A two-pronged attack on creativity

If you want to see the kind of mind that supports closing arts programs, in this case at Mount Royal University, have a look at two recent opinion articles. One by the Calgary Sun ’s Ian Robinson is a barely coherent demonstration of ignorance and simple-mindedness. The other, by the Calgary Herald ’s Karin Klassen, is an intellectually inconsistent, logically faulty and evidence-averse column that should make her editor blush with embarrassment. Those are the kinds of intellects that celebrate such things. That should scare you.

Although maybe you should be more frightened by the intellects in charge of the province, seeing as they actually make these kinds of decisions. Okay, so Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Premier Alison Redford didn’t order Mount Royal to close its jazz program, its theatre arts program or even reduce its engineering and nursing programs, but they did slash the budgets of Alberta’s post-secondaries to the bone, dropping the blame for the government’s incompetence on the doorstep of higher learning. That should scare you.

I’m almost at a loss for words that a case needs to be made for why we should have robust post-secondary schools with a diversity of programs, including ones that aren’t “commercially viable.” Have we really reached the point where I have to argue for the inherent value of things like philosophy, literature, theatre and music? Do I really have to highlight how important these supposed economic laggards are to our society? That should scare you.

It seems like the government is hell-bent on establishing a bland monoculture of a society, one focused on destruction for profit, rather than creativity and critical thinking for purpose. When a government decides that it wants to start lecturing schools on the types of programs offered, we’re in trouble. The fact that Mount Royal decided to pluck the low-hanging fruit of arts programs is shameful, particularly when it could probably find savings that would prevent any programs from being cancelled altogether. Is this a strategic move on behalf of the school to highlight the true costs of the Conservative cuts? That’s the only palatable theory.

When the provincial budget landed with a thud in March, Alberta’s cultural organizations and workers let out a collective, though quiet, sigh. At least arts and culture wasn’t decimated like in the Klein years. Sure, Epcor Centre operational funding is up in the air, the Student Temporary Employment Program that many organizations rely on for summer help was cut, and so too were the Community Spirit grants, but it could have been worse, right? Well, it is. First we have the Mount Royal cuts, then what? What will the Alberta College of Art and Design do to get its budget under control? What of the University of Calgary? It seems to be fine for the time being, but what if Redford and co. carry on cutting? There’s an arts department at the U of C that doesn’t get enough respect from the administration….

So while the government occasionally offers some meek statement on the need for economic diversification, we see their true colours in this short-sighted budgetary decision and its outcomes. While they continue to dole out hefty subsidies to the oil and gas industry, including lax royalty rates while those companies shatter what’s left of our ecosystems, they cut the very institutions that can contribute to a complete society, one where arts and critical thinking attract great minds, build a better city and retain workers, including those in the soaring energy towers downtown.

If all we’re left with at the end of the day are the kinds of intellects that pen missives celebrating a loss of culture, that should really scare us all.

Government closes program, blames Mount Royal College

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According to an email circulated to Mount Royal University staff by president David Docherty, and obtained by Fast Forward Weekly, the university was forced to close two centres that evaluated internationally educated nurses in Edmonton and Calgary, despite recent claims by minister of health Fred Horne.

In an interview with the CBC, Horne said the decision to close the program was made by the university. In the email from Docherty, however, he writes: “This statement obscures the true nature and depth of our discussion on this issue with ministry officials dating back as early as July 2012.”

Docherty goes on to explain that the provincial government would not commit to long-term funding of the program despite the need to renew multi-year leases on the required spaces.

“We felt it would be fiscally irresponsible to commit to new multi-year leases without a written commitment from the program funder,” writes Docherty. “We informed the government that without their funding commitment we were unable to accept the risk of signing multi-year leases for space for an unfunded program, and for which Mount Royal would be wholly responsible.

“On March 11, the government replied that they accepted Mount Royal’s notice to close the two centres though such notice was never submitted nor desired by our institution. The government further requested a detailed budget for winding down the program, which was due March 18.”

Docherty writes that the university agreed to host the program as “a service to Albertans based on a funding grant from Alberta Health.”

The loss of the program will make it more difficult for immigrants with nursing credentials to work in Alberta.

Howard May, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, could not offer any information on the closing of the program or whether program funding will be reinstated. He reiterated the statement that Alberta Health accepted the closing of the centres “in light of their inability to reach a lease agreement that aligns with the long-term goals.”

May says it’s not the result of a program funding cut and that Alberta Health is looking at alternatives for the program down the road, but he couldn’t confirm whether or not funding exists for the program at this time or will in the future.

“There’s an effort going forward to look at what an alternative might look like, but it’s too early to talk about a timeline for that…. It’s premature at this point.”

The elimination of the program is outside the recent budget cuts imposed on post-secondaries in Alberta. Mount Royal’s overall funding will be reduced by 7.3 per cent.