Contact by email:
(or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Letters to the Editor
Click on the above link to let us know what you think or send email to email@example.com)!
Atlanta Food Bank
Our Service Committee is sponsoring a collection of food for the Atlanta Food Bank. When you come to the Luce Center, please bring food to donate.
Contact Other EUEC Members
If you would like to
find out about a travel destination or find other EUEC members who would like to travel with you, send an email to:
If you would like to find other EUEC members interested in taking a MOOC together, an OLLI course together, or possibly teaching together in an OLLI course, click on the following link to send an email:
Click on the link below to register for the next Lunch Colloquium on Monday December 1 at 11:30 am.
| || |
You are receiving this issue of our newsletter as a member or friend of the Emory University Emeritus College (EUEC). I hope the newsletter will help keep you informed about our activities and help you feel connected with our members throughout the U.S. On the left are links to our website and links to contact either me or the EUEC office.
With best wishes,
Gray F. Crouse
Message from the Director
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving this week. As you gather to give thanks, remember that you can help the Atlanta Food Bank by bringing food for our collection barrels at the Luce Center. They will only be there through December 1 and they are not yet full, so more is needed!
We had a packed house to hear Alan Abramowitz last week, and if you were not there, you can read Stewart Roberts' report to understand better what happened in this year's election and what the landscape is for 2016. Next week's Lunch Colloquium promises to be both enlightening and entertaining. Many thanks to Gretchen Schulz and Al Padwa who are treating us to an amazing variety of speakers from around the University.
One of the real benefits of being retired is the opportunity to interact with colleagues from across the University; be sure to read John Bugge's invitation to participate in one or more Interdisciplinary Seminars next semester. Now is the opportunity to suggest topics, as well as volunteer to lead a seminar. Continuing with his columns on security, Selden Deemer in this issue explains VPN and why you might want to use it. EUEC members are active in a variety of ways. You can read a review of Volume III of Samuel Beckett's letters, which involved the hard work of EUEC members. You can read a new poem by Gene Bianchi, partly in response to this last election. Of special interest to many will be an exclusive behind-the-scenes report on the ASO lockout and repercussions by our own Jon Gunnemann.
Finally, don't forget about OLLI and how you could contribute to OLLI teaching. Also one member's experience with looking at Part D drug plans reinforces the fact that it is a good idea to examine your current drug plan and make sure that it will be the best plan for you next year.
I am very grateful to Herb Benario, Gretchen Schulz, and John Bugge for help with proofing and editing.
Lunch Colloquium December 1
How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain
Greg Berns, Distinguished Chair of Neuroeconomics, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine
The Luce Center, Room 130 11:30-1:00
(Don't forget to bring food for the Atlanta Food Bank!)
EUEC Interdisciplinary Seminars
John Bugge is blazing a path that represents a significant advancement in the vision of what an Emeritus College can be with his offerings of Interdisciplinary Seminars. Once again, he is inviting participation in a seminar next semester.
Click here to read about John's invitation
November 17 Lunch Colloquium
Looking Back at the 2014 Midterm Election and Ahead to the 2016 Presidential Election
Last week Alan Abramowitz gave his analysis of the recent election and the factors that will impact the 2016 election. For those who were not able to attend, EUEC member Stewart Roberts reports on what was said.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Lockout: Crisis and Challenges
Robert Spano acknowledges enthusiastic audience in ASO return
Photo by Jeff Roffman
Many EUEC members are enthusiastic supporters of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. However, there are not many of us who make music with the ASO. EUEC member Jon Gunnemann has sung in the ASO chorus for over 20 years. He was one of many chorus and orchestra musicians who worked tirelessly to keep Atlanta informed of the issues behind the lockout of the ASO musicians and even walked picket lines in support.
In his article in this issue, Jon gives a behind-the-scenes look at the events surrounding the lockout and the concerns of ASO musicians going forward.
EUEC Member Gene Bianchi sent the following:
Even as we focus on post-election issues, we shouldn't forget the biggest malady bearing down on us. It isn't Ebola. It's climate change. That's what a worldwide gathering of scientists told us last week. I see my poem below also as an aging blog. A vocation of the elderly is to alert us to big issues that will affect our great grandkids. The poem tries to view the problem via our emotions not only our minds. What do you think? Gene
Click here to read the poem
In response to a question arising from a previous column, Selden Deemer writes about VPN and privacy versus security. Read more if you would like to know what VPN is and why you might want to use it.
Click here to read his column
On September 15 at our Lunch colloquium, we got to hear Lois Overbeck and our own Brenda Bynum talk about the Beckett Project and the forthcoming Volume III of the Samuel Beckett letters. That volume is now out, and a review of it in The Chronicle of Higher Education states: "The first two volumes have been critically acclaimed, and this one is a breathtaking feat, providing new insight into Beckett's personal life and working process." Our EUEC members who have spent long hours working on this project can be justifiably proud of their work.
Click here to read the complete review.
Healthcare Updates Medicare Open Enrollment is from October 15 to December 7 this year.
As previous newsletters have indicated, everyone should take a look at their drug plan for next year.
As an example, here is one member's experience in looking at his plan:
I've been doing some cost comparisons for Medicare Part-D drug plans for 2015 with some surprising results. It turns out the monthly premium, drug cost, formulary, and available drugs can change every year in many of the plans.
For example, the plan I chose for 2014 was WellCare Classic PDP. The 2014 monthly premium was $18.60. For 2015, the monthly premium will be $28.90 (a 64% increase). In addition, the deductible has changed from $0 for Tiers 2-5 in 2014 to $320 for 2015. So for my situation, while WellCare Classic was the least expensive plan in 2014, it is now MORE THAN TWICE AS EXPENSIVE as some of the other plans available to us.
BTW- the Medicare website (https://medicare.gov/find-a-plan/questions/home.aspx) is very helpful for these comparisons. It doesn't give exactly the same numbers as Emory OneExchange, but the rank ordering of the Part-D plans by cost is identical.
Emory's OLLI program (the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Emory) remains very interested in recruiting faculty from EUEC to teach in its courses. To encourage EUEC participation, we are offering EUEC-OLLI teaching fellowships. For more information about OLLI and what teaching in OLLI is like, please click here
The new OLLI catalog is out for the January-March 2015 term, and four EUEC members are teaching
. Click here
to see the full list of courses. Michael Zeiler is teaching History of Psychology Part II
, John Bugge is teaching A Short History of the English Language
, Herb Benario is teaching Fictional History, Historical Fiction
, and Dorothy Fletcher and Bill Fletcher are teaching Exploring the World of Persian Miniature Painting II
. In addition to those courses, there are many more being offered. Register for classes by going to olli.emory.edu
Lunch Colloquium December 1
How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain
The powerful bond between humans and dogs is one that's uniquely cherished. Loyal, obedient, and affectionate, they are truly "man's best friend." But do dogs love us the way we love them? Gregory Berns had spent decades using MRI imaging technology to study how the human brain works, but a different question still nagged at him: What is my dog thinking? Berns decided that there was only one way to answer that question--use an MRI machine to scan the dog's brain. Berns and his dog embarked on a remarkable journey to glimpse the inner workings of the canine brain. Painstakingly, the two worked together to overcome the many technical, legal, and behavioral hurdles. Berns's research offers surprising results on how dogs empathize with human emotions, how they love us, and why dogs and humans share one of the most remarkable friendships in the animal kingdom.
Berns is a Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics in the Department of Economics. He is Director of the Center for Neuropolicy and Facility for Education and Research in Neuroscience, the author of the books Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment, Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently, and, most recently, How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain, and has made numerous media appearances. He graduated cum laude in physics from Princeton University, received a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of California, Davis, and an M.D. from the University of California, San Diego. He subsequently completed a psychiatry residency at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh. His interest is in neuroeconomics and neuropolitics. Current projects include the biology of adolescent decision-making and the effects of peer pressure on risk attitudes, as well as the use of neuroimaging to understand moral decision-making.
Looking Back at the 2014 Midterm Election and Ahead to the 2016 Presidential Election--Lunch Colloquium November 17; a report by Stewart R. Roberts, Jr., M.D.
The guest speaker at the Lunch Colloquium on November 17 was Alan Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science here at Emory. A specialist in political parties, elections, and voting behavior in the United States, he has authored or co-authored six books (most recently, The Polarized Public: Why American Government Is So Dysfunctional) as well as dozens of contributions to edited volumes and fifty-plus articles in scholarly journals. His presentation on the election just past and that to come was well attended with more than 40 members of the Emeritus College present.
As Alan explained, the party of the President generally loses in Congress in the mid-term elections, and the election just past was no exception. Despite an economic recovery, more jobs, and a rising stock market, the average American did not feel it: his mood was sour, America was on "the wrong track." Disposable income was not improving at all. Obama's rating was in the low 40's. This dis-ease was reflected in the mid-term elections of 2014. Only 83 million voters turned out--the greatest decline of mid-term turnout since 1942, a war year.
The Democrats are increasingly dependent upon those who do not turn out on election day. Democrats appeal to the young, the minorities -- African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans -- and single women. In the mid-term election the GOP turnout - older, white, and married -- was greater. In the House elections, 94% of GOP voters voted for the Republican, 92% of Democrats for the Democratic candidate. Independents favored GOP House candidates by 54% to 42%. A word about the INDEPENDENT VOTER: ¾ of Independents lean either toward the Democratic or Republican party. Only 10% of the so-called independent voters are truly INDEPENDENT.
Incumbency counts. In the 2014 mid-terms 33/36 Senate races were won by the party that carried the state in the 2012 presidential elections. 404/435 House races were won by the party that controlled the presidential elections in 2012.
Four billion dollars were spent on the mid-term elections, slightly more by the GOP than the Democrats. Did it make any difference? Probably not. Money spent did, however, grant access to the political system.
The Senate now has 54 GOP members, 46 Democrats.
The House now has 234 GOP members, 201 Democrats and no Independents.
Over the next two years even more polarization is expected. The House will be more conservative and assertive, for moderate Democrats have been replaced by more conservative GOP members, and the remaining Democrats are more liberal. Those elected will represent their district rather than the national party.
Hillary Clinton seems a certain Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential race. Several Republican governors and members of congress have presidential ambitions.
The 2016 electorate will look much like that of 2012. The non-white representation will grow from 28% in 2014 to 30% in 2016.
Do Democrats have an advantage in the Electoral Vote?
Nationally there is a strong link between the popular vote and the electoral vote.
In 2016 the GOP will target the states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Iowa, a total of 64 electoral votes.
In 2016 House elections, Democrats should gain seats, but are unlikely to gain the 30-plus seats needed to gain a majority. In 2016 Senate elections, Democrats should gain, but are unlikely to get the 4-5 seats needed to regain a majority.
The 20 least populous states equal the population of California, but elect 40 US Senators . Twelve of these states of low population tilt toward the GOP, while only 5 tilt toward the Democrats. (DeKalb County has the population of Wyoming, but Wyoming has 2 Senators.)
In terms of state governance, Republicans fully control 24 states with 48% of the US population. Democrats fully control 7 states with only 16% of the US population. There is a sharp ideological divide between parties in the states as there is in Washington. However, in many policy areas -- abortion, same-sex marriage, gun ownership, minimum wage, Medicaid expansion -- the states are moving in opposite directions from the national party. How that fact might impact the next national elections is hard to say.
Other points of note:
The non-white minority vote has increased from 13% (1992) to 28% (2014) and is projected to be 30% in 2016. The GOP vote is 90% white.
Too strong political opposition to Obama administration could backfire on the GOP and weaken its political stature.
There was vigorous audience participation in the Q and A portion of the presentation, lasting some thirty minutes. Perhaps Dr. Abramowitz will return in two years to report on the 2016 presidential election.
--Stewart R. Roberts, Jr., M.D.
Click here to return to top
Computer Security by Selden Deemer
Virtual Private Networking
The computer world is littered with three letter acronyms. One of them is "VPN," which stands for "Virtual Private Network." A virtual private network can be provided by an organization, with which you are affiliated, or as a commercial service. Emory's virtual private network extends the University's private network to the Emory community over the public internet. Access is limited to people with valid Emory credentials, and its primary purpose is to provide secure access to Emory resources on Emory's network as if you were on campus.
There are some significant compatibility requirements to use Emory's VPN, which include use of Microsoft Windows, Apple's OS X and iOS, or Linux operating systems, as well as using the Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari browsers. Chrome browser is not supported, nor is Google's Chrome OS. There are also commercial VPN providers that are more flexible.
This article is not a guide to setting up and using Emory's (or any other) VPN, but rather an overview of why you might want to use a VPN service. [Note: if you are interested in trying to set up VPN through Emory, see the following: http://it.emory.edu/security/vpn.html)]
As you might expect from the name, a VPN connection is "virtual" -- that is, you don't have to be on campus to be part of Emory's network, and "private" -- it's not as open to snooping (by hackers or the NSA) as a public network connection. A VPN provides an encrypted connection (even more than a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) connection to the Internet), which makes it much more difficult for bad guys to eavesdrop on your communications.
A VPN builds on this, which is a big deal, especially if you use public Wi-Fi access points, such as Starbucks, McDonald's, or an internet cafe in another country. Since the VPN encrypts your Internet traffic, it masks what you are doing from other people who may be trying to snoop on your browsing or capture your passwords. If you are travelling in another country that has a reputation for snooping on internet communication, a VPN helps both visitors and residents to bypass local censorship and surveillance. If you are a Hong Kong dissident or a member of the opposition in Syria (or any number of other countries), using a VPN will conceal your page-by-page activity from government eavesdropping. Not that our government would ever do such a thing....
However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. VPN encryption adds extra overhead that will slow down your communications, and all your internet traffic - wherever you may be physically - has to travel through Emory's network, if you are using Emory's VPN service.
Unfortunately, unless your VPN provider adds malware protection features (some do, Emory's doesn't), a VPN will not protect you from malware, such as phishing attempts, Trojan horses, and viruses. Even over a VPN connection, use HTTPS whenever possible. (A site using HTTPS will usually show a padlock somewhere, and the website address will be https:// etc.) Don't click on e-mails from strangers, and be careful about sites that you visit. If you have to go to a possibly sketchy website, use "incognito" mode (also called privacy mode or "private browsing"), if your browser offers it. If you use Windows, make sure that antivirus software is enabled and up to date.
Travel presents other risks, especially if you have to use a computer not your own in an internet cafe. Some internet cafes have been known to install keylogging software on their machines, which records every keystroke you make -- including login and password information. If in doubt, don't use such machines for VPN or any other connection that requires personal identifying information.
EUEC Interdisciplinary Seminars
For active faculty, it is all too easy to think about what one would lose in retirement, rather than what one could gain. As much as Emory as an institution talks about interdisciplinarity, the reality is that it is very difficult to accomplish what one needs to in one's own discipline, much less to reach across discipline and school boundaries. Consequently there are many faculty in our own schools we don't know, and it is all too seldom that we have opportunities to get to know faculty outside of our own school.
I hope that many of you have discovered that EUEC represents a place where you can interact with faculty from across all of Emory's schools and enjoy the different perspectives that people bring from their disciplinary backgrounds. The Interdisciplinary Seminars represent an ideal way in which to explore that interaction. John Bugge is willing to lead another seminar next year. Read his invitation and description of the Interdisciplinary Seminars by clicking here. However, he invites you also to consider leading such a seminar yourself. There is no reason we could not have more than one seminar, and anyone would be able to participate in more than one at a time.
If you are interested in participating in (or leading) an Emeritus College Seminar, please send an email to John ( firstname.lastname@example.org) with answers to the following questions:
Which TWO of the suggested topics in the attachment (if any) would you be most interested in pursuing, in order of preference (first choice, second choice)?
What is your academic field or specialty?
Is there another topic not listed here that you would suggest as appropriate for an Emeritus College Interdisciplinary Seminar? (Please name it, and if you like, add the title and author of one or more books or other sources that you think would serve as a resource for the topic.)
Click to return to top
The Irony of Eco-Suicide Poem
"The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective.
Yet we have not learned the new story. We are talking only to ourselves.
We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation." -Thomas Berry, Geologian
The Irony of Eco-Suicide
Our ancestors crawled out of pristine oceans
on bigger fins to climb trees, even leap to
the skies as flying dinosaurs whose cousins
became Aristotle, Jesus, Copernicus, Darwin
and the rest of us, give or take a few millennia.
Too glib, you say, well, check the science
which lands us there despite naysayers.
Our best seers confirm this cosmic journey
in noble terms: complexity, convergence,
communion, expanding universe and awareness.
All well and good, but it risks deluding us
unless we think-feel the great miseries
in individual sufferings of our dying ecology.
The grand overviews remain in books and
well-landscaped campuses and conference centers.
Now see those oceans swarming with plastic refuse
and nylon netting choking dolphins and whales
one by one in intense agony, far from lovely aquariums.
See this rhino and this elephant in death throes
for ivory and this tiger to grace the wall of a trophy hunter.
Look at global warming through the eyes
of a walrus or polar bear starving without habitat.
Look at the raped Amazon forest for wood
and cattle for meat that harms health, but fills
corporate coffers and kills our kin of many species.
Experience the foul air over Beijing and a thousand cities,
as we wear face masks and feel burning eyes,
while our grandkids on respirators wonder why
we didn't question the civilization of oil and coal, and sense
the suffering of a dying wolf or calf boxed for veal.
Such an irony that we who enjoy the gifts of this
long mutual road should cause its demise with so much
agony. Yet a remedy for eco-suicide could start by holding
the afflicted in our arms, imaginations and hearts, as we watch
the finch at the feeder, feel the breath and gaze
of our cat or dog, to confront this tragedy of our souls.
-Eugene C. Bianchi, Athens, GA, Nov. 3, 2014
Click here to return to top
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Lockout: Crisis and Challenges
Jon P. Gunnemann
On the evenings of November 13 and 15, 2014, sold-out audiences at performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus leapt to their feet with "a roar of applause" (the AJC), not just after the last chord of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was played but at every possible earlier opportunity: when the orchestra walked on stage, every time Maestro Spano appeared from the wings, before and after the intermission.
Apart from Concertmaster Coucheron's exquisite rendering of Mozart's Violin Concerto no. 5, there was little artistic ground for the audience's enthusiasm. The size of the orchestra was almost skeletal and of the 71 players only 40 were regular ASO musicians, the others substitutes. Five players had recently taken positions at other orchestras and many of the best remaining players were playing temporary gigs with orchestras across the U.S. and around the world. The ASO Chorus had time for only one rehearsal of the Ninth before two rehearsals with the orchestra and soloists. The performance was well below the standards now expected of the ASO. What was happening?
The wildly enthusiastic crowd was celebrating the ASO's return to Symphony Hall after a bitter nine-week lockout by the ASO's management and the Governing Board of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC). And there was reason to celebrate, above all because the Symphony was playing again and its chorus was singing with it after an agreement on a new four-year contract just five days before.
But the celebratory nature of the performance could not entirely obscure the underlying precariousness of the ASO's future. While the players had won one important victory, gaining a commitment by the WAC to rebuild the size of the orchestra (called "complement") to 88 players in four years, this victory had enormous costs and the future remained deeply uncertain. At a reception for the musicians and the chorus after the performance, the Vice-president of the ASO Board and Maestro Spano both spoke in sober words about the immense challenges still facing the ASO. In what follows, I offer an account of the background and process of the conflict, and of the remaining challenges.
The lockout of the musicians was in fact the second in two years, and this lockout resembled the 2012 lockout in many ways. In both cases the management and governing board of the WAC presented the musicians with a take-it-or-leave-it offer at the beginning of the contract negotiation period and refused to meet with the musicians to negotiate, then locked them out (and the chorus with them) when their current contract expired on September 1. In both cases they cited annual deficits by the ASO and the need to bring costs in line with revenue. In both cases a down grading of the WAC's credit rating by Moody's was in the background: the WAC had $188 million in bond debt in 2012 (chiefly for the extensions to the High Museum and other building at the Arts Center) and $175 million in 2014. In both cases the contracts being demanded of the musicians required deep financial cuts and measures that threatened the quality and artistic integrity of the orchestra: In 2012 the contract called for cutting the size of the orchestra from 95 players to 88 (the top orchestras in the U.S. have 100-106 players), reducing the performance season from 50 weeks to 42 weeks, and a 15% cut in compensation. In the lockout this year, the WAC first proposed further cuts in compensation and, most critically, a reduction in orchestra size to 76 or fewer with all future decisions about complement and the filling of vacancies granted to the CEO of the ASO, surrendering the power of critical artistic decisions that in all major orchestras lie with the musicians and music directors. Of all the draconian measures being thrust on the orchestra, the cut in orchestra complement and giving up of the power to determine complement in the future were the least acceptable.
In 2012 the musicians were caught off-guard by the lockout, a tactic typically used by businesses in contract disputes with labor. Threatened by cancellation of portions or all of the season, and promised by the then-CEO of the ASO, Stanley Romanstein, that the cuts were a one-time necessity that would give the ASO and the WAC time to raise funds and restore the ASO to financial health, the musicians conceded every point and reluctantly signed the contract. At the same time, trust in the ASO's management and in the WAC was broken. A distinctive structural context is important here: The ASO is the only orchestra in the U.S. which is not free-standing but one of four art units under the umbrella of the Woodruff Arts Center (the other three are the High Museum, the Alliance Theater, and educational programming). Over the last decade the power of the Board of the ASO has been seriously weakened, to the point that in 2012 the ASO Board was also locked out. A recurring theme during both lockouts has been the lack of financial transparency by the WAC with respect to, among other things, how both revenue and debt costs are distributed among the four units, further eroding trust.
With the 2012 experience deeply etched in their memory, the musicians prepared carefully for this year's contract renewal, hiring a lawyer with acclaimed credentials representing other symphony players as well as a professional organizer who was a veteran of the Minnesota Symphony's lockout in 2012. They gathered financial materials, consulted with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and organized themselves. Some members of the ASO Chorus also organized on their behalf. And then, weeks before the lockout,
Photo by Mark Gresham
Maestros Spano and Donald Runnicles made a joint statement expressing deep concern that the proposal insisted upon by the WAC would seriously damage the musical excellence and artistic integrity of the ASO, a remarkable departure from the tradition that musical directors remain neutral in contract disputes. Clearly they saw that the actions of the WAC, now and in 2012, threatened the world-class reputation of the ASO and of the City of Atlanta. Indeed, for those of us close to the conflict, the WAC had only one goal: to reduce the ASO, which many call the crown-jewel not only of Atlanta but of the Southeast, into a second- or third-class regional symphony.
When the lockout was declared in the first week of September, with performances cancelled through November 9, the musicians and their supporters moved into action, holding public vigils, picketing daily at the Arts Center, and performing in various venues (members of the ASO Chorus joined the musicians for a performance of Mozart's Requiem at Oglethorpe University under the baton of Emory's Richard Prior). But above all
Prior conducting musicians in Mozart
Photo by Mark Gresham
the musicians and their supporters went to the press and used social media, including internet blogs and Facebook, to counter the WAC's attempt to control the media and public perception of events. As in 2012, ASO and WAC management offered carefully worded public statements that hid the fact that they had unilaterally locked out the musicians and in subtle ways blaming the musicians for not being willing to sign the agreement offered to them. They pointed to the ASO deficits and the musicians' alleged incapacity to understand that good business judgment requires the cutting of costs, operating on a "sustainable business model." But unlike 2012, the musicians and their supporters responded by reporting the facts and publishing information that offered a dramatically alternative interpretation: They made clear that they had been locked out, that they and their families were without income and health care, that management had rebuffed all their pleas for negotiation, that the ASO's 70-year growth into a world-class symphony, with a world-class chorus, could come abruptly to an end, that the WAC's real debt problems were caused not by ASO deficits but by management decisions to incur $180 million of bond debt for building, that the promises made in 2012 to raise funds had failed--and more.
The ASO and WAC management seemed totally unprepared for the response to their actions. The New York Times and the WSJ picked up the story; the Guardian interviewed Donald Runnicles in England, who again expressed his dismay and his support for the musicians; Robert Spano told the New York Times that when the ASO
Spano leading ASO at Carnegie Hall
Photo by Chris Lee
management acted to cancel the ASO's Carnegie Hall appearance the preceding Spring for financial reasons, he put $50,000 of his own money on the table and then raised enough money overnight to make the trip to New York, for both the Orchestra and the Chorus, possible. In various media, people began to ask questions: Why was Atlanta, one of the wealthiest cities in the nation, unable to afford a world-class orchestra? Did Atlanta even care about the arts and especially about its extraordinary orchestra? Was WAC leadership aware of the difference between running a business and stewardship of the arts? Public support came from the musicians of every major orchestra in the U.S., and some from abroad.
In October, under fire, the WAC suggested using a mediator to resolve the conflict. The musicians agreed and, after some initial disagreement, the two sides settled on the federal mediators who had helped the Metropolitan Opera settle its complex labor disputes during the summer. The ensuing mediation had three phases. In the first week the musicians came with specific proposals backed by extensive documentation. The report is that the WAC negotiating team, which included the CEO, had no proposals and no documents; and then said they did not have the authority to negotiate but would have to go back to their governing board. Not pleased, the mediators left town. The second week saw some progress on two issues, compensation and health care benefits. On the first the musicians accepted a modest 1.5% increase, substantially lower than what they proposed and still below 2012 levels (and the lowest compensation among all major U.S. orchestras). On the latter, the WAC accepted the musicians' proposal for a high-deductible health plan that would save the ASO $250,000 annually! But on the third issue, orchestra complement, there was deadlock. The mediation process broke off. The players issued a statement to the news media reporting the progress on two fronts but lamenting the WAC's lack of responsiveness on the decisive issue of complement. The next day the WAC responded in a statement denying that they were unresponsive and proposing an effort to endow chairs to rebuild the complement of the orchestra. They set a deadline, early the next week, for the ASO musicians to accept their new offer. But there were no guarantees on increasing the size of the orchestra, only a "best effort" which, given failures of previous "best efforts," was unacceptable to the players. The deadline passed, then another week, during which supporters of the ASO, including some of its board members, worked behind the scenes with the musicians (and perhaps with some WAC board members) to a find solution to the critical issue of complement. Robert Spano was personally engaged in every stage of the discussions. There were reports that new funds for endowing new symphony chairs had been raised.
At the beginning of the last week in October the WAC asked the mediators to return, and on Wednesday, Oct. 29, the two sides met from 9 a.m. until midnight. There was one big difference: Douglas Hertz, the Chair of the WAC Governing Board, was present for the first time. They agreed to meet again on Thursday. Friday morning came the word that an agreement had been reached for a four-year contract which set the complement for this year at 77 (the current size) but committed (the key word) the ASO and the WAC to raise money to endow chairs to rebuild the orchestra to 88 by the fourth year of the contract. This agreement had to be ratified by both the WAC Board and by the ASO musicians. Early Saturday afternoon the announcement came that both sides had voted to sign the new contract. The season would open the following weekend.
So there was indeed reason to celebrate with joyful playing and singing on that next weekend. The ASO was performing, back in their home, and the new season was finally underway. Most importantly, the musicians, demonstrating extraordinary commitment and courage (their professional and personal lives were at stake), held their ground in insisting that the artistic integrity of the Symphony could not be compromised, that nothing less than a firm commitment to rebuild the orchestra was acceptable. But the costs had been huge--the loss of excellent musicians, the loss of two months' compensation--and the hard work was still to be done: raising the money to rebuild the complement, creating a larger group of supporters, restoring the confidence of donors put off by the conflict and the WAC's debt woes, finding creative ways to build audiences and to reach out to the larger community. All of this will surely require serious institutional change,
Photo by Jeff Roffman
experienced and creative leadership at the top of the ASO administration, and continued hard work by those who rallied to support the musicians. And there were unresolved issues and questions concerning the WAC's power and intentions. In the Metropolitan Opera conflict, the mediation process led to full financial disclosure by the Met. No such disclosure came from the WAC and the many questions about its financial stewardship remain unanswered. And did the WAC's eventual commitment to 88 musicians (still fewer than the best orchestras) signal a genuine change of heart? Or was it a concession born of some desperation, leaving open the possibility that in four years we will see a replay of the past year? There is indeed much hard work to be done.
Click here to return to top
Emory University Emeritus College
The Luce Center
825 Houston Mill Road NE #206
Atlanta, GA 30329