THE future of the prestigious WA Academy of Performing Arts is under dire threat because of mismanagement from Edith Cowan University, according to an acclaimed former director and faculty member.
Dr Geoff Gibbs says ECU is sucking too many resources out of the academy and sticking its nose in too far when it comes to running the place. When he resigned in 1998 – in protest over the transfer of the conservatorium to UWA – the Mt Lawley based academy was running a surplus of $100,000 per year. Since then the curtain has come down on the academy’s three-year directing course, while the broadcasting and creative technology courses will not take students in 2004. Despite the massive cuts to programs, and non-replacement of staff who resign, the academy now runs $30,000 into the red.
Head of School Robyn Quin acknowledged WA government funding to the academy had increased each year but so had the expenses.
In a damning critique Dr Gibbs says ECU is diverting academy funds to prop up its own depleted coffers.
“The steady erosion of the academy’s status within the structure of the Edith Cowan University is dangerous,” he told the Voice. “The academy is adequately funded by the state government, it’s what Edith Cowan does with those funds that causes pain.”
Boris Radmilovich, a former lecturer, backed up Dr Gibbs. He said positions had been lost and new people weren’t being hired; remaining staff were expected to take on the responsibilities of those who resigned. He left last semester, describing the conditions as intolerable.
“Staff are in constant fear for their positions as a result of permanent teaching positions being closed and with the additional workload they are fighting to keep their heads above water,” he told the Voice. “They are trying to do the best they can by the students without doing anything which would put them out of favour with the university’s administration.”
Associate professor, Pat Crichton, the academy’s acting director, said it was sound economic practice to replace permanent staff who resigned with “sessional” staff. Like all higher learning institutions the academy had to “make adjustments in order to work within current funding structures”.
“The outstanding quality of our public performances in 2004 (sic) across music, dance, music theatre and acting illustrate without question the academy’s continued commitment to excellence,” he said.
Dr Gibbs accused the university of exploiting “the goodwill of academy staff” who raised funds and put in extra work, but warned the goodwill was running out fast.
* Over 18 years Geoff Gibbs was the academy’s principal, dean and director and was instrumental in building it to rival NIDA both in reputation and teaching program quality. In 2002 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to the arts.
EDITH COWAN UNIVERSITY has described as "wrong and misguided" accusations that it has mismanaged the WA Performing Arts Academy.
ECU Executive Dean, Robyn Quin, says former director Geoff Gibbs is ill-informed in claiming ECU is bleeding WAAPA dry (Voice, November 15, 2003).
Dr Gibbs said when he left the academy in 1998 it was $100,000 in the black. But now it is $30,000 in the red and the academy had suffered cuts to courses and a freeze on staff appointments.
"The truth is exactly the opposite," Dr Quinn told the Voice. "His information and recollections are out-of-date and lack any foundation in fact."
She says the academy has been running a deficit budget for years and is in fact propped up by ECU.
"The deficit is not due to poor management at all. Simply, labour costs have risen and neither the State nor Federal Governments' funding has matched the rise. ECU has, and continues to meet, all Academy debts.
"The Academy budget has increased every year in dollar terms but costs have exceeded increases. There have been no "cuts" in the Academy's budget."
Professor Quin said resignations had been replaced in broadcasting and production. An acting position had not been filled because "we were still wearing the costs of the termination of instigated by a former acting director of WAAPA" and a classical music staffer was not replaced because "the enrolment does not justify it".
"Nobody has lost their job through cost cutting," she insisted.
But Dr Gibbs has won support from Boris Radmilovich, a former lecturer, and Peter Kingston, a former head of acting at the academy, for speaking out.
Mr Kingston said he spent six months, "applying and reapplying" for his job in 2002. Professor Quin's admission that his job was not permanently filled because of costs unrelated to his department "proves what I have long suspected... I was led on a merry dance."
Now acting artistic director with Black Swan Theatre, he is scathing of ECU's management, and describes its treatment of the academy as "scandalous". ECU placed "no value in WAAPA's professional theatre practitioners, who are the backbone of its courses," he said. "The quality of WAAPA's actor training program on which the institution's reputation was largely established has been undermined, staff numbers cut and the remaining lecturers demoralised and unsupported."
by Vida Karabuva
THE acting department at the Mt Lawley-based WA Academy of Performing Arts is having its funding cut, but Edith Cowan University is refusing to say how deep it will be.
In a letter leaked to the Voice, department head Chris Edmund wrote his section faced "substantial funding cuts" in 2004.
"Next year we are having to come to terms with substantial funding cuts which means that to protect the integrity of the program we are having to think of other ways of raising money," he wrote.
"I hope that these will not substantially affect the teaching program."
The revelation come just weeks after ECU executive dean Robyn Quin said "there have been no 'cuts' to the Academy's budget" (Voice November 29, 2003).
When the Voice asked ECU's media manager Richard Goodwin for more details on the cuts and their likely impact, he said.
"I don't have that information right now and if I did I'm not sure we'd want to make it public."
The Voice also asked him whether other departments within the academy faced similar cuts.
"WAAPA has been running at a deficit and I imagine that all departments have been given a target to meet for the new year," he responded
"Chris Edmund has portrayed it as funding cuts but it can also be looked at as evening out the income and expenditure columns," he told the Voice.
"As previously stated, no jobs have been lost due to cost-cutting and the quality of teaching programs is unaffected.
"Income generation will most likely come from running short public courses and more fee-paying post-graduate studies," Mr Goodwin said.
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