Thompson Rivers University senators heard impassioned pleas Monday from students and faculty members who want to see the school's embattled visual arts program saved, but it's still not clear when a decision will be made.
TRU announced in April that it would be considering eliminating its visual arts programs, with Faculty of Arts Dean Richard McCutcheon telling senate in May dwindling enrolment, financial concerns and workload equity are all contributing factors.
Alan Brandoli, an associate teaching professor in the faculty of visual arts, was critical of these factors, citing the “illusion of attrition” and “inconsistencies by the dean.”
“The BFA, with its open access policy, creates the illusion of high attrition rate as students may take only one or two visual arts courses as electives, and then move on to continue another program,” Brandoli said.
“The current faculty feel that many of the rationals put forth as reasons to cancel the BFA seem inappropriate or not a full understanding of the role and operation of a BFA program.”
Assistant professor Twyla Exner said the suggestion of a communications design program as a replacement for visual arts was “in no ways a substitute” to the current visual arts program.
Senator Craig Jones, a faculty member in TRU's law school, questioned the policy and process of the board’s potential closure. He asked if Brandoli and Exner had received a written response from the dean to the proposal of the program’s closure they received June 1.
They told him they did not.
“The board policy requires that the senior executives put in writing what the proposal is, and then within 15 days the dean replies in writing to that proposal,” Jones said.
Adrian Romeo, a fourth-year visual arts student, told senate the BFA program provides resources, space and new perspectives to emerging artists.
“Even without the attention that the program needs, the BFA has a steady stream of successful graduates,” Romeo told senate.
“I know that there's concern about enrolment numbers and of course cancellation because of those low enrolment numbers, and I would like to mention again that I have not once seen advertisement or promotion of the BFA program at TRU.”
Visual arts program administrator Terryl Atkins told senate the she believed the decline of the program was due to “a resistance to adapt to changing times.”
“There has been a lack of concerted efforts to address the challenges consistently raised by the past four Dean's of arts, including low enrolment numbers, many underutilized dedicated spaces, and issues of workload equity,” said Atkins.
“When we evaluate the BFA program in terms of its market relevance, it becomes evident that it holds less value than the nostalgia surrounding it suggests.”
Senate heard that the visual arts program’s required program review in 2018 was suspended because the bachelor of arts was under a “thorough review” at the time, according to Gillian Balfour, TRU’s provost and vice-president academic.
“I will say though, that the 2011 review that has been mentioned a couple of times, there was absolutely no follow through on any of the recommendations from two external reviewers at that time,” said Balfour.
Tk’emlups te Secwepmc education manager, Dessa Gottfriedson, said an Indigenous counselling program would “greatly support” the Tk'emlups community, referring to one of the programs floated for the school of arts.
“If this was an option, TteS would encourage TRU to have both a fine arts program as well as the mental health and wellness program,” she said.
Professor David Hill told senators during the regular meeting the arts faculty voted heavily in favour of "speaking strongly against" the initiative to cut visual arts programs in a special meeting on June 29.
Senator Jones said during the regular meeting written submissions from 60 members of the community were received by TRU but weren't given to senate until members learned of their existence.
TRU senators will decide on a recommendation to the university's board of governors at a later date. Senators will meet next on Oct. 23.