Local twitter and Facebook feeds blew up last week with posts linking to a Sept. 26 update on the University of Regina’s Academic Review that appeared to indicate the death of the Theatre Department. The message, published by university Provost and VP (Academic), Thomas Chase, stated the U of R will be suspending admissions for a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in three separate theatre degrees. What was initially viewed as outright cuts to the program turned out to be a little less severe; the programs were not cut, but rather moved to the Faculty of Arts instead
“We see this as a way of consolidating our course offerings into a unified, flexible degree that optimises our skills and resources,” Kathleen Irwin, head of the Theatre Department, said in an email. “In reality, nothing changes in the delivery of our program other than the name change. In doing this we feel we are reflecting a current shift across North America in the delivery of performance-based undergraduate training by allowing our students more control over their course of study.”
The move effectively consolidates BFAs in acting, design and stage management and theatre studies into a single BA in Theatre and Performance.
“Universities have finite resources, and one of our challenges is to find out how we can use those resources to serve students well.” – Thomas Chase.
According to university administration, faculties across campus were asked to make a cut of three per cent to their operating budget, as well as search for methods to make their programs more efficient. The merger of the three degrees, and the move from the Faculty of Fine Arts to the Faculty of Arts, is the Theatre Department’s response to that request in hopes that it will offer “a unified, flexible degree that optimises our skills and resources.”
“Universities have finite resources, and one of our challenges is to find out how we can use those resources to serve students well,” said Thomas Chase. “The reasons for the curricular changes [to the Theatre Department], as they were presented to us, were to serve students better. The Theatre Department is working within the resources that are available to it.”
Although the move is not the “death blow” that it was initially thought to be, the changes did raise concerns about transparency within U of R administration and specifically the rationale behind decisions that are largely made behind closed doors. University Board of Director’s meetings are currently not open to the public, however Chase insists that all of the curriculum decisions – like the amalgamation of the three theatre degrees – are transparent and available to the public.
“The board does not do curriculum,” he said. “The board is there to approve a budget, approve a strategic plan, the board does not discuss curriculum.”
Chase noted that changes to curriculum in specific departments are done through a collegial consulted process beginning at the department level, and ending at the university senate.
“It is fair to say that there is student representation at nearly every level of the collegial approval process,” Chase said. “At the senate level you have student, alumni and professional representation. The University of Regina senate is like a window out into the world, everybody is there. Anything that is major goes through the senate.”
While the curriculum decisions are transparent, they are evidently guided by the financial limitations placed on them by the decisions made at the board level. The Theatre Department has seen its budget cut by 40 per cent over the last seven years amounting to $23,000. The university maintains that cuts to any department are reflections of declining interest in the specific programs themselves and are necessary to maintain the functionality of the U of R as well as “use public money responsibly.”
“We are absolutely not trying to exile the Fine Arts from the university, it is a crucial component of what we can offer to the community” said Chase. “Having said that, we have to face fiscal reality across our operation. We are asking all departments to find efficiencies because we need to balance to budget.”