Updated: Oct 23, 2020
When I heard that RDC had terminated its brand-new Bachelor of Arts in Film, Theatre and Live Entertainment degrees, it took me off guard. For several years, going back to when I was still a student in 2017, the theatre faculty had been working long hours behind the scenes on something big: a four-year degree that would prepare students for a career in the entertainment business, especially in film. This program would train both actors and technicians of all kinds. It would utilize the Arts Centre complex, which contains some of the finest fine arts training facilities in Canada. With RDC's transition to university status on the horizon, it seemed like the perfect moment to plant the seed for a game-changing plan.
The new program officially began in the fall of 2019.
Eight months later, the RDC administration pulled the plug.
For those of us who suspected a decision made in bad faith, there were precedents. Back in May 2018, the entire Music Diploma faculty was summoned to their associate dean’s office for what they thought was a workload meeting. Once the door was closed, these instructors were informed that they were fired. RDC terminated the Music program on the spot, and proceeded to lock the Music faculty out of their work computers and phones, like they were a bunch of criminals. Some of those people had worked in the Arts Centre for decades. I knew many of them.
Clearly, RDC could treat its employees with contempt when it suited them. The fact that they would cancel a quality program in a quality setting, in such a callous fashion, was shocking at the time, but it also foreshadowed what might come in the future.
The Arts Centre, designed in 1981. It includes a concert hall, a fully equipped "black box" theatre, drama, dance and music rehearsal halls and rooms, classrooms, a costume lab, costume storage, a scene shop, a fully-equipped fly tower, and more. It is currently empty and unused.
Back in February, the Alberta government announced a massive review of post-secondary funding across the province. Soon after this review began, the government "delayed" RDC’s transition to university status until the completion of the review.
At the end of April, RDC announced the "suspension" of the following courses:
- Bachelor of Arts in Film, Theatre and Live Entertainment (Acting Major)
- Bachelor of Arts in Film, Theatre and Live Entertainment (Live Entertainment Major)
- Media Studies and Professional Communication Diploma
- Adult and Higher Education Instructor Post-Diploma Certificate
- eLearning Instructor Post-Diploma Certificate
- Instrumentation Engineering Technology Diploma*
*this program was directly impacted by Covid-19, as international students could no longer attend classes. Out of all the "suspended" programs, only this Diploma is expected to return when travel restrictions are eased.
To an outsider, this may seem like just another case of cost-cutting. It's not that simple. The college had just launched its new theatre degree programs in 2019, only eight months earlier. There were already students in the new degree program. The college evaluated the new programs prior to launching them, and decided they were worthwhile. They invested thousands of dollars and hours into creating the new degree programs. They accepted students to the new program. Then they changed their minds.
"These programs are not being suspended due to Covid-19 or budget implications," RDC President Peter Nunoda told RDnewsnow.com. He went on to say, "When enrolments are low or declining, it is always our responsibility to make decisions that will support RDC's long-term sustainability."
Guy Pelletier, Chairman of RDC's Board of Governors in April, told the Red Deer Advocate "low enrolment is the main reason for this cut," although he did admit how the college had faced "two years of government funding reductions."
It is up to you whether you take these statements at face value.
After the April announcement that the new degree programs were cancelled, local papers ran some brief obituaries. Many alumni reacted with horror and dismay. You can imagine the responses on social media. Alumni even created a petition to reinstate the theatre programs. Administrators dismissed this petition. Honestly, if you’re prepared to fire people, you’re prepared to ignore a petition by former students, whose tuition payments are already in the bank.
It was also early in the Covid quarantine, and most people had a lot of other things to worry about in their lives. It wasn’t possible to have a sit-in at RDC, because RDC was closed.
The Gary W. Harris Centre, constructed at a cost of over $88 million, and completed during a time of government funding reductions, in time for the 2019 Canada Winter Games. This "awe-inspiring" facility is now home to the RDC athletic programs.
Given how the government had delayed (as in, stopped) RDC’s university transition process pending review, I find it hard to believe that the government's actions did not weigh on the administration's decision process. They went to their program list and chose five programs that they could push overboard to balance their books and keep the government off their back. More have been disposed of since.
So why not just say so? Anyone can make a guess, and here's mine: how likely is it the RDC administration will criticize the government's decisions, when they're anxiously waiting on the government to approve their university status (and funding)?
By the way, doesn’t low enrolment mean less tuition payments, and therefore, isn't it essentially a budgetary problem? Isn’t low enrolment the equivalent of being financially unsustainable? Claiming that the cancellations are not budget-related seems bizarre.
Furthermore, if this truly isn't a short-term money-saving solution, then cancelling these programs is an even worse decision than it seems at first.
I'll come back to this.
Back in May 2018, on that Thursday when RDC summarily dismissed their Music faculty, ambushing their employees in a staff meeting with the news that they were terminated, the justification they provided for this action was "low enrolment" in the Music program. The Music faculty agreed that yes, this was a problem. However, the faculty pointed out that at no point prior to that final meeting did the college ever approach them and ask them to help create a solution. The teachers are the people who know the subject, the industry, and most importantly, the students, better than anybody else. The administration never included them in a process to solve the problem. When would it have been a good time to huddle with them and make some adjustments: maybe six months earlier? A year earlier? Two years?
How about never? That's what actually happened.
Imagine you're in a long-term relationship with somebody. You spend years together. You accomplish great things and grow together. Perhaps you even decide to get married.
Then, one day, your spouse makes a date with you. You meet at a booth in a nice coffee shop where you've spent many hours on countless dates before. You arrive and take your seat. Maybe you flip open a menu.
Your spouse pushes their ring across the table. "It's over," they say.
"It's...over?" You're incredulous.
"It's over. This just isn't working for me."
"It's not working for you?" You process their words slowly. What's happening?
You offer to work on things.
"Nope, there's nothing to work on. It's over," they tell you. "I want you out of the house right now. I've already had the locks changed. I don't want you going through our things. I don't want you stealing."
You're in shock. Is this the same person you've known for all these years?
"But...I need to get my favourite coffee mug."
"Too bad. The locks are changed. I told you, this is over."
Ask yourself: what are the odds that your partner really wanted to save the relationship?
Question: what was the first degree to be offered at Red Deer College?
See below for the answer.
Low enrolment in the Music Diploma, and low enrolment in the FTE degrees. Why weren't people signing up? The 2015-2017 theatre classes had strong numbers. The 2016-2017 theatre classes had strong numbers.
As the faculty upgraded the programs from diploma to degree, a single year gap was taken, 2018-2019. During that year, no new acting or tech students came in, as the staff concentrated on getting ready for the Fall Term of 2019. This meant that in both the Fall of 2017 and the Fall of 2018, no new students could be accepted.
So for nearly two years, it seemed as if RDC's fine arts programs were gone. If you were an outsider, it really looked as if the Arts Centre was already dead. This would have been an excellent time for RDC to spread the word that big new things were on the way.
Remember the 2019 Canada Winter Games? Remember how athletes, trainers, volunteers, spectators, supporters, sponsors and media from across Canada converged on Red Deer to watch the games? Remember how RDC built a huge new sports complex for the Winter Games? That would have been an excellent time to start marketing their new programs to Red Deer and the whole country. Where was the marketing blitz for the programs the college offered? This would have been an outstanding opportunity to preview them.
I can't tell you how many times I spoke to people who didn't know RDC had a film or theatre program until I told them the new one starting up in Fall 2019. The community as a whole did not know.
Oh yeah, and the faculty weren't included in a marketing and promotional plan for the new program.
Did you hear any radio ads?
Did you see anything on TV?
Did RDC representatives visit local senior high school drama programs to promote their new program? Local high schools are the primary source of applicants for such programs, because they are, well, local.
I know that marketing is far from a science, but surely it's not an arcane mystery, especially when you've already had to cancel programs and fire teachers because people don't know about your program and aren't signing up. You would think an institution would want to protect its investment by making sure people knew about their product. Guess who would know how to market the FTE degrees? That's right, the faculty. But they were left out of it, right up until the day in April 2020 when they learned their jobs were gone too.
RDC's modern trades wing, completed a decade ago during better economic times.
What exactly did Red Deer lose when these program