5 March 2024

ANU's treatment of long-term lecturers undermines School of Music's recovery

| Ian Bushnell
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two older men at School of music entrance

The sacking of ANU School of Music teachers David Pereira and Tor Fromyhr is destabilising for the school. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

What does the ANU hope to achieve by dispensing the services of two of its most experienced and distinguished music lecturers?

More than a decade after the disastrous attempt to gut the School of Music, it has now dispensed with the services of celebrated cellist David Pereira and violinist-viola player Tor Fromyhr through the dubious mechanism of not renewing a 12-month contract.

Why such long-time contributors to the school were even on short-term contracts is bewildering but such is the state of tertiary education in 2024. Fromyhr began teaching at the ANU 27 years ago and Pereira joined the staff in 1991.

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The matter is now a dispute with the National Tertiary Education Union taking up their cause, and it may end up in the Fair Work Commission.

But after years of hard graft to rebuild the school and its enrolments, tailor it towards more contemporary study patterns and restore its relationship with the community, it is inexplicable that the ANU would show two of its biggest names the door.

Part of the school’s recovery from the dark days of 2012 and the aftermath has been the outreach to bring students back to the school.

Both lecturers have been integral to that and many students have come to the ANU to study due to their efforts. Some have been attracted by the opportunity to study specifically with and be mentored by them, as is often the case with aspiring musicians across the world.

One of Pereira’s students came from Malaysia just to study with him. She is understandably upset, but with a year to go in her degree, she plans to take lessons privately with her new casual teacher.

Fromyhr, who is of Aboriginal descent, has been involved in the Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers program and the Yil Lull recording studio, which offers free recording and music assistance to Indigenous musicians from across Australia.

Now, neither are young, so some may think the ANU is right to think about the future and the next generation of teachers, as an email to Pereira suggested.

But its actions belie this.

Why would their replacements be employed on a casual basis? What kind of message does that send to students and prospective students? Is there any kind of succession strategy?

Fromyhr and Pereira do not question the ability of their replacements, but this episode smacks of managerialism and bean counting, not the passing of batons to the next generation.

In any case, the two of them aren’t ready for the back paddock yet. Both still perform – Fromyhr as Principal Viola with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Pereira as a soloist.

The CSO boasts many former ANU students, including Fromyhr, which is a testament to the school’s mission of providing career pathways.

They have years to contribute as teachers and mentors in the music world.

They fear for the string department they have worked so hard to rebuild and wonder what the future holds in general for the school.

Already, some double-degree students, a cohort that the school under Kim Cunio cultivated assiduously, have pulled the plug on their music studies.

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Only last year, Professor Cunio, on his departure as head of school, described an external review as “overwhelmingly positive”, with many developmental opportunities as a result.

Professor Cunio said the school was stable again, with happy students and staff supported by the community.

The ANU managers may have just ripped up Professor Cunio’s legacy because the treatment of Fromyhr and Pereira is destabilising and will put a chill through other teachers and their students, as well as again testing the community’s faith.

They will all be questioning the university’s commitment to the School of Music.

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Ray Polglaze4:49 pm 06 Mar 24

A possibly surprising element of these developments at the ANU School of Music is that in January this year, Adrian Walter replaced Kim Cunio as the head of the school. There doesn’t seem to have been a public announcement of this appointment or any media coverage of this appointment.

If you do a search of Google News or the Riotact on Adrian Walter, these pull up articles on Walter’s previous involvement in the ANU School of Music as its head. Walter lead the school into the debacle of 2012 when restructuring of the school led to many staff being sacked and departing along with many of their students. Walter unexpectedly left for a position in Hong Kong just as the staff were about to be sacked.

The restructuring and staff sackings greatly damaged the school leading to a major loss of reputation and students. Cunio and others have apparently spent more than ten years attempting rebuild the school with some success.

It’s a curious decision to appoint Walter as the head of the school given his previous involvement in the debacle of 2012. This seems to be an unusual way to inspire confidence of the future of the school. There may be some explanation of why this was considered a sensible decision. But the apparent silence by ANU is surprising.

This is not to suggest that Walter is not a talented musician and teacher. But simply to suggest that his involvement in the previous debacle and having left when the School had a critical need for ongoing leadership would make it difficult for him to inspire confidence as a leader.

There is also some element of Deja vu in that shortly after Walter returns as head of the school, we again have long standing and talented academic staff being sacked and students having to deal with the disruption of changing teachers. There also doesn’t seem to have been any public response by ANU or Walter to the controversy over these sackings.

It would be reasonable for Walter and ANU to provide some statement on what is now going on in the School of Music.

An unfriendly place to work and an unfriendly place to study, with no effort made to treat people like human beings.

Canberra Engineer10:44 am 04 Mar 24

This won’t surprise anyone who has worked for or with ANU. The University’s employment practices are well out of step with contemporary expectations and frankly at times, the law. Full of unpaid overtime, bullying, and personal politics. Hiring and firing is frequently on a manager’s whim. Often those managers are entrenched, running their part of the University like a fiefdom. There isn’t a more toxic publicly funded workplace in Canberra. And with the second worst figured on record for sexual harassment and assault against students, not a more toxic place to study. The place is in bad need of reform.

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