Juilliard’s President Is Challenged however Retains Support of Board
When the charismatic former New York City Ballet star Damian Woetzel was named president of the celebrated Juilliard School in 2017, the college’s highly effective chairman, Bruce Kovner, praised his “unusual mix” of mental and inventive qualities.
But earlier this yr Kovner instructed Woetzel that an inside analysis had discovered a insecurity in his management and requested him to resign by the tip of June, a yr earlier than the tip of his contract, in keeping with a letter Woetzel despatched to the college’s trustees that was obtained by freelancertamal.
Woetzel fought again and succeeded in rallying help behind him, getting testimonials from a number of eminent artists together with the trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, who directs Juilliard’s jazz program, and the pianist Emanuel Ax, a number one member of the college. And he wrote in his letter to trustees that the efficiency assessment “was extraordinary and highly inconsistent with best practice in nonprofit governance — it was conceived, initiated and managed by our board chairman.”
Things got here to a head at a board assembly final month. The trustees, when knowledgeable of the analysis and Kovner’s suggestion that Woetzel be eased out, declined to take action. Kovner, lengthy the college’s greatest benefactor, is planning to step down this June after 22 years as its chairman, a transfer that one affiliate stated had lengthy been deliberate.
Kovner declined to remark, and Juilliard offered a press release from the board to freelancertamal during which it stated that “at its most recent meeting, the board strongly reaffirmed its support for President Damian Woetzel” and the 10-year strategic plan that the college created in 2019.
The assertion stated that the board was “unwavering in its focus on the best interests of the students of the Juilliard School, and remains committed to supporting the school’s exceptional faculty, staff and management.”
Some noticed the battle as a uncommon energy battle between two distinguished figures within the cultural world, a showdown between outdated guard and new blood.
Given Kovner’s immense affect as Juilliard’s greatest patron — and as an necessary determine at Lincoln Center, Juilliard’s residence, the place he serves on the board and has given massive sums — some have been stunned to see Woetzel prevail. One trustee likened it to a David and Goliath story.
Woetzel, 54 — who earned a grasp’s diploma in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard whereas nonetheless dancing — has constructed a nationwide status, having directed the Aspen Institute Arts Program and the Vail International Dance Festival and served on President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Kovner, 75, whose internet price Forbes estimates at $6.2 billion, has been one thing of a everlasting authorities at Juilliard, having served as chairman for an unusually very long time. With his spouse, Suzie, Kovner’s items have included $25 million towards a brand new wing and scholarships in 2005; a trove of treasured music manuscripts in 2006; $20 million for the early music program in 2012; and $60 million for a brand new scholarship program in 2013.
At Lincoln Center, Kovner was one of many greatest donors to the redevelopment of the performing arts advanced, serves on the board of the Metropolitan Opera and was previously a trustee of the New York Philharmonic.
The standoff posed a problem for the board and the college, on condition that Kovner’s ongoing help of Juilliard stays essential.
Woetzel’s analysis was despatched to 49 members of the college and workers — together with each division head and 18 direct stories — 43 of whom responded to it anonymously. There are about 700 full-time and part-time members of Juilliard’s college and workers.
The assessment was designed and carried out by Kovner and J. Christopher Kojima, a vice chairman, Woetzel’s letter to the board stated. His letter stated that it was “not conducted at an arm’s length distance by an independent party as is best practice for nonprofit institutions of our scale.”
The responses included 143 feedback, greater than three-quarters of which have been unfavorable, in keeping with somebody aware about a abstract of the report who was granted anonymity to explain this delicate personnel matter.
The suggestions amounted to a number of key criticisms, in keeping with the abstract, which was described to The Times: that Woetzel centered on efficiency as an alternative of schooling; had weak administrative management; did not seek the advice of college members on key selections; and created an environment of concern and intimidation.
A query about confidence in Juilliard’s future met with a unfavorable response from greater than half of those that responded, in keeping with the individual aware of the abstract.
On Jan. 27, Woetzel was requested to depart, in keeping with his letter to the board.
“Bruce Kovner communicated — on behalf of the Executive Committee — that my service as president would be terminated prior to the end of my contract, and that the decision was ‘irrevocable,’” Woetzel wrote within the letter to trustees.
“Having communicated to me this intent to terminate,” the letter stated, “Bruce then emailed me an offer of a severance package that would include a jointly crafted statement that would create a false narrative that I was resigning as of June 30th.”
The letter gave Woetzel 96 hours to reply. He determined to not resign.
On Feb. 4, Kovner despatched the outcomes of the analysis to the complete board, saying the findings have been regarding and could be mentioned on the repeatedly scheduled board assembly 4 days later.
Woetzel marshaled help from various distinguished artists and colleagues, who despatched letters to the board prematurely of the assembly.
“Damian has a record of excellence in his leadership of the school, especially during two pandemic years and these deeply troubling social, political and financial times that have changed the social landscape of America,” Marsalis wrote in his letter, obtained by The Times. “He has been engaged with students, faculty and board in attempting to create a modern institution that is nimble and able to address the very real concerns of students and alumni around the world.”
“I feel how we are going about this brings our ethics into question,” Marsalis continued. “This attempt to remove him seems to be poorly thought out, poorly executed, and it will place a stain on our institution that even our love of resources and fragile spirit will not easily remove.”
The trombone participant Weston Sprott, who’s the dean of Juilliard’s Preparatory Division, warned in an e mail to Ax, an influential college member, that “a decision to terminate Damian will be incredibly harmful to the institution.”
“In the midst of managing the bumps and bruises that could be expected in navigating the national reckoning regarding racial injustice,” Sprott continued, “Damian has put together perhaps the most diverse, inclusive and successful leadership team in our industry — one that is respected by students and faculty and is the envy of its competitors.”
Kovner and the chief committee anticipate Woetzel to deal with the issues raised within the analysis with outdoors coaches and underneath the steerage of the trustee Reginald Van Lee, a former administration marketing consultant, in keeping with the individual aware of the abstract. But one trustee stated no such plan of action has been determined by the complete board.
Woetzel began out as an unconventional alternative for Juilliard, having by no means labored in educational administration, not to mention at one of many world’s main performing arts colleges, which on the time of his appointment had a $110 million annual funds, a $1 billion endowment, and greater than 800 college students.
At Juilliard, Woetzel has made a number of noteworthy advances, securing a $50 million reward to increase the college’s weekend coaching program aimed largely at Black and Latino schoolchildren; filling a number of key positions; and guiding the college by means of the difficult two years of the pandemic.
But he has additionally had bumps alongside the way in which. After a drama workshop on the college involving the re-enactment of a slave public sale prompted an outcry, Woetzel issued a “heartfelt apology” in a observe to the neighborhood.
Last June, college students protested a deliberate tuition improve, occupying components of Juilliard’s Lincoln Center campus and holding road demonstrations. (Several different main music and drama colleges provide free tuition.)
Kovner, who made his fortune as a hedge fund supervisor, has contributed extensively to conservative causes and has served on the boards of the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute, each right-leaning suppose tanks. Last May, City Journal, which is printed by the Manhattan Institute, criticized what it described as the college’s “growing cadre of diversity bureaucrats” in an article headlined “The Revolution Comes to Juilliard: Racial hysteria is consuming the school; unchecked, it will consume the arts.”
Kovner has additionally supported left-leaning organizations, together with the Innocence Project, which goals to free the wrongfully convicted; and Lambda Legal, dedicated to civil rights for lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender folks.
Now Juilliard is making ready for the following chapter. This week the college’s Duke Ellington Ensemble was scheduled to carry out a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Juilliard Jazz on the Chelsea Factory, a brand new arts house.