Auckland University proposes to axe five eminent music academics in a bid to transform its music school from a "conservatory" into a research-intensive academic department.
The five staff being targeted include one of the school's two professors, Professor Uwe Grodd, who has played the flute and conducted orchestras internationally for more than 30 years.
Instead, a proposed restructuring would see two new professors in music education and musicology - research-based study of music - in a drive to boost research funding and make the music school more relevant to the career that most of its students go into, teaching.
It also says the music school "must embrace and include the musical heritage of the school's entire student population" and recommends "giving priority to appointments with strong engagement with Māori and/or Pasifika communities".
"Performance teaching is no longer solely based on interpretation of pre-existing music, but a creative and collaborative process involving all departments [in the music school]," the proposal says.
"Successful music schools in contemporary universities reflect this innovative, collaborative and flexible approach to teaching, versus the outdated 'conservatory' style of music education."
An associate professor in the school whose job is not affected, Dr Eve de Castro-Robinson, said the proposal followed similar staff cuts at Waikato and Otago Universities.
"This was our turn," she said.
"Music departments around the country are small. It has always been so. But latterly in this neoliberal business model it's become about scapegoats.
"We are told by our dean that we are subsidised by architecture. But we punch above our weight in terms of our activity in the community."
The proposal would increase the number of students per staff member in music from 11.6 to 14, still below the ratio of 1:18 in architecture but in line with international averages for other music schools.
"The University of Auckland's financial model means that courses in a seminar/lecture format with class sizes smaller than 25 enrolments do not break even financially," the proposal document says.
"Of the 89 courses offered at the School of Music, only 14 meet this threshold."
Student numbers in the school have declined from 453 fulltime-equivalents in 2011 to 411 last year.
On Grodd's position as professor specialising in flute performance, the document says: "Neither current, past or proposed student numbers (particularly at the postgraduate level) nor international practice justify a fulltime research-active position with this specialisation. Teaching could be delivered in co-operation with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, as required."
The proposal would also axe a fulltime senior lecturer role in cello performance, currently held by Edith Salzmann.
The other three positions being axed are in musicology, including one senior lecturer Dr Davinia Caddy, author of How to Hear Classical Music, who is described by a former student Alex Taylor as "one of, if not the, best lecturers they have ever hired".
Taylor, a freelance musician and composer who taught in the school until the end of 2016, said 23 out of about 25 permanent staff in the school passed a vote of no confidence in school head Martin Rummel last year after an earlier round of redundancies.
"This is coming from the idea that the university should be a business model and the music school should pull its weight," he said.
"I think this is wrong-headed. The way music is taught there is a lot of one-on-one required. It's a specialist subject. It's not taught in large lecture theatres like engineering or medicine."
The restructuring proposal is open for consultation until April 16. Auckland University was asked for comment but did not respond by deadline.