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Vancouver Island University may cut the music due to budget troubles

Jazz diploma program, scheduled to start in fall, at risk due to deficit
Vancouver Island University. (News Bulletin file photo)

Jazz and music programs are at risk of playing their final notes as Vancouver Island University deals with a financial crunch.

The university has grappled with multimillion dollar deficits since 2019-20, due to factors including COVID-19, and faces a $9-million shortfall in 2024-25. A new jazz diploma program, scheduled for a fall launch, has seen fewer than 10 applications, VIU said in an e-mail statement, and the bachelor of music, which has suspended intake, has 14 students currently enrolled.

At a March 4 meeting, VIU senate’s planning and priorities committee approved a proposal that would remove both programs, VIU said. The senate will now be asked to approve the proposal and advise VIU’s board of governors to cancel the programs. According to the music department, the plan will go to the senate April 4 and the board on May 28.

The decisions aren’t being taken lightly, said the university, and demand and enrolment are among the considerations. Should the program be cancelled, students “will be fully supported to meet the requirements to graduate with a [bachelor of music degree],” VIU stated.

RELATED: VIU dealing with multimillion-dollar deficits

Brent Jarvis, past music department chairperson, said instructors were “greatly disturbed” by the proposal and said it would be a huge loss for those invested in the local music scene.

“We are hoping the university will hear from as many people as possible who are concerned about this proposal and that the institution will gain a better understanding of the profound impact this will have on the culture and artistic life in this area,” he said in an e-mail.

Carmella Luvisotto, band director of the decorated Wellington Secondary School Jazz Academy and a VIU music program alumna, said having a place to pursue music studies locally has been a boon in Nanaimo. She said it was a huge benefit for her go from high school to post-secondary music studies in Nanaimo before she transferred to the University of Victoria to take music education.

“I think given Nanaimo’s rich history of music programs from elementary to secondary, and just all the musicians that have come out of here, it [would be] a real loss for future students that they can’t further their education locally,” said Luvisotto.

Dirk Heydemann, Nanaimo International Jazz Festival Association vice-president and another VIU music program grad, echoed Jarvis’s and Luvisotto’s sentiments, stating it would lead to musicians migrating to other communities with prominent music scenes. Additionally, he said the association, for example, has a mandate to hire local musicians for the jazz festival.

“I was at the Nanaimo Bar, listening to great jazz and I think it would be safe to guess that at least 50 per cent of the people that were jamming there … were either in the program or past graduates from the program,” Heydemann said. “The cultural spinoff that that program delivers is huge and priceless and the loss of that would have huge implications for our community.”

The association has penned a letter urging VIU to reconsider and Heydemann said plans are in the works for a grassroots campaign to try to save the program, with more information forthcoming.

VIU said the integrated engineering technology diploma, advanced diploma in geographic information systems and master’s in geographic information systems courses are also in the midst of “going through the process of senate and board consideration for cancellation” and the major in economics program was recently suspended. The university is working its way to get back into the black.

“The measures VIU is putting in place with our deficit mitigation plan are all focused on helping VIU continue to meet the needs of learners in our region and continue to deliver the high-quality education that is expected,” the university stated.

RELATED: VIU introduces plan to reduce $20M deficit

Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

I joined Black Press in 2010 and cover education, court and RDN. I am a Ma Murray and CCNA award winner.
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