If anyone in Eugene, Oregon, thought the university could fire an internationally known music director and no-one would notice, they have been rudely awakened by the outcome.
Some classy, dogged local reporting – here’s the latest report – has been followed up by outrage in UK-based media, starting with Slipped Disc and followed by the Daily Telegraph and now the Spectator, a weekly political magazine which has probably never mentioned the University of Oregon before in its 189-year history.
All agree that the University has been less than transparent and possibly downright dishonest in sacking Matthew Halls from the Orgegon Bach festival, and then covering up the reasons.
A false allegation of racism has not only muddied the waters, but cast aspersions on the music director’s integrity and (we hear) seriously upset a fine counter-tenor who got caught in the flak. The University has offered Mr Halls a paltry $90,000 to shut up and go away. A halfway decent New York lawyer could extract a tougher settlement.
But that’s not the point. Throughout these proceedings, the University has behaved like a village idiot who has been caught stealing from the sweet shop. Its default look is guilty, its denials lack credibility and its reparation offer is ridiculous.
A ‘flagship research university’ has been left looking like a college for dummies.
Here, on the basis of our local sources, is what we think happened. The festival has been losing money and shedding audiences. It renewed Mr Halls at a six-figure salary and then panicked. A hyped-up Provost, hired at vast cost from Michigan and unfamiliar with local loyalties, ordered Halls to be sacked. Then all hell broke loose.
What now? If the University comes clean, it can still redeem something of its reputation. If not, the festival is dead and the University is both culpable and foolish. Don’t even go there.