Behind Closed Doors

Reaching a Verdict

In general, have you been pleased with the winners who have been chosen by the panels on which you have served?

Informant A: Yes.

Informant B: Pretty much.

Informant C: Yes, but I have particular regrets about people and organizations I thought should be supported and the rest of the panel didn’t feel that way. There were times I argued for something and it didn’t work. But, on the whole, I’d say that the panels I served on did a very good job.

 

Have you ever been deeply upset with the final decisions?

Informant A: Never. That’s because I’m a fighter.

Informant B: No, I’ve been puzzled, but I’m not the only arbiter of taste on the planet. Sometimes there are competitions that have a pre-screening like BMI. I’ve never been involved in that but rumor has it that the pre-screening in competitions of that sort is really the most critical juncture because that’s where stylistic bias can pop up and then it restricts what the finalist judges get to see. You do sometimes wonder when you get an emphasis in one stylistic direction, what’s going on. Another competition that I was involved in, there was an outside panel who made recommendations but there was a central person who made the final pick, and the final pick seemed to be skewed more toward the taste of that overarching judge than to my taste and the taste of one of my colleagues on that panel and we talked about it. “Do you remember that piece? Did you like that piece? Whatever happened to that piece that was like such-and-such?”

Informant C: I never thought a travesty won. There were things I would have preferred at times to have gotten a green light that didn’t in favor of other things, but I don’t think I’m embarrassed by anything that won.

 

How difficult has it been for you to come to a consensus of opinion with the other people on the panels?

Informant A: It can be very difficult. I’ve worked with some great groups, great panelists. Most often I’ve been pleased.

Informant B: It hasn’t been difficult, in my limited experience. I’ve been fortunate in that it’s always a collegial atmosphere and we’ve had serious, frank discussions about the pieces and we’ve shifted around and reached a consensus that was satisfactory to everybody.

Informant C: It’s been remarkably easy. There are things that you know you disagree with, but you know the fault lines and they’ve been easy to work out. There are times at which I’m willing to recognize that my opinion is a matter of taste. And there have been panels where I felt my view was in the minority, but never where my opinions were ignored.

 

Have you ever felt pressured to bend your opinion by a fellow panelist?

Informant A: No.

Informant B: No.

Informant C: No.

 

Has there ever been any pressure from the grantmaking organization, the sponsoring organization?

Informant A: No, not in a certain way about a certain application, but maybe in a certain way by the process and in those cases I’ve worked to change the process.

Informant B: No.

Informant C: No, never.

 

Have you ever suspected foul play in any of the determinations? Have you ever made a decision in a panel and have seen that decision not be followed through after convening in the final awarding process?

Informant A: Never.

Informant B: It’s hard to imagine what the foul play would have been. I once felt that there was a little bit of an intrusion of taste. I felt a score was a little bit soft and there was some gnarly stuff that would have been interesting to consider as well and it seems to have disappeared. But I didn’t see anything, for example, like too many people affiliated with the same school.

Informant C: No, not in any panel I’ve been on. But there are panels—these are commissioning panels and awards panels both—where the people serving on the committees are mostly academics and the award winners are, in an unusual number, graduates of the program where the panelists are serving.

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