‘Extreme disappointment’: VIU cuts all school music programs

‘Extreme disappointment’: VIU cuts all school music programs
VIU/YouTube

Vancouver Island University (VIU) has cut its school music programs, as the post-secondary institution stares down a $20 million deficit.

At a meeting on May 23, the school’s board of governors voted to cancel VIU’s Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, the Bachelor of Music – Classical Transfer and Jazz Studies Diploma.

It’s a move many have found disappointing, with the school citing a lack of student admission as a major factor in its decision.

“There have been no students admitted into the Music Classical Transfer Program since 2013 and no admission to the Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies since 2021 so the most recent decision for these programs was administrative housekeeping,” said Michael Quinn, provost and vice-president academic in a statement to CHEK News on Friday.

Retired VIU music professor Greg Bush says he feels “extreme disappointment” about the decision, and believes the school’s reasons feel disingenuous.

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“They weren’t completely honest in my opinion,” he told CHEK News on Friday.

“I firmly believe that the music department had been mislead for the last four years, because they were told to ‘redevelop the program.’”

READ PREVIOUS: ‘A dream crusher’: VIU considers cuttings all music programs to balance its budget

Bush says he was part of that redevelopment for a year before his retirement and at that time the school said there would be “no first-year intake” for two years so that professors would have time to redevelop the program.

After those two years were over, Bush says there was still no intake of students for a third year, despite professors hoping there would be.

“You know what that means,” he said.

VIU tells CHEK News that the new Jazz Studies Diploma was set to launch in fall 2024, but “enrollment interest was not sufficient to warrant the starting a new program during times of fiscal constraint”

Bush says the board of governors also said that the music building required $4-million in upgrades, and that those would not be feasible with a $20 million deficit.

“So I guess that was a big part of this, but why not tell people this? Why have my colleagues go through the extra stress in redeveloping the thing and being told that it was going to be OK… and all of sudden it’s, ‘Oops sorry we were just kidding,’” said Bush.

Musical legacy

Bush was a jazz professor at VIU for 15 years. He says the impacts of the music program went far beyond the borders of the campus.

He says local community groups relied on students from VIU’s jazz programs for performances, and former students have gone on to form successful careers, such as Brian Adams’ drummer, Pat Steward.

He adds that no other school on the Island has a jazz music program.

“The University of Victoria of course has a music program, but not a jazz program,” he said.

“If they want to study jazz music they have to go to Capilano on the mainland,” said Bush, though he added cost of living is higher there than in Nanaimo.

The school says that it has received “many letters of support for the music program from community members,” and add that any decisions on program cuts are not taken lightly.

“We recognize VIU’s music program has supported many students in achieving their education and career goals over the years,” said Quinn in his statement.

The school notes that it’s a public secondary institution, and that it’s required by the province to have a balanced budget.

SEE ALSO: Strings programs among cuts as Greater Victoria School Board slashes $6M from budget

“These are difficult but necessary decisions that reflect a move towards VIU’s financial sustainability and ability to continue to offer programs that meet the demand and interests of our students and the regional workforce,” said Quinn.

VIU says it expects there to be around five students left in its music programs by the end of summer 2024, and that it is committed to supporting them through graduation.

It’s also looking at ways to offer music courses as electives.

Still, Bush says it’s the cuts are a loss that will leave a hole in the VIU – and Island – community.

“I’ve been doing this my whole life, and many times I ask myself, when do we have to stop fighting for the arts and music? I’ll be 70 in June and I’m still fighting,” he said.

Earlier this year, VIU announced it was cutting four other programs – including the Master in GIS Applications and Online Learning and Teaching Graduate Diploma  – in the face of its $20 million deficit.

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