Peter Tregear takes up the baton at a troubled music institution in transition.

The new dean of the Australian National University’s School of Music has stepped into the role amid the cacophony of budget cuts, job losses, a $2.9 million deficit and public outcry.

Commencing official duties on August 14, Prof Peter Tregear signed on for an initial 18-month contract in a job no one would envy given the current climate. But the 42-year-old says he knows what he’s in for: “I fully expect the student body to hold me and the course to account.

“I don’t expect to be given an easy ride. I want to be judged on the quality of the degree, of the product we provide,” he adds.

Previously executive director of the Academy of Performing Arts at Melbourne’s Monash University, Tregear replaces former ANU School of Music head Adrian Walter, who left abruptly after announcing drastic changes to the curriculum and 13 staff cuts in May. For those who have followed the controversy, it will seem as if he has arrived in time to pick up the pieces after a major bombshell that incited student protests and provoked heated debate in the broader Canberra community. To this end, he says it will be important to “empower the place of the arts on campus”.

Tregear cites as significant factors in the restructure “a combination of changes in the nature of the music business and the way that federal government funding of universities has put a squeeze on the kind of education that can be provided economically within a university.”

Much of the public uproar stemmed from reports that face-to-face, individual practical lessons would be axed, but the bass baritone, classically trained in piano and flute, is adamant that “ANU is not getting rid of one-on-one tuition. We are committing to a one-hour lesson a week for 13 weeks of the semester; certainly that is national best practice.”

Nonetheless, he concedes that he has to “face the demons head-on, trying to reconcile the idealism that brings us all into the arts with the practical necessity of managing public funds responsibly.” To that end, the 13 job cuts are going ahead: “The teaching of one-to-one through a staffing regime that puts one-to-one instrumental teachers principally on an academic contract is inappropriate and a highly cost-ineffective way to do it,” he explains.

“A number of those staff will teach one-to-one lessons in the new course, so it will be business as usual.” Treager adds, “That’s not to say it’s a process without significant pain and upheaval for staff. It is a re-calibration, a re-definition of how employment contracts will exist between music staff and the institution.

“That’s a difficult, painful process – I’ve come into the business end of it and that’s the hardest bit of the job. But I think for most institutions in the country something like this is inevitable.”