23 May 2012

Open letter to Gareth Evans, Chancellor, ANU

Open letter to Gareth Evans,
Chancellor, Australian National University

21 May, 2012

The purpose of this letter is to express support for the continuation of the current School of Music at the ANU, one of Australia’s most highly regarded conservatoriums and musicological institutions.

As you are aware, the university proposes to restructure the School of Music by reducing the number of staff from 32 to 13 and eliminating the degree majors of Performance, Composition, Musicology and Ethnomusicology. This would produce degree courses incapable of graduating high level performers, composers, music theorists, musicologists or music philosophers. It would fail to produce graduates capable of higher degree research or Australian Research Council funding. In other words, the new degree would be unworthy of inclusion in a tertiary institution.

We understand that issues of budget underpin the university’s current debate about the School of Music, and that Canberra’s business community has offered to subsidise the music degree. We also understand that the ANU is nevertheless intending to cut academic positions in Music. This decision would appear to ignore widespread community outrage and the wishes of the city that hosts the ANU.

The ANU has not clearly explained why the discipline of Music cannot be subsidised from the university’s significant surplus. Government funding is not provided to universities for the purpose of building surpluses but, rather, for the purpose of funding education programs and the idea that Music should be wholly economically self-sustaining overlooks the integral role of this discipline in the wider university. Melbourne University, when restructuring into the ‘Melbourne Model’, retained Music as one of only six undergraduate degrees. This decision was rooted in an understanding that music faculties are necessary for top tier universities - Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, all have music faculties as do the most highly regarded tertiary institutions in our own country. The proposed restructure of Australia’s most distinguished music faculty endangers the national and international reputation of the ANU.

The ANU School of Music makes one of the largest contributions to the study of Indigenous music of any Australian tertiary institution. For many years the ANU has been a world leader in ethnomusicology and it currently supports Indigenous Elders to undertake research into their own musical culture. This program will be cut with all the others should the restructure be allowed to proceed.

But perhaps most importantly, the downgrading of our Music School will impoverish the rich musical life of Australia’s capital city. The ranks of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra are largely filled with staff, students and alumni of the School of Music. Music teachers in private studios and secondary schools, as well as the Jazz bands that give life to the city at night, are also mostly connected with the School of Music. The musical contributions to university graduation ceremonies, Floriade, local fetes and school events are all likely to falter should the School of Music be downgraded to the extent currently proposed.

When the university points to the ‘elitism’ of classical music – a term that seems acceptable when applied to elite surgeons or sportsmen – it fails to address the far wider benefits of music in Canberra. Because it is not the elite who will suffer most from the closure or downgrading of the ANU Music School – it is the high school students who won’t have access to instrumental teaching, local communities who can’t involve musicians in their activities, Canberra residents who can’t go out on the weekend to hear a band or Jazz ensemble, Indigenous people whose research into their own music will go unsupported, and Aged Care residents who will not be visited by singers from the Music School with Christmas carols. When the ANU closes the door on the Music School they will not be simply restructuring an undergraduate degree, they will be depriving an entire city of its music.

Mr. Gareth Evans we urge you, in your role as Chancellor of the ANU, to intercede for the School of Music – for the reputation of our valued university and for the long-term public good of the Canberra-Queanbeyan community and the local NSW region.

Kind Regards,

Dr Judith Crispin
Sebastian Clark
Prof. Anne Boyd AM
Prof. Larry Sitsky OAM
Dr Ann Moyal AM
John Purnell SC
Jane Goffman
A/Prof. Gary France
Rosemary Greaves
Rob Gray OAM
Dr Oliver Raymond OAM
Greer Versteeg
Timothy Crispin
Brian P Stewart PSM
Dr Andrew Glikson
Christine Goode
Annie Oakey
Anne and Roger Smith
Claire de Luca
Benjamin Willson
Haddon Spurgeon
Dr Paul Hetherington
Barnaby Lewer
Robyn G McKay
Robert Burke
Richard McIntyre OAM

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