TRU faculty votes unanimously to take university to court over fine arts closure

Faculty taking TRU to court

Thompson Rivers University faculty members have voted unanimously to take the university to court over the handling of the closure of TRU's visual arts programs.

TRU Faculty Association President Tara Lyster said she is concerned the decision to cut the university’s visual arts major, minor, diploma and certificate “violated the TRU Act and TRU policy.”

TRU's board voted in January to axe the programs. The university has admitted to following steps out of order but maintained its process was in accordance with its own policy and the TRU Act.

Now, TRUFA wants to ask a judge to decide.

Lyster told Castanet the faculty association and the Federation of Post Secondary Educators are concerned with steps being followed out of order in the process it used to cut its visual arts programs.

“One of our biggest concerns is that the student enrolment was suspended and then the process was enacted, in what we could see,” she said.

TRU declined comment for this story.

Process just beginning

A judicial review is not an appeal, but a review of a decision that has been made by an administrative tribunal or an administrative decision maker.

If TRUFA’s application for a judicial review is successful, a B.C. Supreme Court judge will be asked to decide whether the university had the authority to make the decision it did.

Lyster said the process to apply for the review is just beginning.

“We're initiating the process. We're going to move forward with doing this but we're just starting to take action right now,” she said.

Steps out of order

In January, Lyster told Castanet that TRUFA would be seeking legal advice after the university’s board of governors made the final decision to cut the four visual arts programs.

TRUFA took issue with the university’s following of its program reduction and elimination policy, claiming the university missed steps before adding them later and claiming "superficial compliance with the act.”

Gillian Balfour, TRU provost and vice-president academic, has acknowledged steps in the process were followed out of order, but said the university’s administration followed the process as closely as was practical to the "spirit of the policy," and that every step was covered.

During a board of governors meeting in December, TRU President Brett Fairbairn said the steps outlined in the policy are a guideline and don’t constitute the policy itself.

The day after the programs were cut, Lyster said the decision to discontinue the programs appeared to TRUFA to be a “done deal” from the start.

“In April 2023, faculty members in visual arts were told by their dean that their program was being closed and student enrolment was being suspended immediately,” Lyster’s January statement reads.

“This was done ahead of any of the required processes under both TRU policy and the University Act related to program closures.”

TRUFA’s decision to initiate a judicial review was shared with faculty members April 25, a year to the day after news broke TRU would be looking into cutting its bachelor of fine arts.

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