TRU board votes to phase out fine arts programs over next three years

TRU axes fine arts programs

UPDATE: 6:18 p.m.

Following months of discussion, Thompson Rivers University has decided to discontinue its visual arts programs.

The university’s board of governors voted Monday to phase out its visual arts major, minor, diploma and certificate over the next three years.

Marilyn McLean, TRU board chair, said the programs have suffered perpetually low enrolment and the board has a duty to ensure the university makes the best use of their resources.

“Every university, including TRU, must change and adapt to what students, the job market and communities need now,” she said.

“We must also meet the expectations of our primary funding partner — the provincial government. By doing this, TRU is acting responsibly to ensure the best use of public dollars.”

McLean said the closures will redirect funding and resources to other programs to provide a large number of students with educational opportunities.

Gillian Balfour, TRU provost and vice-president academic, cited financial effectiveness, student demand, graduate employment or continuing further studies outcomes, alternative program providers and employment impacts as reasons for the program cuts.

“This is one of the oldest programs at TRU and it's had ample time to reflect and adapt, innovate. It's chosen not to. This is where we are today,” Balfour said.

“I’m not overjoyed. It's always a difficult process, but it has to happen.”

Balfour said current visual arts students will be notified of the decision and will be provided assistance to complete their programs.

She noted many arts courses will continue and those that serve as popular electives to undergraduates in other programs may see expansion as well.

The current space used by the visual arts program will be available for pressing student services and more classroom space, “both of which are desperately needed,” Balfour said.

The university said current students will have the opportunity to complete their credentials and current faculty teaching in the programs won’t be affected.

Castanet Kamloops will have more on this story on Tuesday morning.

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

Thompson Rivers University’s board of governors is expected to make a final decision Monday on significant cuts proposed for its fine arts department.

An extraordinary board meeting has been called for Monday afternoon. According to the agenda, the board will hear a "recommendation from administration for discontinuance of four visual arts programs."

The university first announced it was considering eliminating its bachelor of fine arts program last April.

In a letter to the board dated Jan. 16, visual arts faculty members Alan Brandoli, Twyla Exner, Darlene Kalynka and Donald Lawrence, as well as studio technician Lea Bucknell, said they hope to continue and renew the BFA, and are asking the board to support a long-delayed external program review.

Programs at the university must undergo a review every seven years, a process that hasn’t been implemented since 2011 in the visual arts program and was partially completed in 2018 before being halted by the dean due to advice from the university’s office of quality assurance.

"The external reviewers made a series of recommendations. There is no record of any implementation of the recommendations by the program from that 2011 review," said TRU’s provost and vice-president academic, Gillian Balfour, in a memo to the board.

The faculty members said they recognize there have been challenges that need to be addressed, including a lack of institutional support, but argue that there has been discussion and review of the program, including plans ratified by the visual and performing arts department and proposals submitted to a previous dean of arts.

“The issues at hand are complex, more multi-dimensional than what the dean of arts has generally characterized as the BFA being outmoded and VA faculty being unresponsive to calls for program innovation,” the submission reads.

"It should be noted that VA had in fact provided significant response to other aspects of the 2011 program review, including in the area of technical support."

The faculty's submission says a majority in the department of communication and visual arts passed a motion requesting a program review of the BFA and associate programs in order to support the implementation of significant department changes. A second motion was passed to petition the dean of arts to reinstate an external program review.

The visual arts faculty took issue with Dean of Arts Richard McCutcheon suggesting in previous senate meetings that, by phasing out the BFA, the arts faculty could redirect funds to new program areas.

“What the board was not told during the public meeting on Dec. 1 is that arts faculty council never had the opportunity to discuss and vote on the [Arts Academic Plan],” the submission reads.

The faculty members said that conflicts with senate bylaws.

“Without [Arts Faculty Council] approval of the AAP, this plan should not have been presented to the board or senate as evidence that the arts faculty support this plan. We believe that this sets a dangerous precedent for collegial governance at TRU,” the submission states.

In her memo, Balfour cited financial effectiveness, student demand, graduate employment or continuing further studies outcomes, alternative program providers and employment impacts as reasons for the proposed program cuts.

"Senators have asserted the right to direct a program review under ED 8-4. However, ED 8-4 is not the policy being applied in this matter," the memo reads.

Balfour said the program reduction and elimination policy being applied doesn't assess the "integrity of the curriculum" as a reason for elimination.

The memo says the university is committed to retaining art gallery space as well as electives in visual arts that have high student demand. She said the studio and classroom space could be rescaled to create more programming and student service options.

Last June, McCutcheon said the space could be repurposed to provide as many as 11,340 possible course enrolments.

“There were assertions at various times in senate that some aspects of the process were not followed, but these assertions rested largely on interpretations or extrapolations of what is in the policy,” Balfour’s memo reads.

"Some senators raised the topic of academic program review, which as highlighted earlier in this report, is not the purview of the board but rather is a responsibility of the program and faculty dean."

Balfour also cited senators expectation of receiving a written notice from the board to proceed with the program closures, which she said isn't specified in the policy and is not the board's usual practice.

“There were some ways in which matters did not arise in the order foreseen by the policy, chiefly that the dean of arts raised the initial idea of program discontinuance, rather than as the role of respondent to the provost,” Balfour said.

“No set of rules can foresee every future circumstance, and this is particularly true of rules penned almost a generation ago. Despite the inherent challenges, the administration adhered as closely as practical to the spirit of the policy and did cover every specified step in it.”

Balfour said no faculty job losses will occur as a result of the proposed cuts. She has previously stated currently enrolled students will be able to complete their degrees and applications will be reinstated in the case that a program continues.

Both reports can be read online.

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