School of Music: the campus reacts

The proposed curriculum changes to the School of Music are academic infanticide, with older administrators pulling up the ladder on their successors. They are also a form of suicide, imperilling an important form of income: postgraduate research.

Australia is in a unique position to produce great music research of far-reaching influence.Thanks to a strangely good side effect of the otherwise disastrous Dawkins reforms, from 1988 practice-focussed Australian Conservatoriums were merged with academic-focussed Schools of Music. This permitted a healthy interaction of performers and musicologists. Overseas it is not uncommon to hear performers complaining that musicologists write useless, ill-informed diatribes, or musicologists calling performers inarticulate pianolas. In Australia, however, performance and musicology are mutually enriching, with musicologists teaching music history and theory and performers giving the lie to their words. Music research can occur in almost any discipline, but only in an Australian School of Music can a musicologist be in close contact with living performance traditions and serve them appropriately. Being around music is good for the life of the mind, too. The air at the School of Music is lighter and makes one “a better philosopher” as Nietzsche would put it.

If the ingredients of this musical ferment are eighth-grade, then the brew will be similarly sub-standard. The proposed combined theory, aural, and composition course will not provide students with the skills—unique to musicology—to write about music unless it has the weight of three subjects. Why combine the subjects if this were to be so? Nor will the six instrumental lessons a semester provide the students with adequate insight into their instrumental practice to catch the musicologists up. I would always advocate more experts being brought to the ANU for master classes and lectures (something possible under the new scheme) but what about the world-famous experts we already have access to here daily?

Musicology affects everyone. If you ever play a score, read a musician’s biography, flip through a CD liner note, pick up an interesting book on music, or look up the dates of a musician (of any sort of music, mind you) then you are probably encountering the work of a musicologist or a journalist leaning on musicological work. To ensure the quality of academic musicology the School of Music has to play its part in producing elite musicians of all genres. Why else would we study musicology if not to be part of music?

As a student from a lower socio-economic background I have benefitted greatly from Australia’s music education institutions. I have seen it disappearing behind me and I despair for students only a few years younger than I. I realise I am already so many times amnesic, nostalgic for a system several times degraded. I look at those educated, mostly for free, in the golden age of Australia’s tertiary education system. I see them pulling up the ladder on future generations. The proposed changes at the School of Music are academic infanticide, but we’re on a winning combination as we speak.

– Matthew Lorenzon

The cuts announced for the School of Music have raised the passionate rage of a large group of students at the ANU. The reason? They want other people to spend money on their education. The tale is not new at all — we have seen the same performance, with violent demonstrations frequently included, in many countries during the last 50 years.

First of all, demanding other people to help us against their will is not OK — no matter how much we need it, we cannot obligate others to give us a hand. In the moment when we expect another person to help us, against their own will, we have deliberately ignored their right to manage their own property, an extension of their body, cutting their freedom over themselves. What kind of “right” is the one that requires another one to be violated? That’s not a real right.

Why am I talking about other people’s money if we are all paying a tuition fee (much bigger in the case of international students)? Simply because what we pay is not enough for covering the university spending and the ANU has to receive money from the government, that is, from taxpayers — all of us in different ways, but especially Australian citizens and, among them, entrepreneurs. The money for funding the ANU has to come from somewhere. And I’m pretty sure that students demonstrating against the cuts are not willing to pay themselves what is necessary to cover the amount spent in the School of Music. They want this money to come from taxpayers, because they know that, even though they themselves are paying taxes, they’re not paying as much as others, and this makes them feel comfortable.

The arguments the protesters give in order to support their demands share the same spirit: they look after positive outcomes for the ANU and Canberra’s community from the work done in the School of Music. They also denounce bad outcomes from the funding cuts. They are, therefore, focusing on the effects. This is the kind of argument that aims to achieve positive effects and avoid negative ones. But this argumentative line is wrong because it misses fundamental facts in order to achieve its goals. It is the type of rationale given by dictatorial governments to maintain order in the streets, or that given by terrorists groups to support their violent attacks. They all pursue something good “at the end”. What happens in the process doesn’t share the spirit of what they are all looking for — the wellbeing of everyone, happiness for us all, etcetera. And this is why protesters don’t feel guilty in threatening violent demonstrations in order to get what they want. Following this line, who would oppose arresting suspicious people without evidence in order to prevent crimes? If we can take money from taxpayers against their will to fund our education (and still charge them once we have graduated), why not do that as well?

We have to be careful. The right to have access to education doesn’t mean that someone else has to pay it for us — it means that no one can prevent us from accessing it. I should remember here that any “right” that requires the violation of another one to be fulfilled is not a right — it’s only a justification to ignore people’s dignity, and making a profit from that. We cannot, therefore, demand other people to be robbed in order to pay for our education — this is simply not well. But this is precisely what many students are doing today — they’re fighting for the violation of fundamental rights.

I acknowledge it is tricky to make these arguments when we are talking about a public institution. But human dignity shouldn’t be a relative concept when we turn to talk on the public or the private. If we think that it is not “so bad” to make small reductions on people’s rights in order to get a general well-being, then we are clearly showing that we don’t care about human dignity as much as about an ideal we aim to reach. Ideals may look good, but people have to always be the first and last goal in everything we propose as a public policy. Otherwise, we are just stepping on them.

– Cristian Mancilla