In Support of the Socialist Penguins

The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers Classical Music Accountability Subcommittee sent an open letter to Julliard’s administration in support of a student group, the Socialist Penguins. Juilliard’s admin carried out actions against the Socialist Penguins in response to protests over tuition hikes. Shred SC members Clara Takarabe and Patrick Johnson-Whitty worked on this letter. We are reprinting it here because we support efforts like these to politicize and democratize sites of knowledge and cultural production like Juilliard. ⁠The current power relations that such institutions represent must be changed. See Why Juilliard Students Are Protesting, and @socialistpenguins on Instagram for more info.

July 6, 2021

To President Dean Woetzel, the Board of Trustees, and the Executive Officers of the Juilliard School,

We are the Classical Music Accountability Committee (CMAC) of the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers. 

Our members consist of alumni from prestigious schools such as The Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, and many more. 

We focus on the problems and crises endemic to classical music education and the professional field of classical music. As a committee, we endeavor to make our field a better place to work, to situate music as a central part of a just society, and to grow as human beings in community with each other.

Conflict is normal and serves a purpose in life. In some circumstances, suppressing conflict does more harm than the conflict itself. Instead of addressing the injustices brought up by student activists, the Juilliard administration has chosen to treat the voicing of those injustices as the real problem. 

We believe that you have overstated the level of harm caused by the Socialist Penguins, a group of student activists who are rightfully protesting an increase in their tuition. Juilliard’s community is experiencing difficult times, and the punitive actions you have taken are not aimed toward the greater good of the students or the community.

While CMAC does not believe in the carceral state, some actions undertaken by the Juilliard administration may have been in violation of New York State law. 

The attempt to lock students in on the second floor of the Diamond Building may have been a violation of the New York State Penal Code Article 135.05, Unlawful Imprisonment, which is a Class A Misdemeanor. Use of security guards to enact this plan added an additional violation of the New York State Penal Code Article 135.60, Coercion in the Third Degree, which is also a Class A Misdemeanor. The penalties for Class A Misdemeanors in the state of New York are a maximum of one year in prison or three years probation. Again, CMAC does not not believe in the carceral state, but we want to emphasize the inappropriateness of the administration’s actions.

To the best of our knowledge, the Socialist Penguins have broken no laws. 

The Socialist Penguins have a right to voice their opposition to an increase in their tuition. The administration’s continued retaliation against students and their allies among the faculty and staff have needlessly escalated a matter which could be settled through negotiation, and as such is detrimental to the arts community to which the Juilliard School belongs. 

With a $1.1 billion endowment, there is no reason except gross financial mismanagement for a tuition increase. The best way to resolve this situation is for the Juilliard administration to cease threatening the students with conduct and investigatory hearings, refrain from disciplining students with probation or suspension, recognize the material reality of the students’ lives, and support them in being students by making the required humane adjustments that they need.