By Elizabeth Casillas, April 26, 2022
Iris Levine first set foot in Cal Poly Pomona and encountered a newly constructed music building lacking electricity, window coverings, and carrying large conduits tunneling to and from the theater department. At that time, the music department was unaccredited, and Levine entered as an associate professor—the first woman ever appointed to a tenure-track position in the music department.
Thirty-two years later, Levine announced her retirement on April 12, leaving behind a fully accredited and thriving music department which she later oversaw as department chair. Since then, Levine has boasted such titles as Associate Dean and Dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences; Acting Dean of the College of Education and Integrative Studies; acting provost of Cal Poly Pomona and until July 1, she will serve as special assistant to the president.
“Is that enough jobs for you? Levine asked.
Not only did she hold these titles, but her work ethic and positive outlook drove her to excel in every position, starting with her time in the music department.
In 1990, when Levine entered college, a lack of funding and minimal interest created a difficult environment for the campus music community. Besides a lack of funding, Levine also experienced differential treatment from female students for female professors compared to their male counterparts; students used to call male professors by their respective titles, but when referring to female professors, they used first names, regardless of titles.
Levine quickly worked to turn it all around.
“The Steinway initiative was everything to her,” said Janine Riveire, a professor in the Department of Music, referring to the university’s exclusive partnership with Steinway & Sons, a piano company. “She led the advancement, the fundraising, to make her school an All-Steinway school. We only have Steinways.
The music department is currently accredited, highly regarded, and enjoying increased financial aid the department gives to its students.
According to department chair David Kopplin, Levine helped people outside the music department understand why music was important and raised awareness of the department’s needs.
In addition to improving the outlook for the department, Levine also forged deep personal connections with every student who entered his class; she still maintains a mentoring role with many alumni and follows their professional careers closely, even in the most difficult times.
In 2013, Levine was diagnosed with cancer, and although she received plenty of support and opportunities to step back from the multiple roles she held, she remained firm in being a constant in her students’ lives. .
“She insisted on directing the concert and keeping them going from afar,” said Niké St. Clair, a professor in the Department of Music. “She was just sitting and making music with them. She didn’t take the semester off.
When asked by colleagues why she chose to share something so personal with the students, Levine replied, “I truly believe our students are all going to experience this with a loved one at some point. They’re going to have to deal with it, whether it’s a family member, friend, or co-worker, so why not let them deal with it first and be able to talk to me? »
Levine not only impacted the lives of his students, but his daily interactions with his colleagues created lifelong mentorships and relationships.
When Nicole Hawkes, chief of staff in the president’s office, first took office, Levine first reached out via email and identified herself as an ally and friend. Hawkes recalls Levine being her first stop once she was able to enter campus.
Likewise, St. Clair acknowledged being pushed and supported by Levine; she was a cheerleader for those around her.
“Whenever I felt like I needed a shoulder to cry on or share a little joy, I would just go to his office,” St. Clair said. “She was always quick to put things aside and say, ‘OK, talk to me. She never chased me away. After years as dean, I could still go see her and talk about choral repertoire.
Levine’s friendly personality and impressive track record enchanted those around him.
“Some people have more impact on students, and some will have more impact on faculty,” said Terri S. Gomez, vice provost for student success. “Dr. Levine is rare in that she had the same impact on both groups.
Levine described his transition from the music department to CLASS as the removal of blinders. With each position she was promoted to, another pair of blinders came off and she saw the college more clearly and understood what was going on behind the scenes.
Each new position took effort and time to learn, but Levine always understood what she was doing and incorporated a methodical approach to tasks; when times were tough, she turned to humor.
“We’ve been in the trenches in really tough times, and Dr. Levine always finds a way to find humor in situations,” Gomez said. “She never takes herself too seriously.”
Although she left the music department, Levine never forgot her home department. Between meetings and during lunches, she roamed the music department and participated in rehearsals and recitals.
“To me, it was my home,” Levine said.
Music was Levine’s primary love, according to Kopplin, and that love was ever present in all aspects of Levine’s personal and professional life.
Outside of her academic duties, Levine is artistic director of a Los Angeles-based community choral ensemble she built 25 years ago, Vox Femina. She performed some of the highest levels of repertoire there and, by working seven days a week, she was able to continue to feed it.
Levine was adamant about continuing with Vox Femina even during her intensive job as acting provost, which she transitioned into amid the pandemic. His tenacious personality and straightforward problem solving were admired by his colleagues.
“I was probably in more trouble than anyone in the department,” Kopplin said. “But if I did something that needed improvement, she let me know right away. She wasn’t afraid of those conversations, and for a person to grow, you need that immediate feedback. She never left anything lying around.
These personality traits were also revealed earlier in Levine’s music career when she pursued an undergraduate degree in music education at the University of New Hampshire.
After being denied enrollment in music classes, since she was still an unregistered student, Levine sat outside the department chair’s desk for an entire day until he agreed to discuss admission to music lessons.
After successfully transitioning to the University of New Hampshire’s music department and later earning her graduate degree at the University of Southern California, Levine joined the campus community and became not only a member faculty, but also a friend.
“She has an infectious laugh, and when she wasn’t Iris the administrator, or Iris the dean, or Iris the choirmaster or even Iris the department head, she was Iris,” Kopplin said. “She will be missed.”
After her retirement, Levine plans to continue as the artistic director of Vox Femina, conduct honor choirs, contribute to a book, give guest lectures in courses covering women in music, and attend Los Angeles Sparks games, but through it all she will continue to be a strong member of the campus community.
“I loved being here at Cal Poly Pomona,” Levine said. “Truly loved it.”