Letter to the Editor: Bienen dual-degree program inevitably presents challenges, school-wide changes would be misguided

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In response to Nathan Goldrich’s op-ed, I felt the need to highlight and correct a few portions that demonstrate a concerning lack of knowledge, about both the dual-degree program and the Northwestern student body.

The author begins his argument with the notion that some students, namely his one friend who was in the dual-degree program for a single quarter, find the program to be “detrimental to their college experiences.” Goldrich argues that his friend’s desire to increase his extracurricular involvement is representative of a larger reason students drop out of the program.

In nearly three years at Northwestern, I have yet to discover a single person here who effortlessly balances academics with extracurricular activities, on top of maintaining good mental and physical health and an involved social life. Some find engineering classes in McCormick to be detrimental to their college experience, so why isn’t McCormick being called out for overworking its students?

Part of the reason lies in the incorrect belief that a music degree should be easier than other degrees at Northwestern. Anyone pursuing a dual degree would tell you pursuing a Bienen degree has been no easier than getting one from their other school; in my case, graduating from Bienen will be the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life.

The other reason is that being a dual-degree student at Northwestern has become incredibly common. I take no issue with this, but I do believe its commonality has caused the program’s challenges to become normalized. Taking seven credits is no longer unusual; having class from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. without a break becomes normal. It’s essential we remember what being dual-degree means — you’re receiving two completely separate degrees. It’s not supposed to be easy, but that doesn’t and absolutely shouldn’t mean you have to sacrifice physical and mental health.

The author additionally displays an extreme lack of awareness about what receiving a Bachelor of Music in Performance means — it’s not aimed at focusing solely on solo or chamber music. When being certified to work in the classical or jazz music industry, it’s absolutely necessary to possess a strong knowledge of orchestral repertoire and have experience playing in ensembles of all sizes. It’s also important to understand the basics of music theory and aural skills — nearly all music schools and conservatories require a minimum of two years of theory. A “strong emphasis on core classes” isn’t distinct to Bienen; it’s simply what’s expected in the industry and for the degree.

The author proposes a solution to the “lack of power and flexibility” dual-degree students have, yet a lack of flexibility is inevitable in any program that allows one to receive two degrees in five years. And if someone does want more freedom in personalizing their music education, we already have those options.

Bienen students can create ad hoc majors to supplement their music education with curriculum more relevant to the field they want to pursue. Students can also pursue a Bachelor of Arts in music, allowing them to tailor their Bienen experiences more heavily toward academic-based or performance-based classes. But most importantly, nobody’s making anyone be a dual-degree student. An endless option of majors, minors and certificate programs are available, so students can choose the program that best suits their needs and wants.

There is one aspect of Goldrich’s argument, however, I do agree with. Some structural changes could improve the dual-degree program and decrease the stress students face. But it’s neither solely on Bienen’s end nor only the responsibility of one’s other school. It’s that the dual-degree program, with how increasingly common it’s becoming, needs to be understood and recognized by Northwestern as something to be accommodated more broadly.

Administration of all five of Northwestern’s other undergraduate schools need to recognize the rigor of Bienen’s curriculum, particularly in its first two years, and work with students to see how they can best plan out the difficult classes in their given school. We need to stop normalizing being overworked and discuss how to prioritize physical and mental health in a way that’s specific to music students. We need to step back and analyze the most effective and efficient ways in which to navigate two distinct yet equally demanding programs at the same time. But most importantly we need to stop the belief that music is in some way an easier discipline than any other at Northwestern.

Noelle Ike
Bienen and Medill Junior