Despite months of student outcry, music ed. admissions still at a standstill

Music education students at NYU are petitioning administrators to restart admissions to the music education program, which will stop accepting new applications in the fall 2023 semester.


Kevin Wu

Students are petitioning to keep the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development’s Music Education program. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Kayla Hardersen, Senior Staff Writer

In November of 2022, undergraduate students in NYU’s music education program were abruptly told that new students would not be admitted to their program until further notice due to a “curriculum review.” Three months later, there is still no news about the fate of the program, though a student-led petition asking for answers has received more than 1,900 signatures.

Many of the future music educators worry that the sudden halt in enrollment would reduce the prestige of the program, which is housed within NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. They also expressed concerns that it may affect the learning of current students, as part of the program involves older students mentoring younger students. The students who created the petition, which they submitted to administrators on Feb. 6, are demanding that admissions for the program stay open for fall 2023 — the time at which they are slated to be closed.

The group is also requesting greater transparency and representation in the curriculum review, specifically requesting inclusion in the working group created for the ongoing process. According to the petition, the group consists of zero adjunct faculty, a group which makes up the majority of music education professors at NYU. Of the 16 faculty members that make up Steinhardt’s music education program, only two are full-time professors.

Alex Ruthmann, an associate professor of music education who is teaching at NYU Shanghai, and Jason Thompson, the interim director of the program, are the only faculty members who currently serve on the review’s working committee. Besides these two faculty, the committee includes administrators in other arts departments — such as dance education, theater education and music technology — as well as other administrators with experience conducting curriculum reviews.

Marylin Nonken, the chair of the music and performing arts professions department at Steinhardt, responded to the student petition on Feb. 8, updating students on the working group’s progress. She stressed that the review will not affect the students set to receive teaching certificates, and said that going forward, they will receive monthly updates on the committee’s deliberations.

“This group was formed to assess our program and serves an advisory function,” Nonken wrote. “We will invite students, alumni and adjunct faculty to work with us in the next stage of reimagining the program’s future.”

The news that the program would undergo a curriculum review, and that admissions would be paused, first came in an email from Nonken to students on Nov. 1, 2022. The note also assured them that they would be able to complete their degrees. In response, students in the program drafted an open letter to Steinhardt administrators, arguing that the decision undermines the program’s value and the quality of their education. The letter demanded many of the same things as the recent petition, including improved communication and adjunct faculty representation in the curriculum review process.

Signatories of the petition requested that administrators schedule biweekly meetings to inform students and faculty of the status of the review. Petitioners are also demanding that current students receive a recommendation for their New York State Education Department teaching certificate from the university — a feature that is included in the program, but one that some students feel is at risk due to the conflict. The certificate is required to be able to teach in any New York State public school.

Jahnvi Seshadri, the president of Student Music Educators of NYU, a club for music education majors, said that affected students want a say in the decisions that have impacted them and that will in the future.  

“This is our future career and the quality of our education,” Seshadri said. “We know that these decisions are happening, but as tuition payers to this university, as the primary stakeholders of this program, we deserve clear and truthful responses about what’s really going on.”

Jason Noble, the director of instrumental music education studies and a member of NYU’s adjunct faculty union, ACT-UAW Local 7902, emphasized the significance of the potential end of the university’s music education program. Noble said that NYU is the only R1 research institution — the highest ranking kind of research institution —  in the New York City area to offer a bachelor’s program that leads to certification allowing graduates to teach music at every school level, from pre-K through 12th grade.

“‘Curriculum review’ isn’t the problem,” Noble said. “The problem is that NYU has systemically, methodically, without any input from the stakeholders, choked and starved a once glorious program of any chance to survive.”

Noble added that his 2022 graduating cohort had 100% job placement.

“I’m really proud that they’ve organized in solidarity, and methodically, factually described these heinous and unconscionable, draconian decisions,” Noble said.

Contact Kayla Hardersen at [email protected].