13 Oct 2016

Concerns over Otago music school restructure

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 13 October 2016
Otago University

Otago University Photo: Wikipedia

The head of University of Otago's Department of Music is adamant that a restructure of staff is still in the proposal stages, even though some staff have received letters telling them the fate of their roles.

Head of Humanities pro-vice chancellor Tony Ballantyne told Upbeat that letters were sent out on Friday and staff have until 25 October to give submissions on the proposals.

He would not go into specific details regarding what positions are to be culled, as it would identify the staff members affected.

A proposal to restructure the school has been in discussions since April, with staff and outside stakeholders - including the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra - being consulted.

More than 40 percent of players in the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra have come through the school. Other high profile alumni include APO and NZSO players, internationally based conductors Tecwyn Evans and Holly Mathieson and opera stars Jonathan Lemalu and Anna Leese.

The current proposal sees a reduction of staff particularly in the performance area, with 13 full-time equivalent employees being reduced to fewer than 10. Professor Ballantyne says he believes all areas will continue to be staffed, even if in a diminished capacity, but the reduction in staff will help the department get on a “more sustainable footing”.

A meeting is being held at the end of next week to discuss possible changes ahead of the submissions closing date. But Professor Ballantyne says staff are able to get an extension on their submissions if required.

He says it is imperative to reduce the number of staff to reflect the number of students. “People are very distressed and it is unsettling,” he says. “We have to recognise that universities… (are) subject to economic pressure. The reality is we have lost a significant number of students.”

In the past six years, University of Otago student numbers have declined by almost 20 percent.

The reduction of music department staff and students will have a flow-on effect in the wider community, including for the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin Opera and City Choir.

Dunedin Symphony Orchestra general manager Philippa Harris says the University acts as a lifeline for the orchestra. “It’s vital to us that instrumental teaching is at a level that it attracts the students; that’s the bottom line for us. We are very concerned that’s maintained,” she says.

A diminished number of musicians in the region could have financial implications for the Orchestra and would put pressure on its viability.

“We are the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and we need to have players locally available to complete an orchestra,” she says. “If the players aren’t here, you can’t afford to fly them in.”

The DSO also works with other community groups, including the Dunedin Opera and City Choir. “Other groups engage with the orchestra. If we had to fold because of no players, then where does it place them?” Philippa asks.

The university consulted with the orchestra earlier in the year and the DSO will be making another submission in the coming weeks.