Courtesy of Cornell University and the Cornell Glee Club

Prof. Joe Lerangís has built a “hostile and exhausting” culture as Glee Club director, according to several of their current and former students.

March 27, 2024

‘Our Grades Are Being Held Hostage’: Students Say Glee Club Director Abuses Power

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“They turned the Glee Club into a culture of fear,” Brian Rappaport M.Eng. ’23, a former member, said of Glee Club Director Prof. Joe Lerangís, music. 

Rappaport is one of eight current and former Glee Club singers The Sun interviewed in recent weeks who expressed overwhelming disapproval of the leadership of Lerangís, the club’s director since 2022.

Together, the members said Lerangís, who is untenured, has consistently displayed a lack of care for student wellbeing, created a toxic work culture and established an arbitrary grading system. 

Founded in 1868, the Glee Club is one of Cornell’s oldest student organizations and has a storied history. The organization has long served as an emblem of Cornell’s bustling student life, performing at University events, including commencement and convocation ceremonies, and concerts across the world. 

But, according to students, Lerangís is reversing that positive legacy.

“[Lerangís is] starting to really have deleterious effects on what the future [of the Glee Club] is,” Glee Club President Jason Gordon ’24 said, “especially because this is the second year in a row that we’ve had half the group drop from the start toward the end of the year.” 

Gordon noted that last year, the club started with 44 members and ended with just 22. This year, the starting number was 48. Now, membership has dropped to around 30. 

Students in the Glee Club shared with The Sun a laundry list of grievances about Lerangís’ leadership style, often citing an indifference toward members’ welfare. 

One former member of the Glee Club — who is a junior and spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution — said Lerangís often requires students to participate when sick. 

The former member, who left the Glee Club this semester, said that Lerangís has forced sick students to show up to lengthy rehearsals. The practice is so common that members refer to the area where ill members are relegated to as “the sick bay.”

“People who are sick [go to the] sick bay, and the sick bay is just sitting in the pews in Sage Chapel, away from everyone else,” the former member said. “[People who are sick] are still expected to show up with a mask, looking at the music for the two and a half hours that everyone else is singing.”

Lerangís told The Sun that attendance for dress rehearsals and concerts is mandatory and requires extreme circumstances to warrant excusal.

One of the many grievances students shared is how Lerangís has built what they described as a toxic, intimidating work environment. Students said they were fearful of speaking out and having to talk to the professor one-on-one.

Another former member who quit the group this semester spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation. The ex-member, whom Lerangís reportedly called “disruptive,” detailed how they believed they received a C+ in the class because they frequently voiced their complaints about the director’s uncompromising approach during rehearsals. 

Fearful of meeting with the director alone, the former member brought Glee Club Advocacy Chair PJ Brown ’25 with him when he took his complaints to Lerangís.

“I never felt comfortable speaking with [Lerangís] because they like to play into this power dynamic where they need to feel they are above the student, [so] I brought the advocacy chair with me,” the former member said. “[Brown] made me more comfortable, because I was afraid to talk to Lerangís alone.”

When the former member showed up with Brown to Lerangís’ office, Lerangís refused to meet with the two together, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — a law that protects the privacy of student education records. Lerangís continued to refuse to meet the two, despite the former member’s consenting to share grade information and expressing a fear of speaking alone to them. 

“[Glee Club] used to mean a wonderful, inclusive, warm environment,” the former member said, “not one that’s hostile and exhausting to be a part of.”

Members said that Lerangís dismissed the concerns of student leaders in the Glee Club. Under Lerangís, Gordon said, the club’s constitution effectively has been suspended, with the director unilaterally redefining the terms of student leadership. Lerangís has also gone against precedent, firing members without consulting any peer-elected officers, “which feels like a total blindside,” Gordon said. 

Lerangís cited student confidentiality concerns to explain why, when dismissing a member, they do not deliberate on the decision with the executive board members.

In interviews with The Sun, students said they felt that Lerangís’ grading policies are punitive.

The Glee Club, along with being a student organization, is a two-credit class. Students said that under Lerangís’ leadership, the Glee Club has been transformed from an organization that catered to the Cornell community to a burdensome course with “arbitrary” standards. 

“You can say, ‘My mom just died’ or something ridiculous, and they’ll still expect you to show up to rehearsals,” the junior former member said. “There’s no getting through to them when it comes to emotions.”

A copy of the Glee Club syllabus obtained by The Sun states that “Dress rehearsals and concerts are mandatory, and missing these will result in failing the course, with the exception of extreme circumstances.”

The junior ex-member said that because they were unable to make a dress rehearsal, Lerangís offered up an ultimatum — write a 12 to 15-page research paper or be kicked out and join the Cornell Chorale, a mixed-voice choir with 100 singers. 

When the member confronted them at the end of a rehearsal, Lerangís, the student recalled, immediately stormed out of Sage Chapel in front of about a third of the Glee Club without giving a rationale for the research paper assignment. The member highlighted this moment as an example of a tense work environment and the director’s inability to address student concerns. 

“[The Glee Club] is supposed to be a celebration of music,” Rappaport said, later adding that “[Lerangís’ policies] run counter to practically every other musician I’ve ever known.” 

In an interview, Lerangís neither confirmed nor denied demanding a 12 to 15-page research paper but explained that make-up assignments “have to basically be on a case-by-case basis.”

A current executive board member, who spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from Lerangís, highlighted that Lerangís’ grading policies have made the Glee Club less about camaraderie and more about aligning with Lerangís’ strict and unforgiving expectations. 

“It very much feels like our grades are being held hostage as a way to make us do what a professor just wants us to do,” the current executive board member said. “It feels as if students are no longer at the forefront of the organization and [seems] that this is Joe Lerangís’ choir, not the Cornell Glee Club and Chorus.” 

At the end of the interview with Lerangís, The Sun asked them what their message is to concerned students. Lerangís encouraged more students to join. 

“I mean, my message is to get involved with choral music and that music is great,” Lerangís said. “It’s a historic program, and I’m committed to the growth of this program and to making sure that choir and choral music thrive at Cornell.” 

Benjamin Leynse is a Sun Contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

Clarification, April 1, 10:25 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify the timing of Prof. Joe Lerangís’ storming out when confronted about the 12 to 15-page research paper.

Correction, March 28, 6:40 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Prof. Joe Lerangís, music, assigned a 12 to 15-page research paper to a junior ex-member who was unable to make a concert. The student actually could not make a dress rehearsal.