U of A arts cuts risk relationship with community, professor warns

Suspending arts programs at the University of Alberta could have a large impact on the school's relationships with students and the community, warns the head of one of the affected programs.

Impacted programs each have 10 or fewer students enrolled

U of A arts cuts

8 years ago
Duration 1:48
A University of Alberta dean is asking the Faculty of Arts to suspend admission into 20 programs in languages, design, music and theatre. 1:48

The programs recommended for suspension are:

Bachelor of Arts

  • Classical Language (Major)
  • Combined Classics/Greek/Latin (Major)
  • Combined French and Italian (Major)
  • Combined German and Scandinavian (Major)
  • Combined Italian and Spanish (Major)
  • Italian Studies (Major)
  • Latin American Studies (Major)
  • Middle Eastern and African Studies (Major)
  • Russian Language and Literature (Major)
  • Combined Russian and Ukrainian (Major)
  • Scandinavian Language and Literature (Major)
  • Ukrainian Folklore (Major)
  • Ukrainian Language and Literature (Major)

Bachelor of Design

  • Computing Science Rte (Major)
  • Printmaking Rte (Major)

Bachelor of Music

  • Music History (Conc)
  • BMus School Music (Conc)
  • Composition and Theory (Conc)
  • World Music (Conc)

Bachelor of Fine Arts - Drama

  • Technical Theatre (Major)

Suspending arts programs at the University of Alberta could have a large impact on the school's relationships with students and the community, warns the head of one of the affected programs.

In a letter sent Friday, Faculty of Arts Dean Lesley Cormack informed faculty members that programs with low enrollment should be suspended, effective immediately.

The 20 programs impacted each had 10 or fewer students enrolled as majors in each of the fall terms from 2005 to 2012. Cormack says the admission freezes will help ensure the faculty’s limited resources are allocated to programs with higher enrollment, better meeting students’ needs.

"Programs should not continue to be offered simply because they have been offered in the past," she writes.

Among the programs on the chopping block is the university’s Ukrainian Folklore studies.

"It’s always been a small program. The program is about 30 years old. It’s been small and is going down," said Andriy Nahachewsky, Director of Kule Ukrainian Folklore Centre.

Nahachewsky says fewer than ten students have enrolled in the Ukrainian Folklore major for the past eight years. He says while they serve a small number of students, the program provides an important connection with the Ukrainian community in the province and allows people to explore its heritage.

"I think there is a real value in connecting university life with the community life," he said.

"That's one of the cornerstones of the University of Alberta's goals is to be really community connected. We're one in particular because we're narrow we can go deep and we're good at that, I think."

Nahachewsky says shuttering the major may have an impact on the university’s relationship with the community, which could have an effect on endowments. He says it is a difficult decision for the university, faced with the province’s decision to slash postsecondary operating grants by nearly 7 per cent in the last budget.

"The university is a large boat. You can’t steer a barge very quickly. So, forcing it to steer it quickly means they have to do a lot of decisions because they are fast, rather than because they are the good decisions in the long-term."

If the program is suspended, Nahachewsky says Ukrainian Folklore minors will continue and that there have been discussions of rolling up several areas of study into a general folklore certificate program.

"What we have now is a challenge. We have to find ways to continue being relevant, ways to continue being meaningful, ways to continue to support the community."

Programs must be relevant, minister says

In the future, Cormack says guidelines should be established to determine when programs should be suspended. Factors to consider in the decision-making process would include total enrollment and the ratio of students to faculty members.

Programs should then be reviewed annually to make sure the necessary resources are in place.

"We need to be constantly checking in to see whether the programs we offer are current and useful to students, so I think this really is good management to do this," Cormack told CBC News.

Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk spoke in favour of the program cuts Sunday afternoon, commending Cormack for her recommendations.

"The dean of the faculty of arts is taking some very courageous ... steps that should be taken by all deans of all faculties in all schools in Canada in every year."

Lukaszuk said it is important for academic staff to consider whether students are willing to spend their tuition on the programs being offered, and to adjust programming accordingly.

"These are good questions to ask yourself – ‘are these programs still relevant, are they of any interest to our students?’ – and if the answer is no, then you have to eliminate those programs," he said.

"To be the best... you have to offer the most relevant programs that students want to take and be excellent at delivering them." Faculty members have until Sept. 3 to respond to Cormack’s recommendations.

If the program cuts go forward, all students currently enrolled in the affected programs will be allowed to finish their degrees.