We have been sent a pair of internal messages by the Dean of Eastman, explaining why he decided to go ahead with an orchestral tour of China despite a ban on including South Korean students. This is Jamal Rossi’s decision, and he’s standing by it.
Dear Members of the Eastman Community,
I am writing to you regarding the tour of the Eastman Philharmonia to China. Earlier this week, I sent messages to the student members of the Philharmonia and the Eastman faculty regarding my decision to continue the upcoming tour, following news that three South Korean members of the Philharmonia would not be able to obtain required work visas in China because of a diplomatic matter between those two countries. Instead of paraphrasing that information, I believe it is very important for all members of our community—students, staff, faculty, alumni, and our Eastman community at-large—to understand the various factors that were considered and the efforts that were made prior to making this decision. To that end, I have attached both messages so you will know how and why the decision was reached to continue the tour.
Since information about this decision was made public, I have read some inaccurate comments that require clarification:
I solicited and weighed carefully the input from the students as advisory to my decision.
While each member of the Philharmonia was invited to share their thoughts on whether
to continue or cancel the tour, this was not a decision made by student vote.
The students from South Korea were not asked to make a decision on behalf of others. I
met with the students on two separate occasions to try to fully understand their
thoughts and feelings prior to reaching a decision.
This decision was not made under the influence of profit, of which there is none.
While this decision was made in consultation with others, the decision was mine.
This was a difficult decision because there exist valid positive and negative elements related to
cancelling or proceeding with the tour. While I appreciate that opinions may vary about this
decision, I desire for our Eastman community to understand the complexity of the matter
before drawing each person’s own conclusion. To assist with this, I encourage you to read the
following messages to the faculty and the Philharmonia students. There is no question that this
is a challenging situation, but I am heartened in the knowledge that all of us are committed to
doing our very best in support of our students and our school. For that, I extend my deep
Message to faculty:
I am writing to update you about a development related to the upcoming Philharmonia Tour to
China. In late September, our tour partners in China informed us that they could not obtain
visa applications for three South Korean students in the orchestra. This was related to a 2016
decision by the US to deploy a missile defense system in South Korea, and China responded by
blocking South Korean artists from performing in China.
The options with which I have been grappling since that time have been:
1. Proceed without the three South Korean students
This poses a tremendous ethical dilemma. Discrimination in any form and for any
reason is abhorrent to me, personally. Traveling without our South Korean students
could lead to unrest among Eastman students and our Eastman community, the
university community, and potentially a larger Korean community. It would also mean a
change in the orchestra personnel, identifying three other students to perform instead
of our South Korean students.
2. Cancel the Tour
This would be tremendously unfortunate to 80+ students who have been highly
motivated by this opportunity. We know that families have altered holiday plans and
have already made travel arrangements to enable their students to participate on this
trip. Cancelling would likely have a negative impact on Eastman’s reputation within
China, and potentially limit other opportunities to recruit, perform, and tour for our
faculty and other ensembles.
3. Find a way for the three South Korean students to perform with the ensemble.
Toward this end, we have spent the past two weeks seeking assistance from our tour
partners, our congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., as well as through the
Chinese Consulate in NYC. Ultimately and unfortunately, these efforts have proved to
Throughout this time, I have been consulting with the Provost, the Vice-Provost for Global
Engagement, UR’s Office of Government Relations, as well the President’s office. I have also
sought input from other deans and orchestras to see if they have encountered the same issue
and to learn from them. John Hain and I also met with the students from South Korea twice, in
addition to having individual conversations.
On Friday, I met with the Philharmonia to explain the situation and to hear their feedback at
that time. I encouraged them to share their thoughts with me over the weekend.
Time has been of the essence with a hard deadline of this morning to make a final decision to
proceed or not. This morning, I communicated my decision to proceed with the tour to the
members of the Philharmonia.
As I wrote to the students, I can understand and appreciate that some of you may agree with
my decision while others may not. I am certainly available and willing to speak with anyone
who wishes to do so. In the meantime, I hope that you can appreciate the challenge this
scenario created in that the final choices were between two potentially negative outcomes. I
believe this decision is ultimately in Eastman’s best interest, and I truly appreciate your support
of the students and of this important international initiative.