Wits Music suffers severe setbacks

Written by Jackie Bischof
August 17, 2007

R40 000 a year for incomplete curricula, missing course outlines and inadequate teaching venues. This is the price music student Liroy Lourenço has had to pay to do his third year in music at Wits.

As a student representative of the Wits School of Arts (WSOA), Lourenço has had to approach the school with several student complaints. He says that the school’s problems have accumulated over the years and that current students are experiencing the worst of what he calls “dysfunctional planning”.

Lourenço says that problems include a lack of flow between the curriculum, a breakdown of communication between full time and part time lecturers, lack of clarity with courses and missing course outlines.

He added that several students pay additionally for extra private lessons because they feel “that some components of their degree and training are inadequate.”

After a survey was circulated amongst them, students approached of school Professor Gerrit Olivier with their complaints. The survey was sent to the Centre for Learning and Teaching Development. WSOA and the Music Division are currently redesigning the music curriculum and course outlines have been handed in for review.

Acting head of the Music Divison, Professor Anitra Nettleton says that students and staff “are slowly pulling it together”.

While Lourenço agrees that “steps have been made in the right direction”, he says that he feels he has been “robbed”. He says that problems at the Music division should’ve been dealt with years ago: “This shouldn’t have happened. It’s not my job; it’s their [WSOA’s] job. And I’ve had to deal with this…”

To add to their woes, the Music Division has had to cope with several infrastructural difficulties while working with the University’s Property Infrastructure Management Department (PIMD).

Earlier this year third year music students and their lecturer marched to PIMD in protest at the department’s failure to deliver on a promise to soundproof teaching rooms.

It has taken PIMD five months to complete the soundproofing, which they told Music Division lecturers would only take two weeks. In the process, electronic equipment was disconnected and blinds were taken down.
On the 31st of July, Music Division co-ordinator Donato Somma sent PIMD director Emmanuel Prinsloo a letter complaining about the problems the School had dealing with PIMD contractors. He said that the lecturers were forced to supervise contractors and push them to finish their brief.

 He wrote: “It is almost impossible to believe that we have reached this point in the year and managed to teach the courses we have…In fits and starts, having re-assigned all our teaching for months now, we have, through sheer nagging, got most of the work done”

Acting Head of School Professor Anitra Nettleton says that PIMD had not provided a reason as to why the soundproofing had taken so long. She says that PIMD’s delivery on the soundproofing has “been an enormously long time coming…the level of frustration amongst students and staff is such that we don’t know what to do.”

PIMD Director Emmanuel Prinsloo agrees that the soundproofing “did take much longer then anticipated.” He says that difficulties accessing the school as well as a redesign of the “door soundproofing mechanism” are some of the reasons the project was delayed.

While the soundproofing and connection of electronic equipment is now complete, PIMD has yet to replace the blinds they disturbed during the soundproofing. Prinsloo says that this should be done by the end of next week.

Head of the Wits School of Arts, Professor Olivier says that while Prinsloo had been helpful in addressing the Music divisions problems, PIMD should be stricter in forcing their contractors to perform. He says that the PIMD customers “shouldn’t have to scream and shout to have simple jobs performed… I hate to think that this is the norm.”

Calling the situation “unforgivable”, he says that he has given up hoping that PIMD will finish their brief. “I’m not hoping [they will be finished] I’m saying they better be. I’m not relying on hope anymore, I’m relying on PIMD.”

For Lourenço, this is not much of a consolation. He feels that it is too late for third and fourth year students to benefit from any internal or infrastructural changes to the Music Division. He says that his concern now is ensuring the first and second years do not have to deal with the same problems. “If [the first years] are exposed to this drama”, he says, “by fourth year they’ll be finished.”

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