Education

Lock Haven University donates Steinway pianos amid cuts

Lock Haven University’s decision to donate 11 Steinway pianos to other institutions marks the day the music died at the small Pennsylvania college—or at least the day its music major officially ended.

Steinway pianos—used by artists from John Lennon to Billy Joel and beyond—are heralded and expensive instruments, with price tags stretching upward of $100,000 apiece depending on the model. Since 2008 Lock Haven has had 22 Steinways on campus, thanks to a gift from 1966 alumna and current vice chair of the LHU Council of Trustees Margery Dosey and her late husband. The gift led the Pennsylvania college to achieve all-Steinway status, which the manufacturer bestows on universities around the world, often prestigious music schools, that only feature Steinway pianos on campus.

Now, with Dosey’s blessing, 11 of those 22 Steinway pianos are headed elsewhere.

A bachelor’s degree in music education, established around the same time as Dosey’s gift, is also on the way out, a casualty of low enrollment and the plan to merge six public universities in Pennsylvania. According to the university, there were no students enrolled as music majors when the cut was announced last year. Now Lock Haven is turning 11 Steinways over to two sister universities and other nonprofits.

“Based on the decreased use by Lock Haven, it makes sense to transfer some of the pianos to our integration partners, Bloomsburg and Mansfield universities. Both institutions have strong, vibrant music programs that can benefit immediately from the donations to allow these wonderful instruments to be maintained and played,” university spokesperson Doug Spatafore wrote in an email.

In addition, two of the pianos are going to local school districts and another to a church.

“One Steinway is being gifted to Renovo Elementary School—one of the smallest, most rural schools in the system where the piano is expected to have an immediate, transformative impact on young, developing minds—helping to instill and foster an appreciation for music,” he said.

Final Tune for the Music Major

If students at Renovo Elementary are inspired by the new piano to study music in college, they won’t be able to do so at Lock Haven, at least not as a major—though music will remain part of the general education curriculum, Spatafore noted.

Cutting the music major at Lock Haven, a rural campus located roughly three hours from Pittsburgh, means one fewer option for the local students who comprise the vast majority of the campus community, said Richard Goulet, a history professor at the university and the chapter president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

“Eliminating programs of studies (majors) reduces the opportunities for the largely rural population of central PA and belies the purpose of the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), of which LHU is one of 14 universities, to provide a comprehensive higher education experience to the citizens of PA at the most affordable price,” Goulet wrote in an email.

The formal announcement of the end of the music major came in March 2021, said Goulet. He noted that the end of this program—and others—comes “from mandates from the Office of the Chancellor, Dr. Daniel Greenstein, that all 14 universities of PASSHE meet financial sustainability metrics based on a formula that originated from West Chester University (WCU).”

The metrics take into account factors such as the number of majors and degree offerings at each university, he said, along with student-to-faculty ratios and other numbers. But Goulet questions the formula because “the benchmark measures used WCU numbers,” and West Chester is much larger and closer to Philadelphia than Lock Haven, he noted.

Eliminating Lock Haven’s music major also means the loss of faculty. One music professor has already been cut. Music professor David Curtin has received a “letter of intent to retrench,” Goulet said, describing the phrase as higher education jargon “for being fired,” and may see his job eliminated by June 2023.

Curtin did not respond to a request for comment.

With 11 Steinways still on hand, Lock Haven maintains its all-Steinway status even with the elimination of its music major, since the remaining pianos all come from the manufacturer. And other colleges in the Pennsylvania state system stand to gain from Lock Haven’s largess; Bloomsburg University and Mansfield University will receive four Steinways each.

“The four pianos received from Lock Haven will move Mansfield closer to All-Steinway status and enhance the offering of musical instruments available to students,” Ryan McNamara, a Mansfield spokesperson, wrote in an email. “A notable impact is that one of the pianos will be used in the Music Department’s recording studio, where previously there was no piano available.”

The other three pianos will be used for student practice, tutoring and instruction, he added.

Bloomsburg spokesperson Tom McGuire said by email that “the pianos will be housed in our Haas Center for the Arts and used by our faculty and students for academic purposes.”

Other Casualties of the Merger

Though the physical removal and transfer of the 11 Steinway pianos may be a visible symbol of the dismantling of the music program at Lock Haven, it wasn’t the only major cut made as the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education rethought academics amid the ongoing merger.

Goulet also pointed to prior cuts in foreign languages and the proposed elimination of programs or concentrations in areas such as math, physics, geology, athletic training and various others.

Students enrolled in majors to be cut will be able to finish their degrees as these are wound down, Spatafore said.

Additional job losses for faculty are expected to follow such cuts. However, Goulet said the elimination of numerous programs isn’t happening without a fight from the faculty union.

“APSCUF has filed a policy grievance against the administration for not following the process of putting programs into moratoria as is outlined in our Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Goulet said. “The grievance is ongoing.”

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