By LAURA TAYLOR
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, Dr. Michael Bratt, visiting assistant professor of music composition and technology, received an email informing him that his contract would not be renewed for the next school year.
Tuesday morning, around 8:30 a.m., Dr. Brooks Kuykendall, the music department chair, got an email from the dean while teaching a class. When Kuykendall got out of class at 9:15 a.m., he sent the email to Bratt by 9:32 a.m.
After receiving the email 10 minutes before his scheduled music composition class, Bratt made the announcement about his contract not being renewed which sparked a level of hysteria amongst his students. At first, students spread the word that the music department was being shut down along with Bratt being fired and his classes canceled for the rest of the semester. Students who weren’t at Tuesday’s class got word of the rumor, sending some confusion amongst the music department faculty.
“I didn’t even get a chance to make an announcement. Before I had a chance to tell my colleagues, I was already hearing rumors,” said Kuykendall. “I’m not sure how the word got out the way it did,” he added.
Bratt explained that he was still on contract with the university for the rest of the semester.
“There was no announcement of the department being shut,” said Bratt. “I’m still teaching my classes for the rest of the semester. My position is going to be subsumed by adjuncts in the fall.”
According to Kuykendall, the decision to not renew Bratt’s contract goes back to the time of his own hiring.
Kuykendall explained that when he was hired, he was asked which position he would do a search for and he chose choral director. The adjunct that was the choral director for 19 years was also working two other jobs at the time and wasn’t expanding the choir or taking them on tours. He said that with solidifying the choral program and bringing in more musicians, it would be easier to return to more full-time professors. When there were six positions five years ago, the budget for one of those positions got moved to another department, permitting a maximum of five music professors.
“Dr. Wells and Dr. Bratt came in on one-year visiting professorships,” said Kuykendall. “Visiting professorships can be extended for a maximum of three years.”
When Bratt was hired in 2017, his contract was open for renewal for up to three years until the 2019/2020 school year. The music department didn’t know if the position would be continued for the third year but they knew it could not be renewed past a third year.
“If Dr. Bratt were to remain, there would have had to be a new tenure faculty track line,” said Kuykendall. “We would have had to do a national search for applicants and Dr. Bratt would have had to be the successful candidate.”
Part of the hysteria that developed surrounding Bratt’s situation is the result of the close relationship Bratt has with his students. Several music majors expressed their dissatisfaction with the announcement of Bratt’s departure and questioned the manner in which the university lacked a formal announcement of his departure.
Composition track music major Emmanuel Smith said that his initial reaction was “pure anger.”
There are audition requirements for enrolling in the music program at UMW and some students felt that they would have to transfer to other universities and audition for new music programs.
“I quite honestly am disappointed in the university,” said junior music major Emily Whelan. “I can’t help but feel poor budgeting is at play in this. Along with that, we did not get the news of his leaving until well after transfer dates, leaving students who feel transferring is their best option either begging schools to still consider them or being stuck at UMW for another semester before being able to go elsewhere.”
Kuykendall mentioned that two students were worried about having to transfer to another university’s music program.
“A couple of students came to me concerned because audition dates had passed for some of the programs,” said Kuykendall. “I told them of course, they should always keep an eye open for other programs if they feel they aren’t getting what they need here.”
The music department as a whole was saddened by Bratt’s departure.
“The situation is not ideal,” said Kuykendall. “I would very much like to have Dr. Bratt here for the long term, but there is not the funding for that.”
Should Bratt still be in the area, he could be hired as an adjunct professor to teach open courses.
“It’s surprisingly difficult to find composition professors that uphold professionalism and healthy student to instructor relationships the way Professor Bratt does,” said music major Nora Whelan. “He has been an incredibly valuable resource for his students and gone above and beyond to help us find our voices in music. It’s very disheartening to see him go.”