In Memoriam: Robert E. Bays

October 9, 2015

Robert E. Bays, President of NASM from 1979 to 1982, passed away peacefully on October 6, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was 94 years of age. Born in Missouri to the Reverend J.W. and Bertie Cole Bays, he went on to become an accomplished musician and one of the most effective and respected music administrators and strategists of his generation. He was educated at Emporia State University in Kansas, Columbia University in New York City, and George Peabody College, now a school of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his wife Cleis were the parents of two daughters. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and then began his career as a performer, conductor, and administrator in higher education. He was principal horn with the Wichita and Nashville Symphony Orchestras, and the head of music programs at George Peabody College, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He retired from music administration in1986.

Over the many years of his service, Robert Bays built a reputation for wisdom and thoughtful action. He was respected for his ability to see and capitalize on potential. He worked from a strong base of comprehensive knowledge about the human condition and thus was kind, open, and nurturing. When something went wrong somewhere, he was known to smile empathetically and say, “That could happen to any of us.” He would then help in any way he could. These attributes and capabilities benefited NASM as Robert Bays served in various capacities including six years as a member of the Commission on Graduate Studies, a forerunner of the present Commission on Accreditation, and Vice President from 1976 to 1979.

During his term as president of NASM, the association undertook a full review of undergraduate music curricula, empanelled a task force on strategies for local action with regard to state certification, and endeavored to increase the focus of self-study documents and processes on qualitative analyses consistent with the nature of musical thought and action. The association also conducted two national studies with other professional organizations. NASM and Chamber Music America produced a major analysis of chamber music in American higher education. Opera America and the National Institute for Music Theatre were NASM’s partners for a project with similar objectives in their fields. Both projects resulted in recommendations for improving the education of professional musicians, and in new and amended texts that with subsequent revisions remain as standards in the Handbook.

Robert Bays was also NASM Vice President and President at a historic time for the arts in higher education. During those years, various factors and issues combined and produced the need for theatre and for dance to obtain accreditation parity. Working with leaders of the two fields and with the encouragement and support of such luminaries as Ernest M. Boyer, U.S. Commissioner of Education, Sandy Boyd, President of the University of Iowa and member of the NEA’s National Council on the Arts, and the arts staff of the Ford Foundation, officers of NASM and NASAD agreed to provide a structure for the organization of NASD and the reorganization of NAST as independent national accrediting associations. By 1982, this work was completed and the structures were in place for decades of close cooperation among four autonomous organizations, including creation of the HEADS project in its current manifestation, founding the Council of Arts Accrediting Associations, sharing National Office space and staff, and establishment of a common arts voice on matters of national accreditation policy and legislation.

The results of all these achievements in NASM and beyond are both significant and incalculable. They resonate to this day in professional education in music and across the art forms. A number of leaders contributed heavily, but these accomplishments would not have been possible without the wisdom, foresight, generosity and the fundamental decency and courage of Robert Bays; attributes that encouraged colleagues and gave them confidence; attributes that sought by word, demeanor, and deed the path of cooperation in all situations, and at all levels and scales of operation; attributes that sought to strengthen the independence of people and entities as the best basis for common action, and for determining case by case how common and independent action should relate to each other.

At this poignant time of memories and condolences, NASM recalls how Robert Bays met the challenges of his era with integrity and distinction, and how his work and example continue to benefit those who never met him. Like his predecessors and successors, Robert Bays took the basic values and purposes of the Association, burnished them in his time, and led efforts to send them out as light. Those efforts have been successful. That light continues to illuminate, teach, and inspire. It gains intensity as NASM grows, new generations build new things on strong foundations, and more institutions and people engage. It is powered in part by deep gratitude for individual gifts and work. And in these hours, fully imbued with that spirit of gratitude, NASM honors the life of Robert Bays.