FASS Face the Music

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FASS insist consultation took place - Photo by Jay Theis
FASS insist consultation took place – Photo by Jay Theis

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Management Committee has taken the decision to end the study of music at Lancaster University.

The decision to suspend applications to study music, delivered under the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts, was taken last November, when applicants were sent an email informing them that the course is no longer offered by the university.

The closure of the degree scheme came about due to low numbers of applications – only 12 students were admitted onto the course for the 2012 academic year, even lower than the 2011 cohort, which consists of just 26 students.

It has become apparent that in the process of shutting down the Music degree scheme, FASS management has failed to follow correct university procedure, and acted outside its authority in academic affairs.

In October 2010, the Senate (Lancaster Univesity’s academic governing body) delegated powers to shut down degree schemes to the faculties, although few senators can recall much discussion on the matter. Note that Music is / was a degree scheme, not a department, and it is on this basis that the faculty are able to discontinue it without referring to the Senate.

A document outlining the delegations, which was passed by the Senate, dictates that discussions and decisions regarding the closing of degree schemes must be recommended by the Faculty Teaching Committee, and ratified by the Dean of Undergraduate Studies. Minutes and accounts show that the laying down of Music has not been discussed by the Faculty Teaching Committee in any form. The decision to close down the scheme, create new academic posts and begin a redundancy procedure has been taken by the Faculty Management Committee.

In October, the Faculty management requested that Dr. Andrew Quick, head of LICA, made proposals to the Faculty in response to the poor numbers of students studying music within the department.

Options proposed to the faculty included investing more money in Music, discontinuing the Music degree and incorporating the teaching of sound and music into other courses offer by LICA, and shutting down the degree altogether. At this point, music staff were unaware that Dr. Quick had been asked to put forward such proposals.

In a series of meetings that took place in November, Music staff and students were informed of the suspension of admissions to the course due to low level of applications that had been received, indicating an even lower student intake for 2013.

LICA staff were informed by FASS that they favoured the option of discontinuing the Music degree and retaining modules in music and sound within other LICA courses, and told to submit plans to increase LICA’s overall admissions back up to its target of 120. Professor Tony McEnery, Dean of FASS, told SCAN the reasons for taking the future of Music under consideration; “In November, it was the case that we only had four applications for Music, and that’s not a viable cohort for the degree.”

On January 25th 2013, proposals were agreed by the LICA Management Committee and submitted to the Faculty Management Committee (FacMag) for consideration. Amongst them was a proposal to introduce a new degree scheme in popular music. FacMag declined to invest in the degree scheme, and took the decision to open up job applications for three new posts (two permanent academics and a temporary teaching-only post) to ‘teach out’ the remainder of the degree.

Professor McEnery explained the reason behind the rejection of proposals to create a Degree scheme in Popular Music; “It was a very nice idea, I suppose, but we’ve tried it in the past, and it hasn’t worked… I don’t think it was ever going to be the answer to attracting a reasonable volume of students with As and Bs in their profile.”

In the first instance, music staff have been invited to apply for the two permanent academic posts – the remaining five will be made redundant. Alternatively, the posts may not go to any applicants from the redundancy pool, and all will be made redundant. Worryingly, Facmag expressed a desire for its successful applicants to be able to submit to the Art & Design Research Excellence Framework (REF) Panel (publication bodies that publish academic journal articles). It is debatable whether or not this desired specification will serve to weaken the chances of the majority of applicants for the new posts.

The interview and appointment process is ongoing.

The Music degree in its current form first came about in 2005, when the Lancaster Institue for the Contemporary Arts was formed in an effort to create a ‘critical mass’ of arts subjects and save the Art Department, which at that point was facing closure (since this merger, Lancaster’s Art degree has maintained top ten positions in numerous league tables, and is currently ranked 2nd nationally in the Complete University Guide.)

In light of this merger and new direction for arts subjects at Lancaster, the teaching of early music abruptly ceased.

Following the merger of Arts and Social Sciences to create FASS in 2006, a uniform departmental funding formula resulted in the reduction of money spent on music tuition, reduced to £27,000 from the previous £35,000, and also the maintenance of music-technology facilties.

By 2011, the budget for instrumental/vocal tuition had been reduced to £13,000, and no money was allocated to music-technology facilties. Additionally, Music had its entry standards raised from BBB/BBC to BBB, and was no longer permitted to accept students with ‘equivalent grades’. Professor McEnery told SCAN that the reduction in funding for Music was part of a cross-departmental scheme, and that Music was receiving its “fair share.”

That year, 26 students were admitted onto the course. In 2012, entry grades were raised to ABB, and the course no longer offered instrumental or vocal tuition. 11 students were accepted onto the course.

At the beginning of February, a newsflash announcing the closure of Music to the wider student body and making emphatic calls for protests against the decision was published on SCAN Online. To date, the article has garnered almost 3000 web hits and 318 ‘likes’ on Facebook.

After the article went viral on Facebook, a number of students, from Music and other disciplines, came forward to express their dissatisfaction with the Faculty’s decision.

In particular, concerns were raised by students over the effect that the significant reduction in teaching staff will have on their education and overall experience.

Second year Music student Abigail Bavester told SCAN; “Our main worry is the amount of teaching staff and amount of modules that will be offered to us next year, as well as the standard of teaching we will receieve in our final year.”

Bavester also expressed her disappointment with the notion that the Music degree is ‘failing’; “All of this has happened because of financial and economic reasons out of [Music’s] hands.

“In such a tough situation when upholding the importance and dignity of the course is so crucial, I feel that this sort of slandering can only be detrimental.”

First year course representative Tom Burns expressed similar concerns over the staffing. He told SCAN; “Seven (teachers) is enough to teach all aspects of music sufficient. I don’t think that three would be.”

Professor McEnery, however, was unconcerned by the potential harm that the new staffing structure could cause Music students’ education; “To think that it is not possible to deliver a degree because the number of staff isn’t n, I think is false reasoning. What you need to do is find out what the students need and then resource the staff to do it.”

He added, “I think the idea that academics can only teach their specialism is an absurdity.”

McEnery also pointed out that LICA offers modules in its other subject areas to all students (Music students are eligible to study Theatre modules, for example), and that the three posts are “not the sum total of teaching resource available to those students.”

Other students expressed concerns towards the effects that the closure of Music could have on the culture of the university on a wider scale.

In a comment to SCAN, 2nd year Art student Tom Fitzgerald described the axing of Music as “a highly counter-intuitive move which undermines LICA’s very nature as an institution that prides itself on promoting a multi-disciplinary approach towards the arts.

He added; “If people of all bygone times had rejected the arts for reasons of finance of numerals, we would be living in a hollow world today.”

The closure of Music prompted the creation of an open Facebook forum for discussion on how best to take action against the university. Protests, flyering and writing to the Vice Chancellor are amongst many ideas floated by the group.

Minutes from LUSU’s Executive Committee and Academic Council initially indicated satisfaction with the way faculty management has proceeded. However, since the ensuing Facebook forum and spread of discontent amongst the student body, LUSU Vice-President (Academic) has announced plans to hold a ‘positive protest’ in Alexandra Square over the closure.

Clark told SCAN; “It’s about more than music – it about the arts in general. The threat that is occurring with music could develop into something larger in the future.

“The university’s strategic plan needs to change and adapt to regard the arts, Music and Theatre etc, and make sure we keep them strong at Lancaster.”

Additionally, members of the University Court have submitted a motion, to be discussed at its next annual meeting on the 20th of March, calling for the Senate and University Council to reconsider the closure of Music.

Students interested in joining the campaign should contact Richard Clark, at lusu.vp.academic@lancs.ac.uk.

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