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Credit: Abbie Cooper

Last year, there were cuts to the arts faculty. Staff were laid off, contact hours decreased, class sizes increased, and learning content was moved online. The dramatic changes were obvious to everyone; and thanks to the public posters, meetings and protests on campus throughout the year – difficult to ignore.

Quietly, the cuts made their way into the halls of the loudest faculty on campus, the music school. This is where I study Classical Composition. During October last year, near the end of the second semester, students in the Classical Composition stream and the Creative Music Technology stream were notified that they were being combined into one course.

We had not been given any prior warning of this change, and certainly not when we were enrolling in the course. In fact, as we realized later, this move had been planned since 2018, or perhaps even earlier.

It meant that we would have been committing ourselves to a course which we had not signed up to, where class sizes would be doubled, and each stream would be spending their time learning a subject of which they had little knowledge or interest.

To make matters worse, there occurred shortly thereafter a series of staff departures from all areas of the music school.  Among them were the Ensembles and Piano Coordinator, the Strings Coordinator and the Woodwind Coordinator, along with several senior lecturers and long-standing associate professors. In short, an almost complete wiping out of the upper brass.

The immediate response was a letter addressed to the Vice Chancellor – appended with 180 signatures – expressing concern over the loss of teachers, and frustration with the direction that the school is taking under the leadership of the school of music, Cat Hope. Unfortunately, and perhaps as expected, the response to this was non-committal: that all departures had happened on their own accord; each teacher was leaving for entirely personal reasons etc. etc.

Seeing that a more direct action was needed, with specific demands to be raised, some of my cohort and myself decided to compose another letter to the Vice Chancellor, expressing our concerns over what the new course would look like. This was soon brought to the attention of the Dean of Arts, Sharon Pickering, and a meeting was scheduled for the following week.

We brought with us to two main areas of concern:

  1. Apprehension over the implications of the new combined course, as well as the leadership which had led to it. Alarm about the many staff departures, and the systematic way it appeared to be occurring, especially as those being rehired are increasingly geared towards an area in music that is not what anyone had intended to study. 
  2. Frustration over the communication between management and staff, allowing these changes to happen on the sly.  

Our meeting was followed up by an email exchange in which Sharon confirmed the following: 

  • that they would be maintaining the same staffing levels as there were before, 
  • that those within second and third years would be divided into three different streams –  Composition, CMT and Combined –  from which they could choose, 
  • that students would be notified in writing about the streams available to them, 
  • that there would be very small tutorial class sizes, as a result of the new streaming system, 
  • that the tutorial component would be expanded from 1 to 2 hours, which would mean taking time from other parts of the course to create longer tutorials, 
  • that communication between students and management would be improved, 
  • that the music school’s exchange program would remain unaffected by the staff departures. 

While the music school is still far from being in an ideal position, we believe that if these changes are enacted, the worst of the effects on the composition/CMT streams will be mitigated. By no means was this meeting solely responsible for such changes, but rather, it seemed to come as a result of the many actions taken by many students of the music school. We are aware that other faculties across the music schools have been affected too, many facing the cancellation of certain units, and uncertainty about the loss of professors. 

We are happy to continue this conversation with any other students who are interested in talking about the evolving direction of the music school. I can be contacted myself at rbra0012@student.monash.edu. 

Credit: Abbie Cooper
Rebecca Bracewell

The author Rebecca Bracewell

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