28 Apr 2017

D Day for Waikato Music Department

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 28 April 2017
University of Waikato

University of Waikato Photo: Photo NZ

Today is the final day for submissions regarding the restructure of the University of Waikato’s faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, including the School of Music.

The University of Waikato music department is already working with the “bare minimum” of staff and cuts could see the demise of the school, according to a faculty member.

The University proposes to reduce full time staff numbers within the Music department from eight, to five.  Submissions closed at 4pm today, after the deadline was extended by a week.

150 submissions have been presented to the committee overseeing the proposed restructure, led by Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science Professor Allison Kirkman.

Professor Kirkman says time will be taken to consider all submissions and a final proposal will be presented to an academic board, with a decision sometime in June. She says some staff numbers in other areas have already reduced because of retirements and resignations.

University Music staff were first told about the plan to reduce staff numbers by nearly 40 percent in late March.

Martin Lodge

Martin Lodge Photo: Supplied

Head of composition, Associate Professor Martin Lodge says a reduction of staff could see the end of the school. “If they were to cut to five (staff), then there would be a budget saving short term, but we couldn’t offer a BMus degree or graduate degrees that are attractive to students,” he says. “Students would quickly vote with their feet and go elsewhere. And student numbers would decline further, further staffing cuts, and within 18 months you wouldn’t have a music school worthy of the name.”

Staff from the music department made a joint submission saying they are willing to work with senior management around change management, but the main concern is how departments are funded.

The model that’s been put forward for funding is related to the staff/student ratio. But Martin Lodge says that varies depending on the subject and Music is already working with the “bare minimum” of staff.

“There might be 100 students in first year psychology…but you can’t have 100 pianists in a room. It’s a nonsense,” Martin says. “We think the funding model has to be appropriate for the discipline. Music has a lot of one-on-one teaching.”

Funding of the music department comes in various forms: research grants, business support, charitable trust donations, and donations of instruments.

A local community group independent of the music school, who also made a submission, found about $15 million has been given by the community in the past 20 years in support of music.

“This hasn’t been factored into the budget and it should be,” Lodge says. “The budget is a bit of a mystery. It’s unclear how it’s allocated. We earn a lot of money through research but don’t get it directly returned to us. We’d like more transparency in the budget process.”

Fourth year violin student Rachel Twyman says students are very worried. She says many students have chosen to attend Waikato to study under the guidance of a particular tutor. If the tutor leaves, many would have to look elsewhere.

The students have also tabled a petition to save the Waikato Music Conservatorium, which was presented today. It was signed by 2600 individuals including students, alumni and well-known people in the arts community. But Twyman says it’s hard to say if the university has listened to the students’ concerns. “I’m remaining positive. Because of the huge response, I hope they consider what we have to say about it.”

The proposed restructure has been a heavy weight on the tutors. “You can tell the teachers are very pre-occupied. With every spare moment they are writing emails, talking about this and writing their counter proposal,” she says.

But it hasn’t affected their ability to teach. “Our lecturers are so invested in us and whatever time they have, they give to us,” she says. “They are always available to us for whatever we need.”

Dame Malvina Major, who has been a tutor in the Music department , believes it is a tough decision, but is a supporter of change. In an interview with RNZ Concert’s Upbeat programme on Monday, she told Eva Radich that the school needs to concentrate on what it does best.

“Every university wants to have a bit of everything. But you can’t. We are too small,” she says. “What do you do best? We have a fantastic vocal school, piano, violin and cello.”

It’s important, she says, to maximise what they have, but if they aren’t getting the student numbers then it’s tough. “We have everything set for a really great music school in Waikato but we have to attract the students here. We do have good teachers.”

The department also has a history of students winning competitions, including concerto competitions and the Lexus Song Contest. “The record is there for students to come to Waikato,” she says.

Other areas facing staff cuts at the university include linguistics and applied linguistics, women's and gender studies, labour studies, studies in religion, anthropology, and political science.