Plans for deep program cuts announced by Mount Royal University have provoked an angry reaction from the president of the faculty association.

Gerry Cross said the provincial politicians responsible for slashing MRU’s operational grants should be ashamed of themselves.

"It’s a very sad day," he said.

At a town hall meeting on Tuesday, school officials said several diploma and certificate programs will be cut to make up for a $14-million shortfall in provincial funding and a $120 student service fee will be implemented.

MRU officials had been expecting a two per cent increase in its operational funding grants. Instead the province cut them by 7.3 per cent in last month’s budget.

Cuts not finalized

Alberta's minister of advanced education says it's premature to say that some programs at Mount Royal University will be cut.

Thomas Lukaszuk says he will have to approve such a change and he has not yet received the proposed plan.

He was then asked if there is any chance funding would be restored.

"The budget is what it is, as you know I have defended my estimates and I been very clear that we will be dealing with this budget," said Lukaszuk. 

"And I have been very clear with all schools that they have to focus on their administration, and bring down their administrative costs wherever possible." 

Lukaszuk says it would be irresponsible for him to speculate on what could happen in the next budget, but he will be on hand with Premier Alison Redford on Thursday for an "announcement that supports Alberta’s post-secondary students."

The programs that will see enrolment frozen and eventually be suspended are:

  • Bachelor of engineering – university transfer
  • Theatre arts diploma – performance or technical stream
  • Diploma in music performance – classical and jazz stream
  • Diploma in disability studies
  • Certificate in forensics
  • One-year certificate in journalism
  • Advanced studies in perinatal and neonatal nursing certificate

MRU will also cut the number of nursing students it will accept by a third, from 330 students a year to 210.

Cross said he gives the school administration credit for trying its best to avoid cutting programs. The blame lies with the province, he said.

"These are programs Albertans need and programs Albertans can afford," he said.

Cross said it’s not clear yet how many teaching and staff positions will disappear. He said he also expects to see further cuts next year. 

A board meeting is scheduled for May 25 to discuss the proposed cuts.

Impact of possible fine arts cut

Jim Brenan, chair of the theatre, speech and music performance program, said eliminating the theatre arts diploma will hurt Calgary’s arts sector.  

"It’s habitual to cut the arts. I think people think it’s an easy cut — non-artists think it’s an easy cut," he said.

Brenan says the decision to suspend fine arts diplomas will have a major impact on the city.

"Anyone who's gone to Shakespeare in the Park, enjoyed the summer play. Anyone who's gone to the jazz festival, anyone who's gone to the blues festival, the folk festival," he said.

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Some are saying that cutting the jazz program at Mount Royal University will have a big impact on the arts scene in Calgary. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

Theatre Calgary, which runs Shakespeare in the Park, said it is saddened to learn of the proposed suspension of two theatre diploma programs at Mount Royal University but the 2013 presentation of Romeo and Juliet from June 26 to Aug. 10 in Prince's Island Park will not be affected.

However, Theatre Calgary said MRU will no longer be a partner in 2014 and it will explore every possible avenue to ensure that the Calgary tradition continues.

"But I think they’ll be surprised. I think that, if we can create enough public pressure, I think that we can make a difference."

A twitter account, @saveMRUarts, was created Tuesday to share updates on the situation.

Brenan said some members of the theatre arts department will likely be let go immediately.

Reasons behind the proposed cuts

"I have never seen cuts of this magnitude," said Manuel Mertin, provost and acting vice-president of academics. "I never thought I would have to be the one actually to implement them."

But Mertin said the message coming across that the cuts are an attack on fine arts and there will be no fine arts left at MRU isn't true.

"The conservatory, which primarily caters to children and youth, is not affected by the cuts at all," he said.

He said the more serious cut is reducing the nursing program by one-third.

"What impact is that going to have in a city that is growing and where the demographics tell us that a lot of nurses are going to retiring," said Mertin.

He also said he hasn't fielded questions about disability studies, which although a small program is in demand and necessary.

"As a new university, our prime focus ... is degrees," said Mertin, adding the chances of the suspended programs becoming degrees are negligible.

Mandate letter impact

Mertin said the timing was driven by the province's budget announcement, which took all post-secondary institutions by surprise.

The province also released letter of expectations in March, which outlined how institutions must review programs to see if they are "in demand by employers and students" and "enhance your work with business and industry to maximize the responsiveness to community and regional economic and social needs."

Mertin said one of the reasons the engineering transfer program was axed is because MRU did not plan to make it a degree, and they questioned the need for two engineering programs in Calgary.

"They are very expensive and government just isn't going to go there," he said, but added doubling up on programs such as nursing is needed because they have a larger scope.

He said students could go into the school's bachelor of science program before transferring into engineering at another university.

Mertin said Mount Royal is also suffering financially because it didn't get the funding promised for converting the former college into a university.

He said the University of Calgary is in a different situation because they have a huge reserve, which should carry them forward until next year.