Faculty vote no confidence in Cleveland Institute of Music leadership

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On February 28, the faculty senate of the Cleveland Institute of Music voted overwhelmingly in favor of a motion of no-confidence in its president, Paul Hogle, and provost, Scott Harrison, citing reputational damage to the school, underqualified leadership, the institution’s growing deficit, and concerns about loss of accreditation, among other grievances.

According to a letter circulated to all faculty by senate chair and viola professor Jeffrey Irvine, the faculty senate—which includes all conservatory faculty—voted 83 to 8 (91 percent) in favor of a no-confidence resolution for Hogle and 81 to 10 (89 percent) in favor of a no-confidence resolution for Harrison. The same letter was sent directly to board chair Susan Rothmann, with a request to circulate the results to board members. 

Rothmann and CIM representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Five faculty spoke to VAN about the voting process on condition of anonymity, citing a retaliatory environment. (As reported by VAN last month, CIM leadership withheld renewal letters from six faculty members, four of whom had served on faculty senate leadership, at the end of the fall semester.) Chief among faculty’s reasons for convening the vote was recent word that CIM’s deficit had swelled from $600,000 to approximately $1 million since the end of the 2023 fiscal year—a development that faculty fear could affect CIM’s standing with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), its institutional accreditor. A pending lawsuit by former orchestral studies director Carlos Kalmar, whose monetary claims exceed $200 million, has compounded the school’s financial anxieties. 

“I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I think the existence of the school is in jeopardy—not just in the reputational sense, but in the literal financial sense,” a faculty member told VAN. “The school is very much on the precipice right now.”

According to sources, the vote of no confidence began with a motion by a small group of faculty, filed privately and anonymously to the senate’s executive committee outside regular meeting hours. (Faculty members typically introduce motions publicly during video conference meetings.) The motion was formally introduced at the next meeting by the executive committee. 

Last week’s vote culminated various other stop-and-start attempts to push a no-confidence motion through the faculty senate, which sources said preceded the recent orchestral studies maelstrom by several years. To some faculty, however, prior discussions of a no-confidence vote struck them as “too soon and too aggressive,” in the words of one source.

“Even for faculty, it took us a long time to conclude that this was a necessary step,” the faculty member said. 

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In the months prior to last week’s resolution, faculty senate leadership instead pursued an unprecedented meeting with the full board and faculty representatives to relay concerns directly. Sources claim this request was repeatedly denied by Rothmann, the board chair. 

“There was the overwhelming sense that communications had come to a standstill—that there was really no way for the senate body to get these deep, troubling issues into the open and into the board’s hands. It just felt like we were rebuffed at every turn,” said a faculty source.

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Such votes of no confidence are largely symbolic: Only CIM’s board, not its faculty, has the power to unseat senior leadership. However, from 1989 to the present, half of the college administrators issued votes of no confidence—which, while still rare, have become increasingly prevalent in American universities—left their posts within a year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Among its resolutions, the faculty senate letter censures Hogle for “oversee[ing] a debilitating turnover of over 120 members of the staff”; appointing Harrison without “any of the traditional qualifications, credentials, and experience required for the role of Provost”; “disregard[ing] and/or ignor[ing] repeated complaints by students, staff, and faculty” raised about Kalmar and the Orchestra 2.0 program; and “accept[ing] a raise of $111,282 (26.3%) between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years while simultaneously guiding CIM into its first deficit in 30 years.”

The same letter accuses Harrison of “creat[ing] and modif[ying] academic programs without the approval of faculty or the curriculum committee, as outlined in institution policy.” As an example, sources point to the institution’s about-face regarding its Orchestra 2.0 program and the recent fast-tracking of a new graduate saxophone studio. It also charges Harrison with replacing CIM’s former piano department head “without proper faculty consultation and against clearly defined policy, as outlined in the Faculty Handbook” and “refus[ing] transparency in appointing a new Title IX investigator.” 

According to the HLC’s website, a school may be subject to “monitoring, Probation, a Show-Cause Order, or an adverse action” if deemed to be noncompliant with its Accepted Practices policy. The HLC’s Accepted Practices require that an institution “be able to meet its current financial obligations” and sustain “future financial projections addressing its long-term financial sustainability.” Its ethics clause also forbids member institutions from “retaliat[ing] against those who raise complaints”—another broad accusation from CIM faculty against senior administration.

A spokesperson for the HLC declined to comment on the letter’s specific claims but said a no-confidence vote in and of itself “would not automatically impact an institution’s accreditation.” 

CIM has been placed on notice by the HLC before, in June 2015—a last-warning of sorts before an institution loses its academic accreditation. At the time, the HLC cited concerns with the conservatory’s academic quality, governance, and fiscal health under former president Joel Smirnoff. The HLC lifted its sanction in summer 2017, after Hogle had assumed leadership of CIM.

The HLC’s next evaluation of CIM is scheduled for February 2025. ¶

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