The Music Scholars Network, the Public, etc.

I created and developed the Music Scholars Network (MuSNet) to enable a professional, interdisciplinary, member-contributed community.  Of the respondents to my October 2012 Music Scholars Web Survey, 69% felt that the conferences, journals, and websites of music academic societies are not always efficient enough.  In fact, 62% of them said they would be willing to pay between $10 and $50 per year for a membership in a network that allowed them to post, tag, find, share, and discuss such things as conference information, calls for papers, teaching materials, job postings, and research.

Most music academic societies, however, have ignored or refused my requests to distribute an email announcement inviting people to join MuSNet.  Getting the word out and encouraging people to add things to the website (even through free trial memberships) are thus turning out to be much more difficult than I had imagined.  Tenure-track academics (even people I consider to be friends and/or close colleagues) and academic societies (even ones to which I belong and/or for which I have worked) are not used to being second-guessed by so-called “independent scholars.”  I suppose it is also possible, though, that they are all just too busy.

Amazingly, members cannot directly add things to the websites of music academic societies.  Everything is channelled through executive directors, webmasters, moderators, and various sub-committees on specific topics, issues, etc.  The American Musicological Society’s (AMS’s) plan for “public musicology” (a vague and far too patronizing plan) is likely to take years to unfold, and it will undoubtedly prove to be highly unsatisfactory.  Another difficulty is that music academia is plagued by the problem of “silos” that consistently separate musicologists from ethnomusicologists and music theorists, academics from composers and performers, classical “snobs” from jazz and popular music “believers,” and so on.  It is not at all a healthy situation!

Over the next several decades, the various MBAs who now run most universities (and have been hired at a rate ten times that of tenured academics) will find ways to shut down or otherwise mess with numerous music departments.  They will reasonably ask:  Is music a part of the humanities, or is it a part of the fine and performing arts?  It will make no difference that music is obviously both of those things.  Many more music scholars than currently do so will end up having to do their work in places other than university music departments, but, in fact, a lot of us already do.

With MuSNet, I am developing an “alternative academic” venue for music scholars of various sorts to accomplish things efficiently, quickly, and affordably.  However, I am also very keen on the idea that the majority of materials posted and discussed by the site’s members should be made available to the public, used directly by students, consulted by journalists and music enthusiasts, and so on.  I hope to administer and maintain the network on a part-time basis, I’ve been enrolled in a self-employment (small business) program since September, and part of the goal of the business is to get myself off of social assistance.

The people who would probably be able to make the best use of MuSNet are current Ph.D. students and adjunct (a.k.a. sessional) instructors, including the many who work only part-time, as I often did from 2001 to 2008.  In 2012, more than 70% of US university courses are being taught by non-permanent faculty.  However, the American Musicological Society, for example, will not release the names and email addresses of its graduate student members, even to me: a long-time AMS member who worked at its office in 2010 to redevelop the successful new version of its Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology web index (which is, in fact, the AMS website’s most popular function).  Even worse, the AMS does not know how many of its members have non-permanent teaching positions.  It does not track its members’ “career stages” (as it calls such information), because it wants to believe that every Ph.D. eventually lands in a tenure-track position.  In what I take to be a related issue, there was some discussion at the AMS in 2010 about having a member-portfolio system, but the society wasn’t willing to commit to the cost of the 200 hours (e.g. $5000) I felt that it would take to develop it.

My research (more to come later) shows that two-thirds of music academic Ph.D.s since the early 1990s have NOT landed in tenure-track positions.  Even those among the fortunate one-third have referred to the past two or three decades as having produced a “lost generation,” but some of us still manage (despite being “lost” and even with the odds stacked against us) to publish books and articles, present conferences papers, teach part-time, and so on.  Music academia (unlike history, English, and other larger fields) has not prepared the majority of its members for the reality of needing to establish other types of career pathsFor example, the American Musicological Society’s official “alternative academic” career advice comprises only a few scant pages, which are lifted almost entirely from publications addressing non-music fields and are, quite frankly, almost completely useless.  MuSNet, on the other hand, provides an innovative, dynamic, networking context precisely so we can (among other things) help ourselves navigate some of these difficulties.

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