Students lament potential loss of MRU's jazz program

Music students and teachers say Mount Royal University is making a big mistake in axing the only jazz program in the city.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi voices concern over proposed cuts at local university

Anger and frustration today about the programs put on the chopping block at Mount Royal University. 2:59

Some people are expressing anger and frustration today about the programs put on the chopping block at Mount Royal University.

Music students and teachers say MRU is making a big mistake in axing the only jazz program in the city.

Judaline Burr's 18-year-old daughter planned to study jazz there, but the school is phasing out the program — and a number of other diploma and certificate programs — because the school has a shortfall of $14 million following provincial funding cuts.

"Now she doesn't know what she's going to do," she said. 

"I phoned her last night. She was in tears. She's in Montreal. And we don't know what we'll do for the fall."

CBC NEWS Calgary will have more on this story Thursday when Alberta's minister of advanced education and Premier Alison Redford hold a news conference to make an "announcement that supports Alberta’s post-secondary students."

At the university, students already enrolled in the two-year jazz program will be able to get their diplomas, but Jacob Fossum wonders if shrinking staffing will hurt the quality of the courses and the arts scene in Calgary.

"Our teachers at Mount Royal are some of the prominent figures in the jazz scene and the arts scene and taking their jobs away could encourage them to go somewhere else, somewhere where the arts are a bit more encouraged," he said.

An event is being held at Wine Ohs in Calgary tonight to raise awareness and support of the jazz program, which Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is expected to attend.

Calgary's mayor weighs in

Nenshi released a letter addressed to the chair of MRU's board of governors that says he thinks the cuts could be very damaging to the city.

Two years ago he was at the groundbreaking for the university's Bella Concert Hall, which is designed to be a world-class facility for the performing arts in our city.

"Its location at Mount Royal was fitting, given that it is — was — home to a premier music performance and theatre arts program," he said in the letter.

"In fact, education rooms were included as part of the facility’s design so that students could learn and perform in the same incredible venue."

Nenshi said he was excited about MRU’s commitment to building what would certainly become a treasured performance space in Calgary.

"So you can imagine my dismay when I heard the news that MRU is considering cutting some of the very programs that this venue was designed to support — and without apparent consultation with the community," he said. 

"These programs are critical for the development of Calgary’s cultural offerings and eliminating them severely inhibits our ability to attract the best and brightest to our city from around the world."  

Cuts not an attack on arts, says MRU

But Manuel Mertin, provost and acting vice-president of academic, 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.

Mertin said jazz students still have the option to attend a degree program in contemporary music at Grant MacEwan in Edmonton.

"I know that some of our students have moved from the diploma into that degree, so it must be plausible for students in the jazz program to focus on jazz in the contemporary music degree," he said.

The board of governors still has to vote on the proposed cuts, and a meeting is scheduled for May 25. After that, the suspended programs would have to be approved by Alberta's minister of advanced education. 

Jim Brenan, chair of theatre, speech and music performance program, says the battle is far from over and he's hoping his programs can still be saved. He met with members of the affected faculties Tuesday night to strategize how to save their jobs.

Arts groups in the city are also trying to pressure MRU to reverse cuts to the music and theatre diploma programs, and asking supporters to send letters to the university and Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.

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