LICA Building at Lancaster University
Problems return to the Music Department as two members of staff resign

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Two of the three remaining members of staff teaching Lancaster University’s Music degree scheme, which is currently in the process of being ‘taught out’ before its impending closure in 2015, have resigned from their posts, with one having left at the end of September and the other due to leave at the end of Michaelmas term.

In February 2013, SCAN reported on the decision to suspend further applications to study Music and Lancaster University and close the degree scheme upon the graduation of its remaining students.

Following the decision, the management committee of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) created three posts within music; two lecturers and a two-year teaching only post, and existing Music staff were invited to apply for these roles, with the remainder being made redundant.

After the applications period, Dr. Alan Marsden and Dr. Nick Gebhardt were retained as lecturers, with scope to carry out teaching and research within other areas of the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts (LICA) following the closure of Music, while Dr. Felipe Otondo took up the fixed term teaching only position.

However, in the past month, Dr. Gebhardt has resigned from his position, and left Lancaster University at the end of September. During Freshers’ week, Dr. Otondo handed in his notice and is due to leave at the end of Michaelmas term. This information was conveyed to Music students in an email from the newly appointed Head of LICA, Dr. Martyn Evans, and prompted dissatisfaction from some students.

Final year Music student Abbie Bavester told SCAN; “I feel completely let down by the university, pressures in third and final year are so high already and this is just a huge weight on our shoulders that we don’t need.”

In retaliation to Dr. Gebhardt’s departure, LICA have hired Dr. Helen Thomas as a 0.6 FtE Senior Teaching Associate, to take over his teaching duties.  Furthermore, LICA are soon to begin the process of seeking out a replacement for Dr. Otondo, who has brought his Lent term teaching commitments to Michaelmas in order to oversee its completion.

On the 7th of October, Music students were invited to a meeting with Dr. Evans to discuss the changes. Also present at this meeting was LUSU Vice President (Education), Joe O’Neill, who reportedly was critical of LICA’s decision to permit Dr. Gebhardt’s resignation on a five week notice period, rather than obligating him to stay until the end of Michaelmas term in order to carry out his teaching commitments.

According to sources present at the meeting, it was only at this point that students were informed that Dr. Thomas would be overseeing students’ dissertations.

Third year Music student Steff Brawn, who was present at the meeting, told SCAN; “I feel very annoyed that a lot of us have been left in the dark about who our dissertation tutor is now that Nick [Gebhardt] has left. The dissertation itself is worth half of 3rd year for some of us, so it is very unnerving.”

She added: “although I am not due to be taught by Felipe [Otondo], I know that this will be a great loss to our Music Tech students who had to fight for him to stay as he is the only tutor in that field.”

In an interview with SCAN, Dr. Martyn Evans remained optimistic about the remainder of the Music degree at Lancaster University, stressing LICA’s commitment to “supporting students 100% in a professional manner.”

He also expressed a dedication to ensuring that the replacement of Dr. Otondo is not limited simply to one individual, but to “get people who are able to fulfil the specific requirements of the Music modules.”

The controversial decision to close the degree scheme and the subsequent staff redundancies within the programme sparked campus-wide outrage. This included a quorate LUSU Emergency General Meeting in which students unanimously voted for a motion mandating officers to oppose the decision at committee levels; a minor student protest outside a meeting of the Senate (the University’s highest governing academic body); and many students accusing the University of withdrawing financial support and setting a predicating danger for other arts-based subjects at Lancaster University.

It had also come to light that, in closing Music, Faculty management had failed to follow the correct governance procedures, neglecting to consult the committees designated as mandatory to the process of closing a degree scheme, instead taking the decision to the Faculty Management Committee, which does not possess Senate-delegated powers to do so.

In April, a series of meetings with Music students to consult on the creation of a new programme of modules for the remainder of their studies.

The discussions and subsequent modules available prompted some dissatisfaction from Music students.

One, who asked to remain anonymous, told SCAN; “they almost unanimously ignored all of our module requests and we are left with a course that looks nothing like what we signed up for.

“As a first year, the course seemed unique in that it had a strong academic focus… this is barely present in our module options for next year. 50% of the course is made up from 2 compulsory modules.”

In addition to the aforementioned resignations, Dr. Marsden is due to undertake sabbatical leave from January to April, a period which was agreed long before the issues surrounding the closure of the degree scheme arose. His teaching, which is arranged to take place across the entirety of the academic year, is to be shared with Mr. Frank Dawes, currently the director of LICA. Mr. Dawes will also take over Dr. Marsden’s supervision duties from Lent term.

SCAN will continue to report on further developments with the story as they occur.

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