Manhattan School enters music school debate

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A senior faculty member of  Manhattan School of Music has hit back at the ANU for naming her  institution in defending proposed changes to the School of Music in Canberra.

Prof Marjorie Merryman
Marjorie Merryman vice president for Academics and Performance at the celebrated academy in New York has written to her school’s staff  to assure them  “that MSM played no role in the restructuring plan at ANU, and does not support it. The University is using our name without our permission and over our expressed objections”.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Prof Ian Young, said in his  media announcement  on May 3, that the proposed “revitalised  program” would feature “real-time, video-linked lessons and sessions with the support of the Manhattan School of Music”.

Prof Merryman wrote to staff: “MSM has had a positive and mutually supportive relationship with the School of Music at ANU, in which we have provided Distance Learning content (mostly at the K-12 level) and college-level master classes. Recently (and unknown to us) ANU has decided to cut faculty in an attempt to restructure and save money.”

She said she had learnt of this restructuring after reading the May 3 email, and had immediately written to Prof Young  saying:

“We have had no knowledge of any restructuring at ANU; it was never discussed with us.

“We do not agree with their idea as an educational model; we support one-on-one live studio teaching.

“Educationally and philosophically, we could not endorse ANU’s new model for college-level music study.

“We have no arrangement with ANU to provide the services they describe.

“We strongly object to being associated with a plan that would eliminate faculty positions.

“ We strongly object to our name being used or to any implication that we endorse this restructuring.”

Prof Merryman said she had received “reassurances from Prof Young that their name had not been used (which was untrue)” and that she had been “dismayed”  to see that in a subsequent publicly released news story, the school was  still cited as supporting the restructuring.

Prof Merryman concluded: “We are truly dismayed to be cited as partners in such a decision or supporters of such an action. We support our colleagues at ANU and the students there who deserve a first-rate education, provided by an on-site, professional faculty.”

Following notification of her letter, student reps in the “Save the School of Music” campaign added that, contrary to recent media releases, the number of staff being sacked was not 10, but 32. “All 32 staff will be made redundant, and then 12 take their place, however all current staff are specialists in their fields, and VC Ian Young wants teachers who know a little bit about a lot, not a lot about a little bit,” the statement read.

The public consultation period has now concluded but Prof Young will meet School of Music staff on Tuesday morning.


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  1. Something does not seem right. This kind of blatant dishonesty intimates the possibility of something more than just an embarrassing lack of skill in handling the confidence of one’s COLLEAGUES. Also, the recent dictatorial tone of the VC regarding his decision-making style leaves one wondering whose interests he is truly serving.
    Considering the recent events, as well as cuts that will perhaps be attempted in other departments, it would seem reasonable for the ANU staff and students to request a clear and easily accessible item-by-item exposition of the ANU budget. Maybe even an audit? The following article from the end of last year
    ( )
    is somewhat interesting. I am not accustomed to looking at large professional budgets, but I wondered after reading this statement in the third paragraph : “The new buildings and other capital works completed in 2011 also attract an approximate $8 million increase in depreciation,” then this one in the sixth paragraph: “Overall, we are predicting a net operating result of a surplus of $49 million. However, when we exclude ‘one-off’ capital items, the underlying surplus will be $14 million.” …
    What exactly are the ” ‘one-off’ capital items ” that account for the additional $27 million over and above the $8 million increase in depreciation due to “new buildings and other capital works” ? [ 49 – 14 = 35 :: 35 – 8 = 27 ] What unnamed expenses could cost over three times as much as new buildings?
    I am not an economist, but I think that the situation calls for at least more transparency.
    It is hard enough to deal with the actual effects of a tanking economy without also having to deal with additional pseudo-effects.

  2. You’re confusing things greatly. Depreciation is the regular write-down of asset prices year by year as a result of building/equipment, otherwise known as capital items” getting old. It’s basically a loss caused by owning stuff over time. It’s mostly related to taxation and the accounting value of the property owned by the ANU. Consider it a loss in holdings, therefore a cost.

    The $49 million is the surplus over and above the running costs of the ANU, relating only to ongoing costs. The $35 million is the amount being spent on a once off basis on capital projects. These relate to a number of new buildings that the ANU is building so that the science students don’t have to study in the original buildings that have been here since the ANU started, and in previous years included the new music school building. The resultant $14 million is the net of running plus capital costs and is money that the ANU puts into its endowment. The endowment pays for future projects and works as a rainy day fund.

    But the issue is a problem with the budget of the ANU College of Arts and Social Science, of which the music school is a part. They’re allocated a budget based on advice about the needs of the college and the overall budget of the ANU. The problem is the school of music is spending well above the amount the the college has allocated them, the $2.7 million deficit of the school. Because the college budget doesn’t bend, this means the college heads are diverting spending from the rest of the arts, humanities and social sciences. The result has been cuts to the offerings in other parts of the colleges, including staff there and courses, which has been happening for a few years now. No money from the music school cuts goes to profits or anything like that. It’s about stopping the bleeding from other students who have been paying for it, over and above the agreed upon subsidy. The music school deficit is equivalent to roughly $200 per student at ANU, per year. Also, the deficit is rapidly expanding. Without action it will continue to get much worse.

    We’re talking about spoilt students with teaching ratios of like 1:15 complaining about their lot while students with teaching ratios of like 1:50 are paying for it. It doesn’t need more transparency, it needs for people to start to understand that there is a cost to these things. And it’s being paid for exclusively by other students and primarily those in the humanities and social sciences.

    I am an economist, thanks ANU.

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