AS the dust settles on the announcement last Friday by ANU vice chancellor Ian Young that planned changes to the School of Music would go ahead with only slight variations from those announced on May 3, music staff and the wider Canberra community have been regrouping.
Today the phones of Chris Peters, CEO of the ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have been running hot in the wake of his revelations that potential donors of between $10-$15million in the Canberra business community have been turned off by the paucity of the ANU’s amendments and its lack of community consultation.
“My regret is that the university chose not to communicate with the community before making its original announcement,” Peters told “CityNews”.
During previous funding crises at the school, he said, the board of the School of Music Foundation, of which he was a member, had found that “much could be fixed behind the scenes” without damage to the university.
In addition, he said, the university should have known that “philanthropic actions take a long time…even if six months ago consultations had taken place, half of the problem would not have taken place”.
Conceding that Canberra is “a pretty demanding community” that expects a higher level of consultation than other cities around the country, he said he believed that many of the problems could be put down to “a new management team at the ANU that are new to Canberra”.
As Peters sees it, there are three main issues.
The first is the new curriculum. Local business and music onlookers see “cause for concern” in the vice chancellor’s stated aim to replace the conservatorium model with a university one.
Secondly, there is the issue of one-on-one teaching, though it has been some comfort that the university has announced it will reinstate weekly contact sessions.
Finally, there are the financial questions that have meant loss of jobs – potential donors will be watching this carefully.
“If, for example we lose a major teacher in the performance stream, then we will lose students who came to study specifically to study with them,” he said. “Do we lose that instrument? There are well-respected people at the School of Music who have drawn students in.”
Peters pointed to the different styles of teaching in different university disciplines.
In philosophy, law or accounting, for instance there could be lecture groups as large as 50 or even 200. But music, he said, was like studying surgery – hands-on.
“It’s much more expensive and always will be,” Peters said.
“The community will be waiting to see for the ANU to decide which staff members are staying and which are going, and it will be waiting to see how the students react.”
In all, it reminded Peter of the old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”.