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Memo details Adelaide Uni's planned music cuts

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The University of Adelaide’s planned cuts to teaching staff jobs and music courses have been detailed in a leaked memorandum circulating on social media.

The “draft change proposal” memo, sent to music staff by Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts Professor Jennie Shaw earlier this month, shows the university plans to make a dozen staff redundant, and permanently remove their positions from the Elder Conservatorium of Music staff structure.

The cuts will coincide with “the proposed retirement of several staff over the next 12 months”, but three new positions will be created as part of the restructure, the memo says.

All of the courses provided by the university’s pioneering Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM) – one of the only dedicated indigenous music educational institutions of its kind in the country – are also proposed to be cut.

The change would remove the Diploma in Aboriginal Studies in Music, the Advanced Diploma in Aboriginal Studies in Music and the Foundation Year Program.

In a statement, an Adelaide University spokesperson said the 31 students currently studying those courses would be allowed to finish them under the proposed changes.

Adelaide University music students are dismayed by the changes, which they say will remove irreplaceable specialist expertise from the faculty and diminish the value of their studies.

“It’s a sad reminder that for a lot of us, there’s not going to be a place for us in Adelaide to do what we do, and perhaps not a place in Australia,” vice president of the Elder Conservatorium Students’ Association Dan Thorpe told InDaily.

“How can our program not be affected in drastic ways by the sacking of staff, and the sacking of such key staff?

“And not just their sacking, but the disestablishment of their positions.

“The Conservatorium has been a home for a long time, and honestly, a lot of (students) feel really betrayed by management.”

Shaw’s memo says the restructure became necessary because of “significant financial difficulties” related to increased competition with other institutions and reductions in state government funding, among other issues.

The proposal would ensure “the Elder Conservatorium of Music can improve in terms of student numbers, financial strength, industry and professional connections and sustainability”.

The university spokesperson said: “Our aim is to provide the best possible educational opportunities and experience for Elder Conservatorium of Music students, and to enable the Conservatorium to contribute to the cultural fabric of our community.

“It’s important to note that the proposals are currently in a consultation phase with staff,” the spokesperson said.

It comes after revelations last year that the Certificate III, Certificate IV and the Diploma of Music would be scrapped. The university blamed the removal of State Government funding for the cuts.

Thorpe told InDaily CASM was “a key equity provider of musical education” and scrapping its courses would be “catastrophic”.

“It trains up Indigenous students as musicians (and) arms students with research skills that they take back to their communities,” he said.

Shaw’s memo says CASM “cannot continue to exist in a vacuum” and its courses would be cut, with content to be incorporated into the humanities faculty.

“We need to build capacity and develop areas of excellence such as a potential opportunity to have both CASM and the Mobile Language Team in the school of humanities retain their distinct identities but combine strengths under the umbrella of a proposed faculty centre of Aboriginal Language and music studies,” it reads.

“…the Elder Conservatorium of Music should not be duplicating other kinds of support and services provided elsewhere in the university that aim to prepare Indigenous students for subsequent study”.

Shaw’s memo quotes a 2013 review of the CASM, which says that: “the significant cross-subsidisation of the Centre’s current activities by other departments of the university cannot realistically continue”.

The university spokesperson said that “the University is working to ensure CASM has a renewed focus on excellence in research and education at a higher level”.

“The intention is for CASM to become a critical part of the University’s overall commitment to Indigenous programs in languages as well as in music studies, contributing to academic programs in the Elder Conservatorium of Music and in collaboration with other Arts disciplines.

CASM, the spokesperson said, had “very low student numbers over the past decade, poor student outcomes, lack of industry involvement and industry readiness among graduates, and duplication of effort”.

While the memo says “classical music will be instrumental only,” the university insists classical voice training will continue to be offered, but in a different section of the Conservatorium.

The classical voice course is planned to be incorporated into the area of conducting and ensemble studies (voice/choral singing), which students say would change their specialisation and affect post-graduate studies.

Meanwhile, an online petition launched last week expressing concern over “sweeping changes” proposed for the Elder Conservatorium of Music, and specifically classical voice performance, has now secured more than 3400 signatures.

Anthony Zatorski, a third-year student studying classical voice, said a silent protest outside the lunchtime concert at Elder Hall last Friday received a further 700 signatures from members of the public.

Another protest is planned for Wednesday at the hub at Adelaide University to highlight concerns about the scrapping of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies courses

“It’s more of a loud protest,” Zatorski said.

“The focus won’t just be on voice but on all aspects of music.”

He said classical voice performance students and CASM students had been asked to attend separate meetings today with Elder Conservatorium director Graeme Koehne.

“There’s a lot of unclear communication and we need clarification as students, especially to know if it is going to affect our degrees so we can make plans for our future.”

– Additional reporting by Suzie Keen.

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