It was announced this month that Monash University will be dissolving its theatre department, the Centre for Theatre and Performance.
The university is citing “consistently low major completions, low unit enrolments and insufficiency of work” as reasoning for this decision. Their proposal outlines a significant transformation for the faculty, but most crucially, includes the complete dissolution of the Theatre major. The proposed restructure would leave current CTP students to finish their degrees with only one staff member supporting them, calling into question the quality of education they will receive. And the Theatre department is not the only one facing cuts under this proposal — the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music will be losing its Musicology and Ethnomusicology units within the Bachelor of Music, both of which are essential to the degree.
Monash University is ranked equal 20th in the QS World Rankings for its Performing Arts education, a dual effort from both the CTP and the School of Music. Monash and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) have already agreed to 277 voluntary redundancies across the university. Three of these voluntary redundancies are to be made in the CTP, which only has four FTE employees. The proposed dissolution and redundancies not only inequitably target the CTP, but do not consider the countless sessional tutors and Artists-in-Residence who would lose their contracted employment in the event of the faculty’s closure.
Monash themselves parade the academic excellence of the CTP on the faculty website, stating that the “the staff are internationally and nationally and internationally recognised scholars, practitioners and teachers” and that the “CTP includes award-winning actors and playwrights, specialists in devised theatre and site-specific performance, theatre historiography, critical and cultural theory, and performative writing and other innovative research methods.” Further, graduates of the CTP can be seen working in global theatre industries.
AussieTheatre spoke to Professor Jane Montgomery Griffiths, an 18-year veteran of the CTP faculty. Her 9-year tenure as Director of the CTP saw the department overhauled into a world-leading institution. An expert on Greek drama and theories of performance, as well as a Professor of Theatre Practice and Research Fellow within the department, Professor Griffiths is a true testament to the calibre of the CTP staff.
She expressed her disappointment in the closure, saying:
The thing I find really concerning about this is that the university has decided on this disestablishment based on what they say are low enrolments and low completions. But as far as we’re concerned, those are false metrics. Because it doesn’t take into account that many students take just one or two of our units. In my first year acting, I have 90-odd students… We have an incredibly successful presentation skills unit where we are over-subscribed, and we have literally hundreds of students from every faculty, every discipline, every ethnicity, every language group…
In terms of our majors, it’s a very specialist area, so the people who continue with us right the way through for their major and/or minor, we’re talking 40-odd students each year, because it is so specialist. The other thing is, we are not allowed to offer low enrolment units. Every semester, the faculty gets back to us and tells us if our units are under-subscribed, and we don’t run them.
Less than four years ago, Monash invested more than $54 million in the construction of a brand new arts precinct on the Clayton campus, the Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts, which includes the newly-built Jazz Club and Sound Gallery, as well as a rebuild of the Alexander Theatre. It seems illogical at best to decimate the faculties whose students and graduates were the prime beneficiaries of this massive expenditure.
In 2016, when asked about the redevelopment, Ian Potter Foundation Chairman Mr. Charles Goode AC said “Monash University’s arts facilities are vital to the cultural life of the University and to the community in this rapidly growing corridor of Melbourne.” But the closure of the CTP is a dire blow to the institution’s cultural life, disadvantaging not only the students of the department, but those who attended and supported their classmates and colleagues.
#SaveOurCTP, a student-led initiative to save the Theatre department, has put forward several proposals to the university:
[The University should] offer these 3 voluntary redundancies to the wider arts faculty, which as a whole faces only 9 redundancies in total. This would allow the continuation of the Centre for Theatre and Performance, as well as the Theatre and Performance major.
If this proves to be impossible, we suggest that the Theatre and Performance major be moved under the auspices of the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music. In this case, we suggest that a Performing Arts Research department be established that allows for the continuation of musicology, and theatre and performance studies. This would protect the Theatre and Performance major, and the world-class research output, whilst simultaneously eliminating the administration expenses of running two similar yet distinct schools.
The students of the Centre for Theatre and Performance are confident that these changes to Monash’s proposal would maintain the performing arts education and research output that Monash already excels at. And finally, this makes the process of voluntary redundancies a more transparent, fair, and considered one.
The #SaveOurCTP website has collated testimonials and statements from graduates, artists, and academics from all over the globe, attesting to the importance of the continuation of the CTP.
The CTP has strong ongoing connections with various leaders in the theatre industry, and the department often plays a lead role in facilitating internships, residencies, and commissioned works with companies such as Melbourne Fringe Festival and The Malthouse Theatre. The diaspora of CTP graduates throughout the professional theatre landscape is immeasurable — look to almost any production nationwide, and you will find a CTP alum somehow involved.
Monash University is an eminent institution, and it would be unreasonable to dissolve a faculty of such highly qualified and experienced staff. The loss of the Centre for Theatre and Performance would not only be a massive hit to the university, but to the Australian theatrical landscape as a whole. Immediate action is paramount to ensure the legacy and future of the CTP is preserved for both current and future students — the artists who represent the future of the theatre industry.
Learn more about the campaign and how to take a stand at www.saveourctp.com
Header image from the 2018 Musical Theatre elective show, The Dressmaker. Photo by Sarah Walker.