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Theatre, motion picture arts programs cut by cash-strapped Thorneloe University

Federated university said financial problems caused by changes to how it is funded by Laurentian, 10% tuition cut mandated by province
Ernie Checkers Theatre - Thorneloe University sized
(File)

Thorneloe University's theatre arts and motion picture arts programs will no longer operate after the end of this school year due to a financial crunch at the school.

Financial pressures stem from funding decisions made by both the province and Laurentian University, said Thorneloe University president John Gibaut, speaking to Sudbury.com on Thursday after the program cuts were announced.

Along with Huntington University and the University of Sudbury, Thorneloe University is a federated university with Laurentian University. 

Thorneloe is located on the Laurentian University campus, and its students are issued Laurentian degrees.

Gibaut said Thorneloe has been operating in a deficit position since June of last year for the first time in its history. 

Despite several requests, Gibaut refused to disclose specific deficit numbers, but said they amounted to about a third of Thorneloe's overall budget.

“Last June, our board of governors made a decision for a one-time deficit budget, the first in Thorneloe's history,” Gibaut said.

“In facing the next fiscal calendars, the board of governors realized that a complete balanced budget would have wiped out just about most of our programs. And so rather than doing that, we decided to work to that balanced budget incrementally. This year we had to do that with the regretful decision to close two of our departments.”

He said cutting the two programs won't even fully take care of Thorneloe's deficit, but will rather cut it by about a third.

Gibaut said one of the reasons is the province's decision last year to mandate a 10-per-cent post-secondary tuition cut, meaning lost revenues for schools.

Laurentian in turn has changed the way it funds its federated universities. 

Gibaut said the province funds universities by the number of students who are enrolled as taking majors in specific programs, and Laurentian started funding federated universities in the same way.

But Gibaut said the problem with that is Thorneloe doesn't actually have a lot of students enrolled as majors in its programs — they mostly take its courses as electives or as a minor.

Then there's the impact of COVID-19. Laurentian also announced this week it is facing deficits due to the pandemic and previous provincial budget cuts.

(Sudbury.com editor Mark Gentili will have a live chat with Laurentian president Robert Haché at noon today, so be sure to tune in).

Gibaut said it has been estimated that enrolment will be down next fall at all Ontario universities by as much as 25 per cent among domestic students and 75 per cent for international students.

With Thorneloe being funded by Laurentian, anything that impacts Laurentian also impacts Thorneloe, he said.

Gibault said administration is currently in the process of having “difficult conversations” after the cuts with the 10 faculty members who teach in the theatre arts and motion picture arts programs.

He said about 25 students are enrolled as majors in the two programs. “We are just so sorry that this has happened,” Gibaut said. “We also assure our students that Laurentian will look after them and will see to their degrees.”

Discussions are ongoing with Laurentian University to see how students who are currently enrolled in Theatre Arts and Motion Picture Arts will be able to complete a Laurentian degree. 

Impacted students should contact the dean of the faculty of arts for more information at jdickinson@laurentian.ca.

He said the cut of these two programs is a “sad loss” for the theatre community as well as Greater Sudbury's film industry.

“This isn't a decision that any university ever wants to make,” Gibaut said. 

“It was not made lightly by Thorneloe. It buys us time next year to continue to work on the deficit … so that the other programs that we have offered for the last 60 years almost in Sudbury, we can continue to maintain that presence at Laurentian and Sudbury.”

The Laurentian University Faculty Association put out a press release after news of the cuts were made public Thursday.

LUFA said it “deeply regrets” the federated university’s decision, and is calling upon Laurentian University to step in and save the theatre arts and motion picture arts programs.

“We are saddened and dismayed by this announcement,” said Laurentian faculty association president Fabrice Colin, in the press release. “These two programs contribute greatly not only to the university community, but to the vibrancy of our artistic communities in Sudbury and the Northeastern Ontario region.”

The union said there are more than 50 full-time students in the programs — their numbers differ from those provided by Gibaut — while hundreds of others take courses as electives. 

The programs are run by two full-time professors as well as a number of part-time instructors.

“Where will these students go?” Colin asked. “They were following their dreams and enrolled in good faith, and now the carpet has been pulled out from underneath them.”

However, Thorneloe’s finances have been crippled since last year when Laurentian unilaterally announced sweeping changes to the funding formula that resulted in a huge shortfall in Thorneloe’s funding, said the press release.

“This disaster has been in the making for some time, and the Laurentian Board of Governors cannot hide from the fact that it was the prime instigator,” said Colin. “It is imperative for Laurentian to intervene to save these programs, which are of enormous value to the university’s mission.”

Colin said LUFA will be a partner in a community campaign to save the programs.



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