Photo compilation of photos of Provost Ben Vinson and CIM Provost Scott Harrison

Case Western Reserve, Cleveland Institute of Music strengthen bonds through likeminded provosts

Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Institute of Music have partnered for more than 50 years to offer students a world-class education in music. Described as providing “the intimacy of a conservatory with big school benefits,” the schools’ Joint Music Program allows CWRU and CIM to share resources, while still focusing on the strengths of each institution.

For decades, the partnership has contributed to the evolution of both schools, offering complementary—rather than competing—programs and attracting exceptional students and faculty members in the process. 

Now, with the institute’s first executive vice president and provost, Scott Harrison, on board, CIM hopes to further strengthen its reputation, challenge the status quo, and embrace forward-thinking initiatives. 

Harrison, who joined CIM in August, has found a like-minded leader in Case Western Reserve Provost and Executive Vice President Ben Vinson III. 

“Ben has welcomed me to University Circle with warmth and generosity, taking the time to get to know me as a person and as a colleague,” said Harrison. “With his vision for academic collaboration at CWRU, a passion for uniting organizations across University Circle, and a commitment to creating a more equitable educational landscape in Cleveland and nationwide, thinking big alongside Ben to achieve our shared goals will be invigorating and joyful.” 

Learn more about the provosts’ plans for the future and perspectives on working together, and how they plan to engage with the greater Cleveland community.

1. Where is higher education headed in the future; and how is your institution contributing to that?

Ben Vinson: The future of higher education is changing rapidly, especially in a COVID world. Students now expect a more personalized, technologically advanced approach. They’ve seen for themselves the benefits of remote learning, like flexibility and convenience. But they have missed the connections of in-person learning. It’s incumbent upon us now as leaders in higher ed to provide options, to find balance. At the same time, we know students need training for real-world opportunities, and they need to be prepared to tackle the complex social issues of our time with the lens of equity. 

So, in short, I see a future where higher education substantially and rapidly improves its game. Here at Case Western Reserve, we are studying how mixed reality can richly enhance the ways we use technology to improve its ability to connect us and offer unique educational opportunities across the full breadth of our curriculum. In conjunction with LaunchNet, the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship, and the university’s Corporate Visiting Committee, we are examining new ways in which we can create internships, partner with industry to train and develop our students, and challenge our student body to offer solutions to major social issues of the day

Through our interprofessional education enterprise, we are defining how professionals in an array of fields can elevate the health and health care of our society. Through our soon-to-be released revised General Education initiative, we are trying to open our curriculum more broadly to our undergraduates, while placing our faculty more centrally into their educational experience. 

We are being very intentional about what we do and are keen to make sure that we are encouraging rich experiential learning, while taking advantage of technology to do things we never imagined before.  

Scott Harrison: CIM prepares musicians at the collegiate and preparatory levels for the creative and athletic rigors of excelling in the highly specialized field of music. Competition among conservatories for top recruits is only increasing. To stand out, President Paul Hogle has put at the center of our strategic plan a goal to intentionally reduce our collegiate enrollment from a one-time high of 440 to ultimately under 300, so that each student receives a more attractive scholarship and the individualized attention required to succeed in a performance environment. And with the appointment of celebrated artists including Carlos Kalmar and Philip Setzer as ensemble directors, we are introducing students to the demands of professional concertizing while providing our community with even more inspiring musical experiences. 

We know faculties and administrations don’t always reflect our student bodies and communities. Diverse music faculties better prepare students to communicate and connect, which is why our students become musicians in the first place. CIM’s Future of Music Faculty Fellowship is a first-of-its-kind professional development initiative for Black and Latinx musicians pursuing an academic career. Powered by the Sphinx Venture Fund, the Fellowship spotlights and mentors 35 leaders who will influence generations of musicians.

Finally, real-world training and critical thinking are central to our institutional learning goals. Through the Center for Innovative Musicianship (known as CIM²), students explore the entrepreneurial and creative skill sets they’ll need to build their career. Each year, we host a Shark Tank-style competition where students pitch music business concepts that can complement their performing careers; this spring, the finals will be held at Sears [think]box. In addition to the CWRU classes that enrich our students, new takes on CIM’s performance curriculum— including Digital Engagement in the Arts and Engaging and Serving Our Communities—demonstrate how musicians use their talents to speak to issues of great social import that impact us all. We want CIM students to graduate confident in their ability to evaluate, reason and make good decisions personally and professionally. That’s a goal few conservatories were discussing even a decade ago.

2. Case Western Reserve and CIM have enjoyed a partnership for more than 50 years. What aspects of this relationship have kept the partnership intact all these years?

Vinson: I think it’s our complementary nature. We have a lot to offer one another, and together we are stronger than each entity is alone. CIM students have the full benefit of a top, comprehensive research university at their doorstep, while CWRU students have one of the leading conservatories in America as a curricular and extracurricular partner. The fact that our faculty and staff, their families, and our administrators are residents of greater Cleveland only means that the ties are stronger because of organic neighborhood links.  

My daughter, for instance, is a CIM preparatory student, and my family and I spend time at CIM over the weekends. I know this to be true for many faculty and staff. We are proud to be a part of CIM and are vested in its success, since its elevated achievement is also ours at CWRU.

Harrison: Our students have access to the nationally renowned scholarship of Case Western Reserve musicologists including Susan McClary, David Rothenberg and Daniel Goldmark. They expand their horizons via classes and perspectives a conservatory could never offer. And they benefit from health services, student clubs, dining halls and a larger university ecosystem.  

In turn, we provide Case Western Reserve students who love music (whether a music major, a nursing major or anything else!) the chance to study with exceptional performance faculty, develop their critical listening skills in our music theory program, access the repertoire in the Robinson Music Library and more. Our campus buzzes with hundreds of CWRU faculty and staff who, like Ben, are parents of preparatory students or regular concert attendees.

But the most memorable moments are when we come together to create art! To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Joint Music Program in 2019, CIM and CWRU co-presented Rameau’s opera Hipployte et Arice, with historically informed performance practice, staging and choreography. It was a production to make any professional company jealous! 

3. What do the next 50 years hold?

Vinson: I truly believe this partnership will stand the test of time. There are so few places in the United States to get the kind of world-class music education that CIM provides, and that we at CWRU can enrich. I wholeheartedly believe our partnership can only grow from here.

Harrison: In just the past five years, the classical music world has transformed itself—for the better. CIM is digging into repertoire highlighting those marginalized for far too long. We now work with interdisciplinary artists to revitalize concert experiences. Like CWRU, we deploy technology to enhance access—and I imagine CIM and CWRU can be digital pioneers unlike any other educational campus! For all I don’t know about what the next 50 years will bring, I know that we will be best positioned to pivot and grow because of our partnership. 

4. How is your institution engaging with the greater Cleveland community?

Vinson: At Case Western Reserve we know there has been a long-held belief that our campus is some kind of fortress, impenetrable by the outside community. That’s not what want we want, and it’s not who we are. We have recommitted ourselves to being better neighbors, to achieving social impact and acting locally to make positive change. We are an institution that believes strongly in the power of community and we know that we can play a greater role in improving ours. 

Our new president, Eric Kaler, has made this a priority, and we have rejuvenated energy in our Office of Community Relations, as well as through initiatives such as our partnership in the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood. My office too, through the Provost’s Scholars Program, has been engaged with the educational uplift of our community for years.

Harrison: CIM can also be seen as “closed” to outsiders. The onus is on us to foster a more inclusive and welcoming presence. Nearly all of the 600 performances CIM presents each year—from our own Kulas and Mixon halls to Severance Music Center, Cleveland Museum of Art and a variety of other community locations—are free to the public. 

Our students teach music lessons at Cleveland School of the Arts and we are discussing further partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to support their efforts to restore music at all 68 schools. We were just recognized by the [Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center] for a new performance series reaching their patients and medical staffs. 

Most importantly, we are ramping up our commitment to talented young Clevelanders seeking more immersive musical training. Our Musical Pathway Fellowship, with leadership support from the Cleveland Foundation and the George Gund Foundation, provides tuition-free study and guided mentorship for Black and Latinx students in grades 5-12, and we recently joined the Say Yes to Education coalition so that any public school student in Cleveland admitted to CIM will receive scholarship to meet their full financial need. 

5. What lessons have you learned from each other?

Vinson: I’d like to share a story. I had lunch with Scott a few weeks ago at Cleveland Clinic, and he shared with me a poignant observation. While we know well the stories of the many CIM graduates who grace the world’s concert halls, including the dozens who are members of The Cleveland Orchestra, sometimes it’s the tales of those we don’t see on stage that make the deepest impression. There were two CIM students who after years of intensive musical study, ultimately took graduate degrees at CWRU, one in dentistry and the other an MBA. Both confessed that their conservatory training helped them in their non-musical careers. The dentist confessed that the rigor, discipline, and focus of mastering his instrument gave him the relentless dedication to succeed, no matter the odds or challenges. It enhanced his pursuit of excellence in his graduate studies and ultimately, his profession.  

The MBA confessed that mastering Beethoven prepared him for his job now.  Like in his day job, he learned to master complex sets of data (the Beethoven score) and translate that to an audience—just like what he does in the business world.  

Case in point: No matter what your academic and professional path, your journey can set you up for future success. It is fundamentally important to pay attention to the lessons you learn along the way, regardless of field. 

And finally, I’ve learned from Scott that the barriers one erects between fields and disciplines are ultimately artificial. Rather, it’s the experience of life, and how we ourselves translate our learning into what we do, that makes all the difference. That attitude will serve you just as well at Carnegie Hall as it will at NASA!

Harrison: Ben shared with me his belief in the importance of living your values through your work. He outlined his philosophy that when you’re in a leadership role, it’s those core values that are your most meaningful contribution to an organization and its people. I see Ben working to foster compassion, inquiry and discovery throughout CWRU; similarly, I’m hoping to encourage empathy, creativity and determination within CIM. My conversations with Ben remind me that our legacy as campus leaders will be judged ultimately by how our students, faculty and staff respond to that culture, treat each other and move through the world. While we should be focused on delivering exciting initiatives and promoting student success, let us first and foremost help every stakeholder at CWRU or CIM be the best version of themselves and find in their work and study a reflection of the mission and goals of the institution. 

That’s what I’ve taken away from the Think Big initiative. The programs, the research, the technology, the funding … it’s all aimed at creating public forums—whether a campus quad, a laboratory, a board room or a concert hall—where shared humanity emerges from our interactions and we leave the space better for the time we’ve spent together. 

6. What are you most looking forward to with this partnership?

Vinson: Scott is a bold, collaborative and exciting leader. I can’t wait to knit together more collaborations and open opportunities for our students at all levels. Scott’s a unifier. So am I. Naturally, with this perfect synergy, I predict some exciting initiatives to come!

Harrison: I consider myself lucky to have found a creative and courageous thought partner in Ben who advocates for the future of education and of Cleveland. I’m looking forward to solidifying the value arts and music bring to communities, whether that’s a college campus or a city neighborhood. With big ideas and bigger hearts—and Ben has hearty doses of both—it will be a bright future indeed!