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UND staff listen to the demonstrators songs after interim President Ed Schafer invited the group to come to his front lawn to perform at UND on Monday March 14, 2016. Joshua Komer/Forum News Service

SBHE to support UND's stance on music therapy program suspension, chair says

Despite what was said at a State Board of Higher Education meeting, Chairwoman Kathleen Neset released a statement Thursday to clarify the board will support the decision to suspend UND’s Music Therapy Program.

At a SBHE meeting Tuesday, UND students and the program director explained the importance of music therapy. Neset said during the meeting the board would ask UND’s administration to reconsider the suspension of the program.

“The request as I see it here is to ask the administration and the board to reconsider, and we will ask the administration to reconsider,” Neset said.

In an emailed statement from SBHE spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius, Neset said she and the board fully supports each campus and the difficult decisions they face in ongoing budget cuts.

“We’ve asked them to cut budgets, and because they have the autonomous decisions with some guidelines from the chancellor, I know they are doing what they know is best for their individual campus and what is best for the future of the students as well as the entire campus,” Neset said.

Due to a decrease in the state’s revenue forecast, state agencies, including all schools the SBHE oversees, must cut about 4 percent from their appropriated budgets, which at UND means $9.5 million and another $3.1 million from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Lorius said Neset spoke with interim President Ed Schafer after the board meeting and fully supports his decisions regarding UND’s budget cuts, adding she thought Neset’s statement at the board meeting was simply expressing appreciation for the students who came to plead their case.

“I think she meant it in a different way than it was taken,” Lorius said.

Meganne Masko, UND’s music therapy program director, said she really appreciated the board listening to her and her students but was disappointed with the outcome.

“I’m really disappointed that so little thought is being put into how this decision affects the students, faculty and honestly the citizens of the state of North Dakota who thrive because of music therapy sessions they’ve received, mostly from music therapists who were trained at the University of North Dakota,” she said.

All of this comes after music therapy students and their supporters held a musical demonstration outside Schafer’s house Monday during a SBHE social.

While department leaders did not want to suspend the program, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs told the Herald the decision was made partially because the one remaining tenure-track faculty in the program is leaving UND at the end of this school year.

Another piece of the puzzle lies with whether the American Music Therapy Association will ultimately decide to require a master’s degree for certification.

Masko said she also was disappointed because the bottom-up decision-making process outlined by Schafer wasn’t being followed.

“It’s heartbreaking to me,” she said. “There are people in the community who won’t receive the services they need.”

Schafer plans to finalize budget cuts in about one month, but the music therapy website has already announced new majors are no longer being accepted into the program. Students who are enrolled will be supported through graduation by the program.

“We all serve to ensure the future success of our students, and even with the difficult decisions that will be made now and in the future, I trust in the decisions that are being made at each of our campuses,” Neset continued in her statement. “I fully support each of them.”

Lorius said it’s a difficult time because everyone is very passionate and the board appreciated the students taking initiative.

“(Neset) really serves with the full intent of doing what is best for students across the board, but sometimes when you do that you have to consider the best interest of the entire campus, and some difficulty decision are going to be made here and they have to be made to do what’s necessary for the budget,” Lorius said.