It’s been nearly three weeks since the termination of Michael Nowak, the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s music director, was announced, and the fallout continues.
Rarely have we seen such a strong reaction, in such a short period of time, over a local issue. Since the news broke, we’ve received more than 50 letters, including at least one or two from writers who had never before written a letter to the editor.
We have not been able to publish all the submissions, primarily because of space constraints. Also — full disclosure — a handful of letters violated our guidelines against name-calling and other personal invective.
Most letter writers strongly opposed the firing of Nowak. Some threatened to withhold financial support unless he’s rehired. There also have been suggestions that the board of directors resign.
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On the other hand, voices have been raised in defense of board members. Those letter writers pointed out that these are dedicated volunteers who are acting in what they believe to be the best interests of the organization. And, the writers noted that because this is a personnel issue, the board is limited in what it can say about its decision.
We agree that serving on a board of a nonprofit organization — any nonprofit organization — is a commendable and often thankless task.
These are the behind-the-scenes players who are indispensable to the functioning of any organization — be it a symphony, a Little League or a food bank.
But that doesn’t mean their decisions should be accepted without question. Disagreements are inevitable. So is criticism. A board of directors should be ready for that, and it should be prepared to answer to its supporters.
In this case, the board seemed caught off guard by the negative reaction, both to the way it revealed the news of Nowak’s departure — it issued a news release to the media before informing musicians — and to the strong opposition to the decision.
Yet the fallout from the firing reveals to us just how deeply the community cares not only about Nowak, but also about a genre of music that many have written off as no longer relevant.
We would have been more concerned had the news been greeted with a ho-hum response. If that were the case, we would indeed have feared for the future of the symphony.
We hope an agreement can be mediated that will allow the symphony to remain intact. In the long run, we believe that will be better for the success of the organization.
Considering the split in the music community, though, that may not be possible.
Whatever the outcome, given the passionate responses of the past few weeks, we have no doubt that a symphony — in some form — has a viable future in San Luis Obispo County.