ACT News

School of Music teacher quits after 11 years citing alleged remorseless bullying

A former student turned teacher at the ANU's School of Music has spoken publicly about what she describes as a toxic culture and remorseless bullying of staff.

Handing in her resignation this week after 11 years teaching the Music for Colleges course, Anne Ewing said she felt a duty to speak out against the maladministration of the school she considers has developed under senior ANU management.

Anne Ewing is resigning from  the ANU School of Music, citing bullying and remorseless toxic treatment.
Anne Ewing is resigning from the ANU School of Music, citing bullying and remorseless toxic treatment.  Photo: Jamila Toderas

Ms Ewing did her undergraduate, honours and masters degrees at the school and said she had "seen a lot" since she began studying violin performance there in 1997.

She moved into piano and was  now one of the School of Music's approved accompanists.

Ms Ewing said the school had suffered severely since the budget cuts of 2012 but this year had seen morale hit new lows – particularly after former head Peter Tregear left suddenly in July with 18 months still to go on his contract.

Ms Ewing said he had made enormous inroads in restoring confidence at the school.

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"It was crushing when Peter left. He succeeded in getting the school back on track, he was committed to the staff and students, and to the School of Music as an institution, and he suffered enormously at the hands of management as a result," Ms Ewing said.

Professor Tregear is believed to have pushed back against management's persistent understaffing of the school since the budget cuts. Four staff took stress leave last year and eight have since resigned or announced their intention to leave the ANU since then – not including Ms Ewing.

In crisis talks held with staff and students at the school last month vice-chancellor Ian Young conceded "clearly there's been a culture –  a set of processes – in that school that has been highly  stressful to both students and staff. That is going to change, that's our commitment to actually make the change".

But he denied the school was under-resourced.

In a Facebook post she made public, Ms Ewing said: "My hope is that the appointment of Professor Brian Schmidt to the role of vice-chancellor in 2016 will affect a change of direction in the forced downward-spiralling of the school's function and reputation."

She said the school had been subject to "remorseless toxic treatment, bullying, and silencing of its few remaining staff and even some students, the unresolved conflicts of interest between management and certain staff, and the shameless and deliberate delays in scholarship and prize payments".

In her case, Ms Ewing said she was owed thousands of dollars in music scholarship and prize money which was not paid for up to five months. She was forced to resort to legal intervention before the money was paid to her.

She said that Professor Tregear had battled with management within the College of Arts and Social Science to have students paid out their entitlements and was at one point so frustrated he offered to personally lend close to $6000 in owed money to a financially distressed student.

Ms Ewing said the staff exodus at the school, as well as a dramatic fall in student enrolments to just 30 this year was "indicative of an institution that places no value on the pursuit of excellence in the field of music, but rather prefers a systematic annihilation of what was once a thriving community of musicians and scholars".

She had published her frustrations on Facebook as she felt there had been a lack of community understanding about the level of dysfunction within the school.

She finishes her classes in a month and plans to travel overseas.

"The staff that remain are trying their very best to do what they can under extremely trying circumstances while many of those who have left are constrained in what they can say by gag orders."

"I am speaking out because very few people have been here as long as I have and at this stage I have genuine fears it's being run down to the point it may not be able to be restored."

Meanwhile, a former senior lecturer in cello for 20 years, David Pereira has used Facebook to post a number of videos in which he warns that the school is close to extinction.

"Now is a time for meticulous observation, for the examination of errors of judgment, for the telling of relevant truths, for apology to those necessarily or unnecessarily harmed, and for actions that are louder even than apologies ... actions especially, I feel, that repair damage done to young student lives," Mr Pereira said in one post.

One of his many concerns was the damage to the school's heritage – particularly over the past three years.