Students start petition to stop dismissal of University of Waikato music staff

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Rachel Twyman, an Honors violin student at the University of Waikato, believes the arts are underrated.

DONNA-LEE BIDDLE / FAIRFAX NZ.

Rachel Twyman, an Honors violin student at the University of Waikato, believes the arts are undervalued.

Rachel Twyman had planned a career in medicine, but the cords of her heart pulled her in another direction.

The 20-year-old got a full scholarship to study music – especially the violin – at the University of Waikato.

He was also offered a full scholarship to study in Auckland, but with highly specialized staff, Waikato was the more attractive option.

But now, a recent proposal to cut three full-time positions in the music department sees Twyman and his peers petitioning to prevent the cuts from continuing. More than 2,000 had signed the petition this weekend.

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The university is proposing to cut 17 full-time positions in the humanities.

Enrollment in the social sciences and the arts is on the decline at the University of Waikato.

REBEKAH PARSONS-KING / FAIRFAX NZ

Enrollment in the social sciences and the arts is on the decline at the University of Waikato.

This is because so few students enroll in the arts and social sciences. Some classes have a pupil. Part of the proposal is to increase the minimum class size before a program can run.

But proponent Professor Allison Kirkman said the cuts are for full-time equivalent positions and that doesn’t necessarily mean three people will lose their jobs.

“I went to a big private school in Auckland and wanted to get away from the flash and be in a smaller department and that’s why I decided to come to Waikato,” said Twyman, an honors student.

“We are known so personally by our speakers. They are very concerned about making us good musicians and good people as well. I think this is unique to Waikato.

“I feel like [the university is] not seeing that we cannot run a department with five staff members. We have eight full-time employees who are highly skilled in their field.

“Obviously, a cello teacher can’t teach me to play the violin.”

Kirkman said the proposal intends to make better use of staff and although some programs will close – like religious studies – the subject will still be offered.

Kirkman said this means there is a possibility that staff working hours may be reduced from full-time to part-time, but the proposal is still in draft form and she appreciates feedback.

She said the number of students in social science and arts disciplines has declined over the years and the proposal is a response to that.

But Twyman, an academic to Sir Edmund Hillary, said it was difficult to be reduced to “just numbers on a page”.

“It’s hard for us because everything we do is so personal,” she said.

“What we want to do is tell people why the department should stay the way it is – at the same time promoting the value of the arts and reinforcing that what we do is truly valuable.

“When we lost Founders Theater, it was difficult for the arts community. I also worked at Founders, inaugurating, and it was difficult to lose that.

“I think right now the university doesn’t really understand the value of what we’re doing. We don’t look good with the numbers on a page but we sound good.

Twyman said she and other students are planning to make some noise and have a concert at the University’s Concert Chambers on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The entrance is a koha.

“The point of the concert for us is to be able to present and say, hey this is what we do, we love our speakers, we love our conservatory, and let the community know what’s going on.

“We think the arts are really important and we would like to stand up for that.”

Comments on the proposal are expected by April 21.


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