The closure of the University’s School of Music has officially been agreed following a meeting of the University Council. Despite a decision being expected by 4pm today (Monday), the closure was discovered by students of the School and has since been announced by several media outlets.
Devastated Music School students had been lining the walkway to the side of Union House, playing stoically since 9.45am this morning following a silent vigil held either side of the Registry building, where Vice-Chancellor Edward Acton’s office is located.
The University has released a statement on the closure, which reads as follows: “The University of East Anglia’s Council has accepted the findings of a recent review into the School of Music, and has decided to accept no new music students and to close the School after current students have completed their courses.
“Plans to continue to support and encourage musical activity among students and the wider community have also been outlined.”
Vice-Chancellor Edward Acton provided the following reaction to the decision of the University Council: “Our number one priority will be to ensure that current students are not disadvantaged and receive an excellent education. I would also like to underline our commitment to the continuation of music as an important social and cultural part of the life of the University and we will be announcing vigorous measures in the months to come.”
Bill Vine, a leading figure in the Save UEA Music campaign, which organised this morning’s protest and is co-ordinating the reaction to the decision, spoke to Concrete minutes after the news emerged: “You can’t help but think they didn’t bother listening to any of the evidence. We’re not taking it lying down, and they are not going to get away with it. They have a PR nightmare on their hands already, it’s only going to get worse.”
The University’s press statement, released on to Twitter at 11.47am, was the first comment provided on social media websites or official University media (www.uea.ac.uk) since the closure of the School was first raised as a possibility. It continued: “The University has stressed its commitment to supporting the School’s current students throughout the rest of their time at UEA. Provisional teaching and learning plans have been drawn up.
“A Director of Music will oversee and encourage music-making, including the continuation of the University’s flourishing choirs and orchestras, whose members include staff and students from across the University, the city and beyond. Links will also continue with the University’s professional orchestra in residence, Chamber Orchestra Anglia.”
With the Save UEA Music campaign having garnered over 10,000 signatures, featured in international news outlets such as The Huffington Post and BBC News, and received support from countless high-profile artists and musicians including Tom Morello, Chris Martin, Zane Lowe and Brian Eno, interest in this story is unlikely to diminish amidst what is almost certain to be a renewed campaign by Save UEA Music to highlight the manner in which the decision was made.
An offer had been made by the Royal Musicians’ Association (RMA) to send in four top academics with a proven track record of running successful schools of music to assess the state of the School of Music at UEA, but this offer wasn’t taken up by the Council. Reacting to this, Vine expressed his intense frustration: “We had agreed that if they [the four experts] came back and said the School wouldn’t be possible to turn around in financial terms, we wouldn’t oppose its closure. But the University don’t care, they have made up their minds.”
In terms of taking the campaign on, Vine admitted that the announcement had created some confusion as to the next step, but detailed some future possibilities: “We need to investigate and see if there are any higher bodies we can go to. We think there might be something in the Royal Charter. As far as I am aware, someone is appointed as a visitor and if they want to change something in the constitution they have to go through this person and it could well be that this person can step in on our behalf.”
The Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) co-ordinated the management of the initial silent protest outside the Registry at 9.15am, which passed off without incident, but with the decision having been leaked earlier than expected, the possible outcome of this afternoon’s protest is still unclear.
A press release, just issued by the UUEAS, reads as follows: “The Union believes that the closure of the school will be a massive loss to UEA and to the wider community. We will continue to support the peaceful and legal protests of the hundreds of ‘Save UEA Music’ campaigners.”
Communications Officer, Matthew Myles, has provided the following reaction: “There are serious questions to be asked of this report, which didn’t consult with anyone teaching in the School of Music.”
“Allowing a School to be closed by conducting a secret report, lacking in sufficient evidence, and rooted in misinterpretation of a 2002 review that was a ‘positive plan’ for the School (see the response of the 2002 authors here), and is without any exploration of alternatives, could set a worrying precedent for our University and universities around the country. The authors of the 2011 report declined to openly and publicly discuss the report, despite the overwhelming criticism of its lack of openness in putting the report together.”
For the full reaction to the decision and Concrete’s interview with Bill Vine, visit www.concrete-online.co.uk later today (28 November) and read our special report in the next issue, out on 6 December. Follow@Concrete_UEA for updates throughout the day.