When the charismatic former New York Metropolis Ballet star Damian Woetzel was named president of the celebrated Juilliard College in 2017, the college’s highly effective chairman, Bruce Kovner, praised his “uncommon combine” of mental and inventive qualities.
However earlier this yr Kovner informed 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 from The New York Instances.
Woetzel fought again and succeeded in rallying assist 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 school. And he wrote in his letter to trustees that the efficiency evaluate “was extraordinary and extremely inconsistent with finest apply in nonprofit governance — it was conceived, initiated and managed by our board chairman.”
Issues 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 largest beneficiary, 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 an announcement from the board to The New York Instances through which it stated that “at its most up-to-date assembly, the board strongly reaffirmed its assist 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 concentrate on the very best pursuits of the scholars of the Juilliard College, and stays dedicated to supporting the college’s distinctive college, workers and administration.”
Some noticed the battle as a uncommon energy wrestle between two outstanding figures within the cultural world, a showdown between previous guard and new blood.
Given Kovner’s immense affect as Juilliard’s largest patron — and as an vital determine at Lincoln Middle, Juilliard’s house, the place he serves on the board and has given giant sums — some have been stunned to see Woetzel prevail. One trustee appreciated it to a David and Goliath story.
Woetzel, 54 — who earned a grasp’s diploma in public administration from the John F. Kennedy College of Authorities at Harvard whereas nonetheless dancing — has constructed a nationwide popularity, having directed the Aspen Institute Arts Program and the Vail Worldwide Dance Pageant and served on President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Kovner, 75, whose web 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. Along with his spouse, Suzie, Kovner’s items have included $25 million towards a brand new wing and scholarships in 2005; a trove of valuable 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 Middle, Kovner was one of many largest donors to the redevelopment of the performing arts complicated, served 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 assist of Juilliard stays essential.
Woetzel’s analysis was despatched to 49 members of the school and workers — together with each division head and 18 direct studies — 43 of whom responded to it anonymously. There are about 700 full-time and part-time members of Juilliard’s college and workers.
The evaluate 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 carried out at an arm’s size distance by an unbiased celebration as is finest apply for nonprofit establishments of our scale.”
The responses included 143 feedback, greater than three quarters of which have been unfavorable, in keeping with somebody aware of 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 Instances: that Woetzel centered on efficiency as an alternative of training; 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 particular person conversant in the abstract.
On Jan. 27, Woetzel was requested to go away, in keeping with his letter to the board.
“Bruce Kovner communicated — on behalf of the Government Committee — that my service as president could be terminated previous to the tip of my contract, and that the choice was ‘irrevocable,’” Woetzel wrote within the letter to trustees.
“Having communicated to me this intent to terminate,” the letter stated, “Bruce then emailed me a proposal of a severance package deal that would come with a collectively crafted assertion that will create a false narrative that I used to be resigning as of June thirtieth.”
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 usually scheduled board assembly 4 days later.
Woetzel marshaled assist from a lot of outstanding artists and colleagues, who despatched letters to the board upfront of the assembly.
“Damian has a file of excellence in his management of the college, particularly throughout two pandemic years and these deeply troubling social, political and monetary instances which have modified the social panorama of America,” Marsalis wrote in his letter, obtained by The Instances. “He has been engaged with college students, college and board in making an attempt to create a contemporary establishment that’s nimble and in a position to handle the very actual considerations of scholars and alumni world wide.”
“I really feel how we’re going about this brings our ethics into query,” Marsalis continued. “This try and take away him appears to be poorly thought out, poorly executed, and it’ll place a stain on our establishment that even our love of assets and fragile spirit won’t simply take away.”
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 call to terminate Damian will probably be extremely dangerous to the establishment.”
“Within the midst of managing the bumps and bruises that may very well be anticipated in navigating the nationwide reckoning relating to racial injustice,” Sprott continued, “Damian has put collectively maybe essentially the most various, inclusive and profitable management workforce in our business — one that’s revered by college students and school and is the envy of its opponents.”
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 advisor, in keeping with the particular person conversant in the abstract. However 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 tutorial 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 finances, 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 develop the college’s weekend coaching program aimed largely at Black and Latino faculty youngsters; filling a number of key positions; and guiding the college via the difficult two years of the pandemic.
However he additionally had bumps alongside the way in which. After a drama workshop on the faculty involving the re-enactment of a slave public sale prompted an outcry, Woetzel issued a “heartfelt apology” in a notice to the neighborhood.
Final June, college students protested a deliberate enhance in tuition, occupying components of Juilliard’s Lincoln Middle campus and holding avenue demonstrations. (A number of 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 assume tanks. Final Might, Metropolis Journal, which is revealed by the Manhattan Institute, criticized what it described as the college’s “rising cadre of variety bureaucrats” in an article headlined “The Revolution Involves Juilliard: Racial hysteria is consuming the college; unchecked, it’ll devour the humanities.”
Kovner has additionally supported left-leaning organizations, together with the Innocence Undertaking, which goals to free the wrongfully convicted; and Lambda Authorized, dedicated to civil rights for lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Now Juilliard is getting ready for the subsequent 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 Manufacturing facility, a brand new arts area.