Western Sonata

First things first: Since my last post, Oz bounced back to a better place, then bounced un-back (I would use the opposite of “back,” but that’s “forward,” and that isn’t where he went at all), and is now seeming better once again. He’s still not eating much in the way of dry food, but he likes his new canned chicken stew, and if he’s still not mooching toast and Milk Bones from James and Gilly at work, he is generally happy to clean up the cats’ plates here at home. Still hanging in there, that’s what we know.

I write lots of posts in my head these days, but get almost none of them onto actual pixels. I don’t know what I’m doing with my mornings — reading too much international news, I suppose, and also investing brain cells and time to both Wordle and a four-word version called Quordle — but I have offered no reportage of an assortment of topics, some of which I decide will keep for another day, only that day never seems to make it to the blog.

So let’s go with the state of Western Not State, since that matters without containing worldwide existential concerns.

I could be wrong, but I believe when I last reported on Western Not State Not College, the school was on the verge of tanking its music program, but that got pulled back from the abyss and was given two years to prove its worth.

One of the posts I never posted was going to be about the Super Bowl-day concert I attended with my friend Sue. Martha Watson Violett, emeritus faculty member who I don’t think understands the meaning of the word “retire,” gave a masterful presentation of a trio of piano sonatas by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven — every last bit of it from memory. From memory! I usually can’t remember why I got up from my desk, and she presented ten disparate movements in an assortment of tempos and keys without a single sheet of music in front of her.

Her timing, cutting into the first quarter of the Super Bowl — hey, did I mention I finally won some money on a football square? — made me wonder if anyone would come to her concert, but there were a respectable number of us there, and we gave her a resounding and well-deserved standing ovation. Score one for the music department!

Anyway, I have also mentioned, perhaps in conjunction with the music debacle, or maybe I talked about something else I forgot because I do not have the memory of a Martha Watson Violett, that Western’s horribilus animulus president finally disappeared, to be replaced by an interim who has soothed things over and made the interim a peaceful interlude. But now that interim is coming to a close.

Not having the campus sources I once did, all of the people I know having retired (and, unlike Martha, actually meaning it), I don’t know if President Nancy Chisholm, alumnae and former trustee, applied for the longer-term presidential position or not, but the search firm, the search committee and the trustees just a couple days ago announced their three finalists, and Ms. Chisholm is not one of them.

Having participated in one of the “community input sessions” where I was the entirety of the community (I believe I wrote about that, now that I pause to remember — take that, Martha), I received an invitation that, lest I start to feel too special, has been extended to the community at large by way of a newspaper announcement: come to three separate sessions next Tuesday Wednesday Thursday to meet the finalists to be Western’s next president. And, I presume, have the opportunity to provide your feedback.

But I kind of think this might be like the non-hiring of black coaches in the National Football League, where the white (did I say that? I’m pretty sure I meant right) decision gets made before the interview with the black candidate ever takes place.

Not that I am leveling charges of racism against Western — that guy is gone at long last — and the finalist pool includes at least one Hispanic, two women, and two candidates who were the first in their families to go to college — but given the disparate nature of their qualifications, this is clearly about going in one of three different future directions for Western, and surely — I mean, surely — the trustees have already had their discussion about strategic plans for Western’s next years.

This actually is kind of like Martha Watson Violett’s concert, which traced the progression of musicians working with the new instrument of the pianoforte (which, I learned at her concert, started with 63 keys rather than the 88 of today, 19 of those missing keys at the high end): the styles of Mssrs. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were markedly different.

So. Candidate #1, on the calendar if not in hearts and minds, is Western’s current chief operating officer. He’s been at the job for many years, and it seems like selecting him would be opting to stay the current course.

His (the finance guy, remember) is the only head that ultimately never rolled when Western, like so many other schools at the same time, overbuilt and underfunded and got in way over its head. And there’s the part where he left his first wife and made his second wife his second-in-command at Western, nepotism be damned.

But Western is still around, and he shows remarkable talent for staying afloat, which really is a plus, plus he already lives here and won’t complain about not being able to afford a house, which could happen to the other two candidates. He knows Gunnison and is part of the community, and he knows what makes Western tick.

Candidate #2 is currently the president of Harvey Mudd College, and I have to say I had no idea that a Star Trek character had an entire school named after him. Her background, which was at Princeton before Star Trek, is entirely in computer science and engineering — just like the brand-new building blocking the entrance to the rest of campus whose students will receive a degree not from Western but from the University of Colorado in an arrangement no one has been able to adequately explain to me.

Hiring her suggests that Western would be throwing in with a future as a technology school, once again ignoring the liberal arts that are the bane of those who see college only as an investment on which to realize a monetary return and nothing more.

The third candidate, from the University of Redlands where she is a vice president, brings a background in equity and diversity, and one of the projects she is currently tasked with at her present assignment is the urban planning of a campus-owned 30-acre “neighborhood,” which is something Western is taking a look at with the land available on its perimeters, given that the college struggles to hire anyone to come into the community, since the “cheap” houses start at $500,000.

Three sonatas by three masters in one virtuouso performance. Three distinct candidates pointing in three distinct directions. I don’t know how worth it is going to their receptions, because surely — right? — the trustees must already have some sense of what direction they want Western to go. Depending on the shape of that hole, only one of these three pegs would be a definitive fit.

I guess we’ll see where the music takes us.

Not Martha, but the same scherzo from the Beethoven sonata she played.

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