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The Collection of Tuition Fees.

BY J. FRANCIS COOKE.

 
One of the principal nuisances of many teachers lies in the collection of fees for services rendered. When one purchases any article of intrinsic value, the article, if unpaid for, remains as a constant reminder of the indebtedness to the merchant from whom it was purchased. In the case of professional services and especially in relation to services rendered by workers in the field of art, after the service has been rendered there is nothing of a purely material nature remaining to remind the debtor of his indebtedness. The artist works so easily that his work seems like a pastime to the uninitiated. If his work seems labored he is denounced as unproficient. "Why then," asks the layman, "should we remunerate a man for so little labor?" The years of preparation with expensive teachers is not allowed to enter into the consideration of the matter, and the layman ofttimes pays his butcher, grocer, and builder, but passes his teacher's bill with a tottering promise to pay when some mythical ship comes in.
 
The professional man sells his "brains" and his time. If he were a business man selling anything from lumber to jewelry he would certainly consult Bradstreet's or Dunn's mercantile agencies before permitting a new patron to receive a large invoice of goods. Bradstreet's and Dunn's or any other method of securing reliable information regarding a new patron's financial standing are usually unknown to most musicians, and yet the musician's stock in trade cannot be proportionately less valuable to him than the goods of the merchant. In many cases he does not even insure his payments by soliciting and confirming references. It is far more agreeable to request a reference at the beginning than to be obliged to harass a patron for a remittance at the end. Every well- meaning person is honored by a request for a reference, and is generally proud to refer to some favored friend. The patron's opinion of the teacher will furthermore immediately advance when it becomes plain that the teacher's practice is exclusive. Business men are inclined to avoid those who hesitate to give references or who are pretendedly offended at the request, upon the ground that their business standing should not be questioned, even by utter strangers.
 
These precautions are simply ordinary provisions of commercial justice and lie at the base of all financial intercourse. The laws in many states have been so moderated by sentimental legislators that it is far easier for a man to steal openly, by securing credit, than it is for him to steal secretly. It is hardly practicable to attempt to collect small bills by legal processes unless the responsibility of the debtor is known. In many cases the only satisfaction that one can secure even from a successful lawsuit is the knowledge that the defendant has been damaged socially and weakened financially. When the cost of court charges and lawyer's fees has been considered, satisfaction will be found to be rather costly. The musician, when permitting a student, whose responsibility is uncertain, to run a large bill should remember that the law in most states allows a very insufficient remedy in the event of non-payment.
 
These conditions have driven the majority of the musicians (with practices sufficiently great to warrant independence) to adopt a business regulation demanding all payments strictly in advance. This is really the only genuine protection that musicians have against fraud. It only needs co-operation upon the part of teachers with smaller practices to make the rule national. The great trouble I found when beginning to teach was that it was difficult to convince people unfamiliar with the customs of musicians that the system of paying in advance was employed exclusively by all of the better class teachers. It has often occurred to me that if the leading musical and educational journals would print with each edition a paragraph similar to the following over the editor's signature there are thousands of young teachers throughout the length and breadth of our country who would be extremely grateful for some such authoritative statement to have to exhibit to skeptical strangers:
 
The Editor of _________ desires to affirm that practically all of the better-class teachers in the United States receive their payments for services to be rendered invariably in advance. No student should patronize a teacher until he is satisfied that the teacher is sufficiently honest and competent to fulfill all business and professional obligations.
 
The Editor.
 
The teacher who intends to use such a form should be able to present applicants with abundant proof of both ability and business rectitude. Such a system might tend to correct one of the crying abuses of the profession of music-teaching in America. If the form could be printed in big type so that the clipping could be framed, both teacher and periodical would mutually benefit thereby. Strength could be added to such a statement by the indorsement of prominent musicians. I am sure that any musician who has felt the inconvenience and uncertainty of the credit system in his youth would be glad to lend his name toward instituting this reform.

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