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Thompson Rivers University axes fine arts program

The board voted 6-2 to discontinue TRU's visual arts major, minor, diploma and certificate, which will be phased out over the next three years.
Thompson Rivers University campus.

Any doubt that was left as to the fate of Thompson Rivers University's visual arts program disappeared Monday evening with a vote by the university's board of governors.

The board voted 6-2 to discontinue TRU's visual arts major, minor, diploma and certificate, which will be phased out over the next three years.

The decision is the culmination of months of discussion following the university's announcement in April that the fine arts program was on the chopping block.

Gillian Balfour, TRU provost and vice-president academic, was matter of fact after the vote. She said it’s “been a long road” to get to a final decision and she understands the faculty’s commitment to the program.

“It's a difficult road to walk so I'm thoughtful and I'm not overjoyed. It's always a difficult process, but it has to happen,” she told Castanet Kamloops.

“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.”

Last-minute plea for review

Visual arts faculty member Donald Lawrence spoke early in Monday's meeting on behalf of five instructors and asked the board to support a program review — a process that could have delayed a final decision on the program's fate.

“We request the board support a delayed external program review toward determining how the BFA may be the best that it can be in the long-term interest of this research university,” Lawrence pleaded at the outset of the meeting.

“It is hoped that the board will recognize that by supporting the BFA has a track record of community engagement there is significant opportunity to advance TRU’s reputation of contributing to the community.”

Balfour said a program review is not the board's responsibility and listed the reasons visual arts was facing elimination — finances, student demandgraduate employment or continuing further studies outcomes, alternative program providers and staffing impacts.

There was minimal support among board members for such a review and it was never put to a vote.

Space eyed for other uses

Matt Milovick, TRU’s vice-president of administration and finance, said there are currently no plans on what to do with the space being used by the visual arts program.

An earlier estimate suggested 18 classrooms could be built within the square footage.

“There is no preconceived notion as to exactly where we would go with with the space at this point. Again, the 18 classrooms was a theoretical calculation,” Milovick said.

“We cannot introduce new programs because we don't have classroom space to deliver those programs.”

Richard McCutcheon, TRU's dean of arts, said last June the space could be repurposed to provide as many as 11,340 possible course enrolments.

TRU President Brett Fairbairn said the decision was being made to open up resources to other programs, calling it a “matter of principle” that the board reallocate from low-enrolment programs to high-enrolment programs.

“I think this is something that should sometimes happen, that it is the responsibility of the board when it does happen,” he said.

“I would say it's actually difficult to imagine a stronger case than the one that's in front of us, thinking about particularly the small numbers of students that are served by these particular credentials.”

'Disappointed' in outcome

Following the board’s decision, Lawrence told Castanet Kamloops he was “disappointed” in the outcome, saying he hoped a program review might have been pursued.

“That would get at the root of what's working well in the program, what can work better, how the program can best work in the context of this research university,” he said.

“It seemed as though around the table there was actually quite a bit of interest in going in that direction, but that is not the way the decision went. And so I think the decision was made on information on hand and many people have questioned the veracity of much of that information.”

Relieved after 'hard' decision

Marilyn McLean, the chair of TRU's board of governors, said it was a “hard” decision to make, but she's glad it has been made — and now she's looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

“We can go forward and see what can be created and what we can do in terms of allocating resources," she said. "It's a three-year plan in terms of what this might look like, so I'm relieved a decision has been made."

The university will continue to offer arts courses, which have served as popular electives for undergraduate students in other programs. Some classes could be added depending on enrolment trends.

McCutcheon has previously floated a plan that would see resources from visual arts being allocated to new Indigenous studies, counselling psychology, criminology and communication design programs. The plan has not been ratified by the university’s Arts Faculty Council.

The university said current visual arts students will be notified of the decision and will be provided assistance as they complete their programs. No job losses are anticipated.

TRU's visual arts department has worked both formally and informally with the Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops Arts Commission, Kamloops Library, Kamloops Museum and Archives, Kamloops Printmakers and the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, among others.