After a Showdown, Juilliard President Retains Board’s Support

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After a Showdown, Juilliard President Retains Board’s Support

When charismatic former New York City Ballet star Damien Voetzel was named president of the prestigious Juilliard School in 2017, the school’s powerful president, Bruce Kovner, praised his “unusual mix” of intellectual and artistic qualities.

But earlier this year Kovner told Voetzel that an internal assessment had found a lack of confidence in his leadership and that a letter sent to the school’s trustees, according to Voetzel, lasted until the end of June, a year before the end of his contract. He was asked to resign. Which was obtained by The New York Times.

Voetzel fought back and managed to garner support behind him, receiving testimonials from a number of distinguished artists, including trumpeter and composer Vinton Marsalis, who directs Juilliard’s jazz program, and pianist Emanuel X, a prominent member of the faculty. And he wrote in his letter to the trustees that the performance review was “extraordinary and highly inconsistent with best practice in nonprofit governance—it was conceived, initiated, and managed by the chairman of our board.”

The matter had gone haywire in the board meeting last month. The trustees, when informed of the assessment and Kovner’s recommendation that Voetzel was fired, refused to do so. Kovner, a longtime school philanthropist, plans to step down as its president this June after 22 years, a move that a colleague said was long-planned.

Kovner declined to comment, and Juilliard provided a statement from the board to The New York Times in which it said that “at its most recent meeting, the board strongly reaffirmed its support for President Damien Voetzel” and 10 Years Strategic Plan The school created in 2019

The statement added that the board “was unwavering in its focus on the best interests of the Juilliard School students, and is committed to supporting the school’s exceptional faculty, staff and management.”

Some saw the conflict as a rare power struggle between two prominent figures in the cultural world, a showdown between the old guard and the new blood.

Given Kovner’s immense influence as Juilliard’s greatest patron – and as a key figure at Lincoln Center, Juilliard’s home, where he serves on the board and pays large sums of money – some were surprised to see Voetzel prevailing. Were. One trustee compared it to the story of David and Goliath.

Voetzel, 54 – who earned a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard while still dancing – has built a national reputation, directing the Aspen Institute Arts Program and the Vail International Dance Festival and Served as President. Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Kovner, 75, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $6.2 billion, has had a stable government at Juilliard, having served as chairman for an unusually long time. Along with his wife, Suzy, Kovner’s gifts include a new wing in 2005 and $25 million for a scholarship; A Group of Precious Music Manuscripts in 2006; $20 million for the opening concert in 2012; and $60 million for a new scholarship program in 2013.

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At Lincoln Center, Kovner was one of the largest donors to the redevelopment of the performing arts complex, serving on the board of the Metropolitan Opera and formerly a trustee of the New York Philharmonic.

The standoff posed a challenge for the board and the school, given that Kovner’s continued support of Juilliard remains important.

Woetzel’s assessment was sent to 49 members of the faculty and staff — including each department head and 18 direct reports — of whom 43 responded anonymously. Juilliard has approximately 700 full-time and part-time members of its faculty and staff.

The review was designed and moderated by Kovner and J. Christopher Kojima, vice president of Voetzel’s letter to the board. Their letter said it was “not conducted by an independent party at an arm’s length away because it is best practice for nonprofits of our scale.”

The responses included 143 comments, more than three-quarters of which were negative, according to a private person briefed on the report, who was granted anonymity to describe this sensitive personnel case.

According to a summary given to The Times, the response drew several significant criticisms: that Voetzel focused on performance rather than education; had weak administrative leadership; Failed to consult faculty members on key decisions; And created an atmosphere of fear and panic.

According to a person familiar with the summary, more than half of those who answered a question about belief in Juilliard’s future responded negatively.

On 27 January, Voetzel was told to leave, according to his letter to the board.

“Bruce Kovner communicated – on behalf of the Executive Committee – that my service as President would end before the end of my contract, and that the decision was ‘irreversible,'” Voetzel wrote in a letter to the trustees.

“After informing me of this intention to terminate,” Bruce said in the letter, “Bruce emailed me a proposal for a severance package that would include a jointly crafted statement that would create a false narrative.” That I was resigning by 30 June.

The letter gave Voetzel 96 hours to respond. He decided not to resign.

On February 4, Kovner sent the results of the evaluation to the full board, saying the findings were relevant and would be discussed at a regularly scheduled board meeting four days later.

Voetzel received support from a number of prominent artists and collaborators, who sent letters to the board prior to the meeting.

In his letter obtained by The Times, Marsalis wrote, “Damien has a record of excellence in his leadership of the school, particularly during the two pandemic years and these deeply disturbing social, political and financial times that have affected America’s The social landscape has changed.” “He is engaged with the students, faculty and board in an effort to build a modern institution that is capable and capable of addressing the genuine concerns of students and alumni around the world.”

“I think how we’re going about this raises questions about our ethics,” Marsalis continued. “This attempt to remove him is poorly thought out, poorly executed, and will put a stain on our institution that even our love of resources and fragile spirit will not easily remove.”

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Trombone player Weston Sprout, who is the dean of Juilliard’s Preparatory Division, warned in an email to X, an influential faculty member, that “the decision to terminate Damien would be incredibly damaging to the institution.”

“Amidst managing the bumps and bruises expected in navigating the national reckoning regarding racial injustice,” Sprot continued, “Damien has put together perhaps the most diverse, inclusive and successful leadership team in our industry – one that Respected by students and teachers and jealous of its competitors.”

According to a person familiar with the summary, Kovner and the executive committee expect Voetzel to address the problems raised in the evaluation with outside coaches and under the guidance of trustee Reginald Van Lee, a former management consultant. But a trustee said that no such action has been decided by the full board.

Voetzel started out as an unorthodox alternative to Juilliard, never working in academic administration, let alone at one of the world’s leading performing arts schools, with an annual budget of $110 million at the time of his appointment, $1. Billion’s Endowment, and more. More than 800 students.

At Juilliard, Voetzel has made a number of notable strides, securing a $50 million gift to expand the school’s weekend training program aimed largely at black and Latino school children; filling a number of key positions; and guiding the school through the challenging two years of the pandemic.

But on the way he is also hit by a collision. After a drama workshop at the school sparked an outcry from the re-enactment of a slave auction, Voetzel issued a “heartfelt apology” in a note to the community.

Last June, students protested a planned tuition hike, occupied parts of Juilliard’s Lincoln Center campus and demonstrated in the street. (Many other major music and drama schools offer free tuition.)

Kovner, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager, has contributed extensively to conservative causes and served on the boards of the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute, both right-wing think tanks. Last May, the City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, criticized an article the school described as “a growing cadre of diversity bureaucrats”, entitled “The Revolution Comes to Juilliard: Racial Frenzy Consuming the School”. doing; unchecked, it will consume art.”

Kovner has also supported left-leaning organizations including the Innocence Project, which aims to free those wrongly convicted; And Lambda Legal is dedicated to the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Now Juilliard is preparing for the next chapter. This week the school’s Duke Ellington Ensemble was set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Juilliard Jazz at the Chelsea Factory, a new arts area.

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