Shutting down Red Deer College’s music diploma program had nothing to do with the switch to university status, but was based on falling enrolment, the college president says.
The decision, announced on Thursday, was met with emotional reactions and criticism from many of RDC staff and students.
“We knew it would be difficult. This is probably the most difficult decision we have ever made because of the value and experience” of the impacted faculty, said president Joel Ward.
He was referring to the three full-time music facility members who were let go, each after about 17 years at RDC. As well, the contracts of two sessional instructors were not renewed.
According to RDC’s faculty association president Ken Heather, the jobs of several part-time music department staff are still hanging. “They are still waiting to hear what will happen.” The second year of the program will continue in the fall, allowing students now taking music to get their diplomas, but no new students will be accepted.
Dwindling enrolment — only about 10 students in the first year of the program and five to eight in the second year — made the program unsustainable, said Ward. He added this decline was going on for more than 20 years. A previous attempt to shutter program in 1997, was reversed by the college board after much community protest.
There’s no chance of a reprieve now. Realistically, Ward said RDC can’t compete with Grant MacEwan University’s music program, which received heavy investment and is popular with students across the province. He added the province is not in favour of spending additional resources so RDC can duplicate an already successful program available elsewhere.
He noted music will continue at RDC in other forms: Non-credit conservatory classes, RDC community bands, and some elective courses that will be offered to students in other disciplines. Ward is not sure what those will look like yet.
Heather described Thursday’s news as “a total shock,” saying “it was done very quickly and quietly” after the launch of the new computer animation program, starting this fall.
With RDC officially becoming a university, Heather said music department staff had thought their program would be changing, instead of being cut.
Laid-off piano instructor Dale Wheeler, said no staff were consulted before the program was shut down. He went into the morning meeting still thinking it would be “reinvented” to try to boost student enrolment.
Although Wheeler now plans to do more adjudicating and tutoring, he feels disappointed a unique, long-term program is ending — depriving Central Alberta students of a chance to learn music for credit, close to home.
He noted the irony, since the point of RDC becoming a university was to allow young people to gain a broader education within the region.