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Valpo student launches 'Save VU Jazz' campaign amid music department budget cuts
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Valpo student launches 'Save VU Jazz' campaign amid music department budget cuts

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VALPARAISO — A Valparaiso University student is calling for action after he says longtime VU Jazz professor Jeffrey Brown announced his position was being eliminated “due to cost-cutting measures.”

The student, freshman Steven Mileusnich, said Brown told his VU Jazz Ensemble class in November that the university would be letting him go at the end of the school year.

Fearing implications for the VU jazz program, Mileusnich launched a “Save VU Jazz” petition — first in a paper campaign on campus, then moving online this month through a Change.org petition.

Brown is a fixture in the Valparaiso community, Mileusnich’s campaign argues, and without him, some are left wondering what will happen to the VU jazz program.

Mileusnich has gathered more than 1,800 supporters so far on Change.org and collected between 200 to 400 signatures on paper before the university paused for winter break, the VU freshman said.

"Our whole goal is to preserve Professor Brown's jazz program, because he's pretty much the best man for the job," Mileusnich said.

Among his responsibilities in VU’s music department, Brown is director of the university’s Jazz Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble and Jazz Combos. He also teaches percussion, music industry and general studies music courses, according to the Valparaiso University website.

In 1979, Brown helped found the Valparaiso University Faculty Jazz Trio. He now leads K-12 school concerts across three states, and has been influential in establishing and overseeing the popular Valparaiso University Jazz Festival, entering its 35th year this spring.

Mileusnich said his campaign in support of Brown has been entirely student led. The freshman said he intends to present a letter to VU administration, along with his petition, either when he has reached his goal of 10,000 signatures or before the beginning of this spring's Jazz Fest.

"He's responsible for the jazz program at Valparaiso's success," Mileusnich said of Brown's influence at VU. "He puts forth a lot more time and energy than is required to continue its success."

Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

Mileusnich said outside of a couple casual conversations with VU music department faculty, there have been no official communications from the university to music students about the future of the program.

He said music students, seeing recent cuts to other programs like men’s tennis and soccer, have been left to wonder if jazz is next.

Valparaiso University spokeswoman Nicole Niemi said the university has no plans to cut or change course offerings in the jazz program this school year, and has no plans to cut the jazz ensemble course next year. She said VU anticipates no changes to this and next spring's Jazz Fest.

Nieimi said Brown is one of 12 current employees of the Valparaiso University music department, but declined to answer specific questions about teaching staff.

Stacy Maugans, chair of VU's music department, said in an email to The Times that, though the department has experienced budget cuts, it intends to continue supporting jazz at the university.

"We are in a time of transition, which presents both challenges and opportunities as we plan for the future," Maugans said. "The question is not whether or not we will support jazz at Valpo; rather, the question we are seeking to address is how best to support jazz at Valpo."

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