Bad Music

By August 23, 2012Education, Music

The destruction of the ANU School of Music continues. The University appears determined to close down what has been one of Australia’s leading performance schools, and has demonstrated this intention afresh by listing the PhD as a mandatory requirement for appointment as an academic staff member of the School. The University updated job descriptions for the School only last year, and these do not require the PhD.

For academic staff this is yet another blow. For the NTEU, the union of academic staff, this is a further sign that the University is prepared to in bad faith (given its enterprise agreement). For those who hope that out of this terrible mess something valuable can be saved, this is a cause for despair.

The ANU has an awful decision-making culture, in which important announcements are made on Friday afternoon to take effect from Monday morning. Real consultation, in which members of the university are made aware of what seem to be significant problems, and have some months in which to reach a view about how best to deal with them, seems hardly to exist. In the present case staff have been given a week to comment on the change.

There have been a small number of reviews of the School, and of its associated School of Art. I conducted one of them, in 2000. In my report, and in delivering it to the Council of the University, I said that the School of Music was a national asset, and that the ANU had acted wisely in not classifying it as yet another teaching department. I specifically mentioned the PhD, preparation for which was almost the original reason for the establishment of the ANU after the second world war. I emphasised the performance role of the School, and said that it would be dangerous to see the PhD as important there, either as the principal object of enrolment or as a requirement for appointment as a staff member.

In 1990, when I knew I was to go to the University of Canberra as its Vice-Chancellor, I had lunch with the heads of the Schools of Music and Art, then independent entities, and suggested that they come to UC, which would be the most appropriate home for them. John Painter and David Williams, both friends of mine, agreed that it would be a good fit, but that decisions were being made at a higher level to incorporate their schools into the ANU, which they adjoined. We agreed that it was a pity that there had not been more discussion about the best fit.

OK, that was 22 years ago, and my review was twelve years ago. And there are financial problems in the maintenance of a performance school which employs one-to-one teaching. Every music school in the country is under financial pressure, and no doubt the Commonwealth Government ought to look harder at the funding model for such schools. Had they gone to UC we would have had the same problems, but we would have dealt with them in an entirely different way. To treat your colleagues in the current ANU way is in my view despicable. I’m old-fashioned enough to think that those in senior management in any university should remember that they were once academic staff members themselves, and regard academics as colleagues, not as serfs. As the saying goes, you should look after your colleagues on your way up, so that they don’t kick you on your way down.

While insisting on the PhD as the entry-level qualification for music practice may bring the School of Music into line with the rest of the University (but what about the School of Art?), it poses very high hurdles for those presently employed. How are they to obtain such a qualification? Yes, you can do so by going to the States and enrolling in any number of good music schools there. The PhD has been a serious qualification there since well before the second world war. In Australia the first was awarded in 1947, and in music it is still uncommon. Who will supervise you? Do they have a PhD themselves?

All in all, this is teeth-grinding stuff.

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