Concerned students, parents and community activists gathered at the Janice McTighe Centre on May 10 to voice their worries about the recent suspension of Mount Royal University’s disability studies program. The program was suspended because of the recent $146 million Alberta post-secondary operational budget cut, which left MRU with a projected $14-million deficit for next year.
“We are here today because we are very concerned about the cuts and the resulting implications and impacts on the disabilities community in Calgary,” said Janet Ridsdale, an activist in the disabilities community and mother of a child with autism. “With the Mount Royal program, students not only get the theory background, but they also get the opportunity to work in the community in practicum placements. Once the program is over, they get a job.”
MRU’s disability studies program was the only one of its kind in Calgary, turning out 35 graduates every year. Graduates had a high rate of job placement, as the demand for disability workers in Alberta is strong.
Ridsdale was puzzled that MRU would cancel a program with such a high employment rate for recent graduates.
“Once [students] have completed their diploma program, they are 100 per cent employable, so the program also coincides with the Alberta government’s mandate of full employability,” said Ridsdale.
Marg Roseneder came to the meeting as a concerned parent. Roseneder said she fears that the program’s suspension will have negative consequences for her daughter, a sixteen-year-old girl living with Asperger syndrome.
“I’m here because I’m concerned about the future of my daughter,” said Roseneder. “She has Asperger’s, and without programs like what Mount Royal is offering, there is going to be a lack of qualified people to help people with disabilities be able to deal with life.”
Roseneder said former graduates of the program have helped her daughter live with her disability.
“She’s gone through a life skills course where she’s been able to look after an apartment. Graduates from the program taught her that,” said Roseneder. “These graduates know how to deal with someone with a disability.”
Lindsay McKinnon is a 19 year old who spent the last year upgrading from high school so she could attend the program next year. She was emotional as she expressed disappointment at its cancellation.
“When I heard that it got cut, it broke my heart,” said McKinnon. “I broke down crying. I have a brother who has cerebral palsy — this is why I wanted to get into this program.”
The suspension of the program was announced on April 16. The forensics; music performance and theatre arts; journalism; and perinatal and aging studies programs at MRU were also suspended.
The disability studies program will be phased out in the fall 2013 semester. Current students will still have the option of completing the program.
In an article written for the Huffington Post, Calgary Mayor and former MRU professor Naheed Nenshi condemned the post-secondary education cuts and encouraged administration at MRU to oppose them.
“The provincial government has made a terrible error in its post-secondary education policy — great cities need great universities and great universities need government support,” wrote Nenshi. “I would encourage the leadership of MRU to stand up to the provincial government on behalf of its students, faculty and community, rather than capitulate to the government’s bad policy.”