I found the editorial “Four Concerns with the Kovner Fellowship,” recently published in The Citizen-Penguin, to be timely, as economic inequality is an important part of our national conversation right now. At Juilliard, we are keenly aware of the feelings and perceptions surrounding this complex issue. And for a scholarship program that offers comprehensive support, such as the Kovner Fellowship, it is brought into even greater relief. While no amount of scholarship assistance can fully address the complexities of financial disparity, no student should feel more or less valued because of the dollar amount of the scholarship package he or she receives. I would be dismayed to learn of students who assume they are somehow less valued by Juilliard because they did not receive a Kovner Fellowship.
The Kovner Fellowship was established and endowed by Bruce and Suzie Kovner to address a specific problem that became acute soon after the financial crash of 2008: many of the scholarship offers we were making were losing their effectiveness, and excellent applicants were declining our offer of admission for purely financial reasons. While there is not (yet!) a scenario that allows Juilliard to provide every dollar of unmet financial need for our students (e.g., full-tuition scholarships for everyone), the Kovner Fellowship makes a significant impact: There are now 54 Kovner Fellows, a figure that represents nearly 10 percent of the entire eligible music population at Juilliard. That statistic might not mean much to a non–Kovner Fellow, but as a result of the donation of Mr. and Mrs. Kovner’s gift—at $60 million, the largest in the school’s history—it has been possible to more widely distribute scholarship funds to drama, dance, and music students, thus increasing the amount of scholarship assistance in circulation. This is an overall benefit to Juilliard students, since the main goal of our institutional fundraising efforts is to increase the amount of available scholarship dollars.
A common misconception is that “Most Kovner Fellowship recipients come from families that can already afford a Juilliard education.” In fact, the financial profile of Kovner Fellows mirrors that of the overall Juilliard population: a small percentage come from families of means; most demonstrate financial need. It is worth noting that 85% of all college-level Juilliard students receive scholarship assistance.
The editorial is correct to note that there is no application or interview process for the Kovner Fellowship. That is because every eligible student who applies to Juilliard has also applied for the Fellowship by default. The parameters of the Kovner’s gift stipulates that eligible candidates are undergraduate and graduate Classical music majors, including Historical Performance.
Another common misconception is that the selection of Fellows is based solely on a 15-minute audition. This is not the case. After hearing entrance auditions, the faculty, either as a unified group by instrument area or as individuals, recommend applicants for consideration to the Kovner Fellows Selection Committee, which comprises President Polisi, Ara Guzelimian (Provost and Dean), Joan Warren (Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Development), Adam Meyer (Associate Dean and Director of the Music Division), Kathy Tesar (Associate Dean for Enrollment Management), Tina Gonzalez (Director of Financial Aid), a revolving member of the Liberal Arts faculty who serves a three-year term, and me (as an ex officio member). We convene in mid-March for an extensive meeting to review letters of recommendation, admissions essays, faculty recommendations, high school and college transcripts, and all other aspects of the standard Juilliard application. A similar, second round of selection for continuing students takes place in late May or early June, when the committee also reviews comments on annual jury forms.
Among the many reasons the Selection Committee will choose to recommended an applicant for the Fellowship are a combination of the following: a high school transcript (for undergraduate programs) that reveals the potential to do college-level work; a well-written and creative essay; an academic history that indicates community engagement or leadership potential; a college transcript (for graduate program applicants) that demonstrates a commitment to learning and academic curiosity; strong letters of recommendation; remarks on the faculty’s audition or jury comment sheets that indicate the highest artistic standard; and English language proficiency in accordance with prevailing admissions standards. We also take into account the fact that we are in competition with peer institutions to yield applicants in certain instruments more than in others. We have learned from the editorial that the information about the selection process on our website needs to be updated so that prospective students can better understand eligibility criteria.
The number of nominations from the faculty varies each year, as does the number of open Fellowships, but the latter is usually in the range of 17 to 20. As mentioned above, there are currently 54 Kovner Fellows at Juilliard, 30 undergraduates and 24 graduate students. Once accepted, Kovner Fellows carry that designation for the duration of their enrollment in their degree program, and must exceed the normal Juilliard academic standards in order to retain their status. Kovner Fellows are not guaranteed the continuation of their Fellowship from one degree program to the next (e.g., a bachelor’s degree student applying to the master’s degree program) and are reconsidered along with the incoming applicant pool.
Kovner Fellows do not have their own orientation, as the editorial stated. Rather, they follow the same orientation requirements as any other new-to-Juilliard students. They also have the chance to thank Mr. and Mrs. Kovner in person at the beginning of the year and, in addition to divisional and program orientation meetings, they are required to attend one extra meeting to go over the expectations of the Fellowship. As do many generous Juilliard scholarship donors, Mr. and Mrs. Kovner invite Fellows for various outings, as the editorial mentions.
As the sole merit-based scholarship program that funds the full cost of attendance at Juilliard, the Kovner Fellowship understandably comes under special scrutiny. I appreciate the editorial’s willingness to express a strong opinion, and I hope that this letter provides clarity on several points.
Assistant Dean for the Kovner Fellowship