The future of fine arts at Queen's University is in limbo after the school decided not to accept new students to its bachelor's program for next fall.
Queen's officials feared resources would be too scarce to sustain an incoming Bachelor of Fine Arts class. Although the program has had full enrolment in recent years, a professor's looming retirement threatened to leave the department short-staffed.
Alistair MacLean, dean of Arts and Science, said a one-year suspension giving the BFA program "time to regroup" is the answer, but gave no guarantees it will restart in 2013. Whether the departing professor can be replaced is also unclear, given that savings from retirements are being used to close the faculty's deficit.
"We have no specific plans to close any programs at the moment, and I'm certainly hoping we won't have to," he said.
In an e-mail, associate dean Gordon E. Smith assured current students they can finish their degrees "with no interruption."
But the suspension raises questions about whether small units like the Queen's Department of Art can compete with their larger brethren when budgets are tight. Fine and visual arts tend to be high-cost offerings needing very low student-teacher ratios, ample space and vast arrays of materials and technology.
Sara Diamond, president of OCAD University, said demand continues to rise at specialized institutions like hers, but some programs at other universities have been losing the battle to hold on to their resources.
"I think we're seeing attrition across the system," she said.
Standalone fine arts faculties like the one at the University of Victoria are generally "a thriving group," said UVic dean Sarah Blackstone. But the political battle has been hard for small programs trying to show their value.
"These kinds of attacks are constant," she said. "I understand fiscal restraint, but I think it's always too bad that the arts are the first place that money is looked for."
At Queen's, Dr. MacLean is trying to reassure the existing fine arts cohort that he is looking for "a satisfactory outcome."
"They're finding it quite upsetting at the moment," he said. "I think they've, as a small program, felt under pressure for some time."