbie Storrs of the College of Arts and Sciences and Provost Tom DiLorenzo do not offer the position to one of the qualified candidates who applied.

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▇ "The program must have two tenure track faculty member to be viable." False. The program ran for its first eight years with only one faculty member. A second tenure-track faculty member was added in 2008. The program operated for six years with two tenure-track faculty members until one of those lines was frozen by the UND administration.

The program successfully ran with one tenure track and one non-tenure track clinical faculty member for two years. The lack of a second tenure track line is due solely to decisions made by the dean and provost.

▇ "There is no graduate program at UND." True. A plan for a graduate program in music therapy was submitted to the dean in 2014; however, UND faculty were asked to delay implementing the degree.

▇ "The program is not financially sustainable." False. The program's current enrollment stands at 48 students, and suspending the degree would result in a large annual tuition loss of about $300,000-$600,000.

Meanwhile, the cost to run the program is about $200,000 per year for faculty salaries, benefits and overhead. Therefore, the program brings in more money than it spends, even though UND's accounting process is more complicated than straightforward addition and subtraction.

Furthermore, Ben Folds and Daniel Levitin on March 18 wrote an open letter to Interim President Ed Schafer. In that letter, both Folds and Levitin offered to come to UND at their own expense to raise funds to support the program.

I was speechless for almost an hour when I heard this news. I forwarded the letter to the president, provost and dean, as well as to the music faculty and other university personnel. I was disappointed to read in the Herald that the university did not immediately accept the generous offer.

At a time when UND desperately needs money, why not jump at the chance to pay for one of the university's most popular and impactful academic programs?

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North Dakota was the first state to establish consumer protections for some its most vulnerable residents by requiring licensure for music therapists. Senate Bill 2271, which established that licensure, enjoyed broad and bipartisan support for in both the Senate and House.

Thanks to that law and the thriving and vibrant music therapy program at UND, among other factors, we've seen tremendous development in music therapy in North Dakota. We've grown from four to 15 professionals in the state, and from two to five organizations employing music therapists.

These organizations include UND; Music Therapy in Motion, a private practice employing music therapists across the state; Valley Memorial Homes here in Grand Forks; and Altru Health System.

And of the 15 music therapists in North Dakota, only three were trained outside of the state. In essence, the UND program acts as a feeder to licensure in the state.

One of my major concerns is that without the program-the only music therapy program between Minneapolis and Seattle-there will not be enough music therapists to meet patient and client needs and achieve licensure goals. Ultimately, we could lose our licensure in North Dakota if the UND program is suspended, and, if that happens, it is the most vulnerable residents of North Dakota who'll suffer.

I ask Dean Storrs, Provost DiLorenzo and President Schafer to remember the university's mission to "serve the state" and reconsider suspending the UND music therapy program.

Masko is director of the UND music therapy program.

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