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Waikato Conservatorium of Music supporters create human chain to protest staff cuts 30 June, 2017

The song could be coming to an end for three staffers of the University of Waikato's Conservatorium of Music.

But those protesting the Conservatorium's job cuts say it will be the beginning of the end for the University's reputation as a world-class arts provider.

On Tuesday morning, over 100 supporters of the Conservatorium formed a human chain and used song to fill the campus with harmony.

Local Labour Party candidate Jamie Strange presented to the Waikato University council.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Local Labour Party candidate Jamie Strange presented to the Waikato University council.

 

They gathered outside a meeting of the University Council, before members addressed the council to discuss the proposed jobs cuts.

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Under the proposal, authored by professor Allison Kirkman, academic staff numbers in the music department will be reduced from eight to five.

Supporters of the Conservatorium arrived at the meeting in harmony.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Supporters of the Conservatorium arrived at the meeting in harmony.

 

It was a case of whether or not there were enough student enrolments to justify maintaining staff numbers. 

Chancellor Jim Bolger preferred having student numbers before hiring tutors, while supporters stated tutors were what attracted the students.

According to a letter from vice chancellor Neil Quigley, enrolments in the music department have fallen by 28 per cent from 2013-2016, or by 30 per cent based on likely 2017 enrolments.

A human chain was formed around the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

A human chain was formed around the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.

 

But protesters assured the council numbers would only continue to dwindle if prominent figureheads were removed from their positions. 

"It takes 20 years to build up the reputation and prestige that (lecturers) James and Katherine have built up, it takes one year to throw it away," supporter Carol Thompson said. 

"Once they destroy it, it's going to be almost impossible to get it back again. It's taken a long time to reach this level of recognition."

Labour Party candidate for Hamilton East Jamie Strange presented to the council on behalf of the Conservatorium.

The music teacher and current student at the university said the programme was a national jewel. 

"It's not just about Waikato University, it serves the whole community and is a treasure for our city," he said. 

"Hopefully Jim Bolger and the council take a pragmatic approach and they look at how the staff want to work with the council in order to increase numbers. 

"We're basically asking to stop the cuts, talk with the staff, work with them and develop the music programme, and modernise it to get more students in." 

Friends of the Conservatorium outlined actions to "reinvigorate" the department, which included actively recruiting international students, introducing new courses, and providing a dedicated teaching space for students. 

But the former Prime Minister said student numbers in the department have been visibly dwindling for some time.

"The decline has been going on for the last three or four years and I presume that has been noted by the staff. I'm a little intrigued that it's only now you believe we should do something," Bolger said at Tuesday's meeting.

"We have no intention of abandoning this space, what we are seeking to do, is to make certain that we do continue into the future. To do that, we have to manage some resources of the university. That's all we're seeking to do. Most certainly, not to close the Conservatorium."

People can still submit on the proposal via consultation@waikato.ac.nz until 5pm on July 7.

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