TRU faculty association says university is relying on 'invalid' concerns in axing BFA program

TRU faculty pushes back

Thompson Rivers University’s faculty association is saying the university’s claim of workload inequality in the bachelor of fine arts program is a red herring in attempting to justify its proposed elimination.

In April, TRU announced the BFA program would be phased out over three years. The university then backtracked on that and said the program was under review. Enrolment was suspended in April pending that review.

In a letter last month to the university’s board of governors, TRUFA president Tara Lyster, speaking on behalf of the faculty association executive, said faculty workload is “clearly outlined” in the association’s collective agreement.

“TRUFA is concerned that the university is making assertions about workload without involving TRUFA,” reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Castanet Kamloops.

“TRUFA takes the position that workload is not in any way a factor that should be considered or relied on when justifying a program closure.”

According to the letter, workload inequity has not been addressed with TRUFA other than a presentation by the dean of arts, Richard McCutcheon, outlining perceived inequity across the faculty of arts — a comparison the letter calls “inappropriate and invalid.”

“Actual workload for faculty can, and does, vary across disciplines and departments. Workload distribution is driven in part by the collective agreement and in part by the realities of any given program,” the letter reads.

“TRU’s reliance on an alleged workload inequity when comparing the BFA program with other programs in the faculty of arts is inappropriate and irrelevant.”

The faculty association also took issue with the program reduction process the university is following, saying there have been “significant errors and gaps in the process.”

In the letter, which was sent on Oct. 13, TRUFA expressed concern over the cancellation of student enrolment in the BFA program in April, calling it a “de facto closure of the program” because "without students there is no program."

The faculty association said the program reduction policy doesn’t require enrolment to be suspended.

Gillian Balfour, TRU's provost and vice-president academic, said in May it was undecided if a three-year teach-out or revision would occur, but said suspension of enrolment would be necessary either way.

“In order to respond to our internal process or our board-driven process, the program must suspend enrolment of students to allow for either a teach-out if that's so decided by the board, or to allow for a Category 3 program revision,” she said.

Balfour has not yet responded to inquiries from Castanet concerning the university's abeyance policy.

TRUFA's letter is a response to an email sent to the department by Balfour on Sep. 28, in which declining student demand, no evidence of faculty engagement in program renewal since 2011 and “concerning” workload inequity within the faculty of arts were all identified as concerns.

The same letter showed two new certificate programs have been placed on the chopping block — the drawing and painting certificate and certificate in literary and art history — bringing the total number of programs up for the proposed reduction or elimination to six.

During a senate meeting in October, university senator Craig Jones said it didn’t appear the two additional programs were subject to any previous notice prior to the provost’s email.

A previous letter to visual arts faculty in June said a proposed reduction or elimination of visual arts programs would only include the bachelor of visuals arts, the minor, the diploma and the certificate.

Jones has previously raised concerns the university may not be following policy in the proposed elimination of its Visual Arts program.

Despite the program requiring a review every seven years, Balfour said during a special senate meeting in September that an external review in 2018 was partially completed before being halted due to advice from the university's office of quality assurance.

"The advice given to the department at that time was to stop going forward with the review pending the review of the bachelor of arts entirely, that program is under thorough review," Balfour said.

"I will say, though, that the 2011 review that has been mentioned a couple of times, there was absolutely no follow through on any of the recommendations from two external reviewers at that time."

The university's senate will meet next on Nov. 27, and the next meeting of TRU's board of governors is slated for Dec. 1.

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