Programs slated for cuts at VIU

NANAIMO: Vancouver Island University officials want to cancel or suspend seven programs and expand or enhance others.

Vancouver Island University officials propose cancelling or suspending seven programs and expanding or enhancing others following an assessment of the institution’s academic programs.

Programs recommended for cancellation are horticulture therapy, green building, the minor in theatre and diploma in computing science.

The theatre diploma and the degree in computing science would stay, and the computing science diploma would be maintained if it is relocated to VIU’s Cowichan campus.

The major in music, major in fisheries and aquaculture and heavy equipment operator programs are recommended for suspension, which means a detailed review over the next year to determine if the program should be redeveloped or cancelled. Fisheries and music both have diploma programs administrators want maintained.

The review also recommends that two programs – visual arts and environmental chemistry – be expanded, 20 others enhanced, and the majority (about 80 per cent) be maintained in current form.

David Witty, VIU’s provost and vice-president academic, said the program review came out of the university’s academic plan, which was adopted in 2010 and is designed to inform good decision making.

“We’re in tight financial times, but for me, this is about quality,” he said. “We need to ensure we’re providing quality education.”

Recommendations will go to the senate in the coming months. Cancelled programs would be phased out over time to ensure students are able to graduate.

Witty said of the four recommended for cancellation, horticulture therapy and green building are not currently offered and both the minor in theatre and computing science diploma have low enrolment.

As for the suspension recommendations, the major in music has a high cost per student and there is already a strong diploma program in place; few students are graduating from the fisheries and aquaculture degree program; and the heavy equipment operator program’s equipment costs are so high, the university is not currently in a position to replace equipment as it ages.

“This is an opportunity for redevelopment,” said Witty.

Steve Beasley, executive director of the VIU Students’ Union, said no one wants to see program cuts and less options for students, but the university has gone about the review in an open and transparent way with participation from students and faculty.

“This process is leaps ahead of what the university has been doing, which is cutting things across the board,” he said. “We’re not in favour of getting rid of any programs, but if there have to be cuts because of government underfunding, they should be strategic cuts. It’s not a process that anyone has taken lightly.”

Beasley called the decision to cancel horticulture therapy and green building a more “honest” move by the university because they are what he calls ghost programs – on the books, but never offered.

Don Furnell, fisheries and aquaculture program chairman, said the degree program only graduates four to six students per year, but costs are trivial because the lower-level courses are the same as in the diploma program and there are only a couple of courses strictly for degree students.

If VIU ultimately chooses to cancel the course, diploma students would not have the option to go on to a degree and the department could lose one faculty member and a technician, he said.

Gara Pruesse, chairwoman of the computing science department, hopes there will be an opportunity to revisit the recommendation to cancel the computing science diploma.

In an e-mailed response, she said the diploma requires no courses that aren’t already offered to degree majors and allows students to have some credentials after two years if they cannot do four for financial or other reasons, at no extra cost to the university.

“If the option to enter the workforce in a good job after two years of study is one of the things that attracts students to explore this course of study, why remove that option, even if most of the students choose to continue their studies?” wrote Pruesse. “I think such an action could actually be a blow to our degree program.”

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