A 2009 CTP production of Smashed (Image: David Sheehy)

Monash University’s legacy as a national leader in performing arts could be in jeopardy: key programs in theatre and music are set to end because of job cuts.

Last week academics at the university’s Centre for Theatre and Performance (CTP) discovered it was closing — a major blow to Melbourne’s performing scene. The university will also disestablish courses in musicology and ethnomusicology.

Monash is ranked 20th in the world for performing arts, and has long been regarded as a pioneer for musicology in Australia. But as it is forced into difficult job cuts by a collapse in international student numbers and a lack of government support, that reputation could be lost.

‘Devastating for Australian theatre’

Monash’s CTP was the little program that could. Despite just a handful of staff, it played a big role in Melbourne’s theatre scene, giving students valuable industry connections, sponsoring events like the Melbourne Fringe and putting on productions at the Malthouse Theatre.

Last week three of its four staff were asked to take voluntary redundancy.

“Losing CTP is about way more than just three people losing jobs,” deputy director and stage actor Jane Montgomery Griffiths says. “It’s quite devastating for not just Melbourne theatre, but Australian theatre.”

Staff were given little inkling it would close. Students were not contacted, and there hasn’t been an official announcement.

Musicology’s ‘huge legacy’ gone

Down the corridor from the CTP staff, academics in musicology were also being asked to take voluntary redundancies, with programs in musicology and ethnomusicology set to be disestablished.

It’s another area where Monash has punched well above its weight and gained a significant international reputation, professor of ethnomusicology John Griffiths said.

“Monash in the 1970s and 1980s was by far the most innovative, progressive school of musicology and ethnomusicology in the country,” he tells Crikey. “And since then it’s produced a whole lot of people who have gone on to be significant … There’s a huge legacy.”

Performing arts targeted?

The course cuts come after Monash joined the long list of universities around the country to announce job losses. Some staff feel the CTP and musicology have been targeted by the arts faculty and question whether redundancies are voluntary when specific courses are being discontinued.

Staff say cuts to both the CTP and musicology have been justified based on dwindling enrolments. But Montgomery Griffiths said the CTP’s influence went much further than that.

Although 40 to 50 students took a theatre major, hundreds — including people in degrees like business and accounting — had taken courses there. “It gives them a home where they can be vulnerable,” she says.