Ooops. Instead of
The major in Theatre and Film Studies are to be disestablished.
The major in Theatre and Film Studies is to be disestablished.
Someone please slap me on the wrist now.
You're right to be confused by the Draft Implementation Plan, Bob. Looks like we've been "saved" doesn't it. So how could we possibly be ungrateful? We should be dancing in the streets. Well, we'll have to dance in the streets, because the Plan says we won't have the University Theatre to do it in any longer. And if you're not there, you won't see it, because the Plan recommends that practical component of the film studies courses be eliminated.
Basically, what the Plan proposes for Theatre and Film Studies. (With apologies to other programmes who are at least as hard-hit for being so self-centred.)
The major in Theatre and Film Studies are to be disestablished.
There will be a new major in Film Studies which will now sit in a new School with English and a radically reduced American Studies programme. Two of the lecturers who currently teach into the existing Film Studies courses will be transferred into this new School. The current Technical Director and Tutor for Film will be made redundant. Totally new courses in Film Studies will need to be developed, because the current courses involve practical work as a major component of students' learning and assessment.
There will also be a new major in Theatre, which will now sit alongside the School of Music and the School of Fine Arts in a new Centre for Performing and Fine Arts. (This at least makes more sense than aligning Film Studies with English rather than the current Fine Arts Filmmaking Programme.) The other two lecturers -- who currently teach into both Theatre and Film Studies courses -- will be transferred into this new Centre. The Technical Director and Designer for Theatre will retain his position. It is not clear at this point what the effect on the current Theatre courses will be, because...according to the Plan the Department's town facilities will be lost. This means no more University Theatre, no more Te Puna Toi/Vaccess (no more New Zealand Film Archive film viewing), no more Nibelheim, no more Old Queen's Theatre. Instead the newly conceived Theatre programme's base of operations will be at the College of Education. Thus, the students can still study theatre and engage in practical work and public performances -- they just won't be able to do it in a professional theatre environment.
Our Departmental Administrator, who brings to her position substantial academic and practical experience in both theatre and film, who is working on a PhD and tutoring in Film Studies at present, has to enter a competitive selection pool to become an administrator in one of the new schools...or give up her position entirely.
The postgraduate students who work both in theatre and in film, who are working on projects that mix these media, are now being told that they will have to find other ways of working.
And obviously, staff teaching and research will be severely compromised on all levels.
When I was advised of the contents of the Draft Implementation Plan at 830am Tuesday morning (15th April), I was told by Professor Strongman that "this is not up for grabs or discussion -- these are finished things." Of course, he also said on January 30th, "you cannot fight this, Sharon, the case is too solid."
This arises as a result of the University failing to adhere to its own formal processes and protocols for managing academic and finanial issues. There has been no good faith (or any sort of faith) effort by Professor Strongman to negotiate a way for us to contribute to the College of Arts required savings while preserving the Theatre and Film Studies major. The Review Panel toured our facilities but did not invite us to speak to them about options for achieving savings without doing such damage -- not even a pro forma invitation to me as HoD to front up, as might be expected during the University's usual change processes.
It does seem to us that the objective is to deal a fatal blow to our disciplines; the only difference is now we are being offered the opportunity to die slowly rather than quickly. Or as one student has put it: "on January 30th they threatened to chop off both our arms, and now they want us to rejoice in only having one amputated."
I really hate to sound ungrateful. In this week alone I see so many people losing their jobs with no recourse and few alternatives. In comparison, I am a privileged academic. But my work is with students and performance here in Christchurch. I value my colleagues and what we have built together more than I can say. To find it under attack by the very people who are supposed to prize our accomplishments and facilitate our development is deeply discouraging for all of us here.
But of course the University of Canterbury is very supportive of staff being made redundant -- as long as staff acquiesce. Had we not chosen to fight this proposal we would have had the luxury (!) of HR advisors and counsellors to hold our hands and help us gently out the door. What we have lacked is access to exactly the processes outlined by Bob Munro above. In fact, in notifying me of the recommendation, Professor Strongman said "You can't fight this, Sharon. The case is too solid." In fact, at the same time that we were being notified the University launched a massive public relations campaign to sell the proposal to the wider community as if the recommendation were already a final decision; it told undergraduate students to find other majors and resisted enrolling PhDs; our administrator was pushed into a job comparison exercise. And so on.
We have tried to meet the challenge of the Change Proposal directly. We have demonstrated that, instead of saving money, the University stands to lose several hundred thousand dollars by dismissing our students, who study a wide range of (perhaps more sensible) subjects in addition to their majors in theatre and film. We have demonstrated the vitality of our curriculum and research culture, both the ordinariness of theatre and film in the modern university and the distinctiveness of our approach here at Canterbury. And we have offered a range of more realistic savings options in place of disestablishment. But as yet there is no indication that our efforts to negotiate have been taken seriously. There has been no dialogue, no effort to come to an understanding.
Our students go on to a wide range of careers, including in theatre and film. They become professional actors and directors, run theatre and production companies, become teachers and journalists and psychologists and oh just about anything that people with solid liberal arts educations and training in the expressive arts can do. They make it up as they go along, just as we did (and still do). We also have a thriving postgraduate research culture, with nine PhDs and more MA and Honours students in the pipeline. These senior students are the next generation of artistic and academic leaders in our fields. Most of them want to live and work, make art and academics in New Zealand. It has been very difficult for us to see their work with us so disrespected.
It is difficult for me to know how to begin to respond to Creon Upton's insightful reading of the Free Theatre's current production and to these thoughtful posts. As Head of the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, and against my usual volubility, I have to confess I don't really know what to say at this moment. I am still in shock over the way the University's management managed to turn on us, at how it has put my colleagues, our courses and our students at risk of extinction with so little evident financial or academic justification, at the violence with which our faith in the basic, due processes of our institution has been ruptured.
The proposal to disestablish our Department was developed in secret, by an appointed committee working to its own rules, and the Review Panel has functioned in much the same way -- in private, contingent on the good will of the hand-picked individuals in the room, without those of us under attack being notified of the options under consideration or given the opportunity to present our case in an open forum. We could only make submissions, which seems too close to "submitting" one might think. Indeed, while many of us made our submissions openly, there are many who have not. As well, I have spent the past three weeks waiting for at least a pro forma invitation to speak to the Review Panel, but that invitation has not been forthcoming.
Were the ordinary protocols and processes of the University to be engaged this would not be possible. The Proposal to disestablish our Department would have been tabled at Faculty and then at Academic Board. We would all have the opportunity not only to have our voices heard, but just as importantly, to hear each other speak, to debate the outcomes but also to consider in depth the values -- economic and academic -- of the University and thus to act as citizens rather than subjects of the University.
The value of our Department's approach to teaching and research is exemplified by Peter Falkenberg's work with staff and students in Faust Chroma. It's in Dunedin now, and will return to Christchurch for the College of Arts' showcase "Platform" at the end of May. (Ironic, isn't it, that the Free Theatre is making such a significant contribution to the College's campaign to show its commitment to creative arts.) This work is far more eloquent than I can be at this point about why our Department's work is vital and, perhaps at the same time, why it has come under attack in such a way.