March 11, 2008


On 30 January 2008, the College of Arts at the University of Canterbury (Christchurch, New Zealand) published a Change Proposal that includes a recommendation to disestablish the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, that is:  to make seven staff redundant, cancel courses and degrees, and turn away students from the beginning of 2009.

The Department of Theatre & Film Studies is recognised nationally and internationally for the way it integrates theory and practice, and works between theatre and film, at all levels, from stage one to PhD.  The four academic and three general staff work together with students as artists and scholars, producing essays and books, but also performances and films.  Its postgraduate programme is especially successful, with nine PhD students currently enrolled.  Te Puna Toi (Performance Research Project) provides a platform for bicultural projects and contributes to the Department’s high international profile.  For more than 25 years, the Department’s producing wing, Free Theatre, has made a remarkable contribution to Christchurch’s cultural life.

Despite the Department’s high profile, and without consultation or discussion, the judgment presented by the Governance Group in its Change Proposal is that Theatre & Film Studies is "too small, too expensive and not ‘core’." 

In fact, until the day the Proposal was published, the Department was consistently assured it was meeting the financial targets set for the Centre for Music and Theatre and Film Studies in 2007, and that any cuts would be too small to be significant.  We now told that a higher target was set for Theatre & Film Studies, without notifying the Department.  Even so, the Department has demonstrated that instead of saving $300,000, the College stands to lose over $200,000 by disestablishment, and that the staff to student ratio in the Change Proposal is wrong.  The response from the College management was that this is not purely a financial decision, however the judgment that Theatre and Film Studies are not "core" disciplines clearly contradicts the standards set by other universities worldwide and the Government’s educational policies.

The College of Arts Change Proposal presents neither a business nor an academic case for the proposed closures.  The financial rationale for disestablishing Theatre and Film Studies is based on estimates of income and expenditure (not actual data), shifting financial targets and an incomplete analysis of the net savings/cost of making staff redundant, discontinuing courses and degrees, and turning away students.  No academic criteria have been provided; nor have academic processes been engaged in to date.  The financial rationale also does not take into account the costs of the University’s continuing obligation to provide expert supervision, facilities, and resources (including technical support) for thesis students.  Finally, references are made to the University’s "core" programmes upon which recommendations have been made, yet there is no definition of "core" nor are other academic criteria presented. 

Yet, the University has already taken actions which give rise to the conclusion that the proposed change is a fait accompli. For example, students are being told to "find other Majors"; administrators are having to participate in a job comparison exercise which precedes redeployment; MA students are not being allowed to enrol part-time on the basis that there will not be experts to supervise them after 2008; PhD students enrolling now are being made to sign waivers; and currently enrolled PhD students are being told that they may have to cancel their research if they do not accept whatever substitutes the College gives them after this year. It is also clear that intending undergraduate students are affected by negative publicity and the lack of assurance from the University about continuation of programmes.

The interest in this issue is widespread, to the extent that after meeting with postgraduate students, the Prime Minister has expressed her concern.  Coverage in New Zealand is extensive; links can be found on the Department’s website:

Message from Dr Sharon Mazer, Head, Department of Theatre & Film Studies

The deadline for submissions to the Review Committee is Friday, 14 March 2008.

Please do send a submission, if you’ve not already done so. If you cc us ( not only can we thank you properly, we can also point towards your submission in our own, highlighting the most pertinent aspects of the case you make on our behalf.

Thank you for your support. It means everything to us at this time. It gives us courage, as well as reason to hope that with your help the recommendation to disestablish Theatre and Film Studies can be effectively repudiated.

The email address for submissions is

For further information, please contact Dr Sharon Mazer, Head of Department ( and Peter Falkenberg, Artistic Director Free Theatre, Director Te Puna Toi (

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