Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Vancouver Island University to slash programs, including music, in bid to tamp down deficit

Bachelor of music degree and jazz diploma programs are on the table as part of plans to reduce academic department expenditures by 10 per cent and non-academic departments by five per cent

Future students won’t be able to obtain a bachelor of music degree or jazz diploma at ­Vancouver Island University if proposed cuts go ahead.

Other cancellations on the table include classes in ­geographic information systems and a diploma in integrated engineering technology. The moves come after a November report by ­accounting firm KPMG that said VIU could run out of cash in as little as 18 months if its plan to slash expenses by 10% is not successful.

Elissa Miranda, a former VIU student union chair and recent graduate, said she’s heartbroken by the proposed changes.

The discussion about potential cuts left several people in tears during a university senate meeting on Thursday, she said.

The university has proposed reducing academic spending by 10% and non-academic by 5% in the next two fiscal years.

Non-academic departments have been required to reduce expenditures by 5% in the current 2023-24 budget.

Faculty association president Gara Pruesse said she is dismayed at the programs that are on the chopping block. “The jazz program is one of the founding programs at VIU. We have a long tradition of jazz studies.”

Pruesse said she doesn’t know what will happen to music-faculty members. “There will be some music courses — that’s what administration has so far told us … it’s not clear as yet what the department will look like.”

Phil Dwyer, a Juno-winning jazz performer with a decades-long relationship with VIU’s music department, said the school’s music programs are nationally renowned and are an important part of the music community in central Vancouver Island. “This was supposed to be a turnaround year,” he said in reference to the planned September relaunch of the school’s jazz diploma. “It seems like the rug got pulled out from underneath.”

VIU said the decision to cancel its bachelor of music comes after the program paused ­student admission in 2020 and there have been fewer than 10 applications to the jazz diploma program so far.

Dwyer challenged the notion that the jazz program should be judged on the number of ­applicants. “Did they expect that after not accepting new ­students for four years, that out of nowhere they were going to get flooded with applications for a new program? That’s absolutely ludicrous.”

VIU administration did not have someone available for an interview. It issued a ­statement saying that the cuts are not being made lightly and that a number of factors, including program demand, are being ­considered.

“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,” it said, adding that all currently enrolled students will be supported in completing their studies.

Pruesse said she has been told that the university’s expected deficit this year — originally projected to be at $20.2 million in October — has since come down to around $12 million.

The university has incurred a deficit for the past three fiscal years and is among the five B.C. public post-secondary institutions that ran a deficit in the last fiscal year.

Growth in VIU administration has outpaced all of the university’s other departments in the last decade, Pruesse said. “We would like to see those expenditures walked back before VIU decides to cut programs and services to students.”

After this article was first published, VIU communications director Gillian Robinson provided annual salary expenditure figures showing that salaries for the university’s administrative bargaining unit grew from $12.3 million to $18 million in the past ten years, equivalent to a 46 per cent increase.

Faculty association salaries grew from $37.5 million to $53.8 million during the same period for an increase of 43 per cent.

“As you can see, Admin and VIUFA salaries increased at similar rates, contrary to information provided in one of the quotes in your article,” Robinson said.

Miranda, who now works at the student union on university governance issues, said while VIU still has a lot to offer, the uncertainty caused by the cuts has made it hard for her to ­continue to promote her ­university. “I feel like sometimes it’s better to play it safe and maybe go to an institution that isn’t facing a deficit the same way that we are. Everything that drew me as a student to VIU is slowly disappearing.”

Students and professors made presentations to the university senate on Thursday appealing for VIU to stay its hand in the cuts. Many senators said they weren’t provided with enough information to make an informed decision about some of the proposed changes, Miranda said. “We know that cuts need to happen.” she said. “We just want the justification as to why.”

VIU is aiming to return to a balanced budget by 2027. In recent years, revenue has been about $150 million to $170 million annually, while expenses have been about $160 million to $175 million. The university, with a student enrolment of about 9,000, has Nanaimo, Cowichan and Powell River campuses.

Note to readers: This article was updated on March 9 to include a comment from Vancouver Island University regarding salary expenditures and to clarify that VIU’s academic units will begin 10% expenditure cuts in the 2024-25 fiscal year.

[email protected]