DEAR ADMINISTRATION

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AN OPEN LETTER FROM A NSCAD STUDENT TO THE ADMINISTRATION

Dear NSCAD Administration, and other concerned parties,

I’m saddened that we are again in a strike situation.

I’m saddened because I really don’t believe that it had to come to this.  I’m saddened because the things that you won’t compromise on seem to me to indicate a lack of understanding about the way the school functions and what makes it a great place, both as a learning environment for students, and as a working environment for our staff and faculty.

But in addition to being saddened by all of this, I’m frustrated, and I’m angry.

I’m angry because whatever efforts you might be making to work together with faculty are not apparent to me.  I’m angry because we could be working together in this instead of against one another.  I’m angry because once again we’re faced with a strike interrupting our education.  And I’m angry because of the issues that are holding up this negotiation.

Limiting part time faculty access to the school is ridiculous.  I don’t know where this stipulation is coming from so I can’t address whatever your reasons may be for wanting it included, but let me tell you why I think it’s a terrible idea:

First and foremost I see it as a way of marginalizing the part time faculty.

To deny them access to the school feels like in some way exiling them from the NSCAD community.  It diminishes them.

It also means that if their practice involves use of our facilities (as it does with the Printmaking faculty) they are denied the use of the equipment needed.  For example there isn’t a print shop in the greater Halifax are (and possibly Nova Scotia) that has a lithography or intaglio press.  If our part time faculty can’t use the presses it’s an affront to them.  It says that we don’t respect their artistic practices.  It also says that it’s not important to us that our faculty have artistic practices.

It’s also problematic for students for whom faculty are resources.  One of the problems with the ratio of part time to full time faculty is that the part timers are not around as much, and therefore students don’t have the same amount of access to them outside of class time.  But to limit their access in this way serves only to exacerbate that problem.  And also to widen the divide between full time and part time faculty.  Instead of making part time status an on-ramp to full time status (which seem the more ‘sustainable’ way), you’re effectively classifying them as second-class citizens.

I don’t know what your reasons are for this move, but I see it as divisive, and I have a hard time extrapolating anything positive from it.  Frankly it seems underhanded, as the only real explanation available is that it opens up a loophole somewhere down the road.

Another thing that you are asking for that seems incredibly problematic to me is that you would like to be able to essentially fire tenured professors.

Again, I think this speaks to a lack of understanding what an arts institution is and what it can be.

I realize that such a move would give you more power over the direction of the institution, but the type of power it confers is problematic for me, and for NSCAD.  I think it is vital that the faculty, who are the artists who make up the heart of the institution, be able to speak out.  I don’t mean that sentimentally.  I mean that they are what makes our institution world class.

I think it’s a misconception that administrators can or should decide the proper direction for an art school.  It is the artists, who are workers in that field, who are part of the world of art, who have the sense of how to make an institution relevant and shape it, through it’s programs, into what it needs to be.

That is not to say that the administration doesn’t have an important role to play in shaping the future of the institution, but it can only do so through interacting with the people who ARE the institution.  Conversation between the faculty and the administration is paramount. But if you take away the protection that tenure brings, then we’re left with faculty who don’t dare get too involved; who don’t dare stand up for the things they believe are important because one by one they can be picked off.

You simply cannot have a vibrant or relevant art school without allowing for the faculty (who bring that vibrancy and relevance) to have a voice.

I know that there are fiscal considerations here, but it’s no good to us to have the empty shell of a once excellent art school left, if the spirit has been extinguished.

As for the non-replacement of retired faculty…  I worry about this a lot.

I know you’re looking for ways to … “minimize the faculty footprint…”

First of all that’s terrible phrasing.  I know you mean cutbacks, but minimizing the faculty footprint is almost worse.  You mean it monetarily, no doubt, but I don’t get any sense that you realize what that “footprint” means to the rest of us – it means the impact faculty have on our institution and our education.  When you talk about minimizing the faculty footprint, all I hear is watering down my education.

“Minimizing the faculty footprint…” is a way of cutting back faculty with no visible limitations.  How many positions per year can disappear in this way?  Will there be a committee to determine if a vacancy that has been created by faculty retiring requires replacement?

What if a department has two full-time faculty nearing retirement age?  Does that department disappear because you don’t want to replace those positions?

Do you really not understand the lack of security you’re imposing here?

When you refuse to put into place measures that mean that departments have at least a certain number of full-time faculty this non-replacement clause is extremely problematic.

Maybe you have better intentions than that.  Maybe you’re not insisting on this measure as a way of chopping entire programs or gradually deleting faculty positions until these programs simply can’t run anymore or are deemed ineffective.  I hope so.  But I don’t see how.

When you want to:

  • get rid of faculty’s right to speak up
  • deny them access to our school
  • insist on being able to cut positions with no regard to what those particular positions mean to the structure of the school
  • refuse to address minimum staffing levels

is it any wonder that you’re having difficulties coming to terms in negotiations?

I’m not sure you understand how much student support our faculty has.  We don’t see this as a separate issue divorced from our education and us.  We see this potential strike as very much about the level of education you’re prepared to commit to.  We see this as our fight.

I know you have external pressures and that cutting costs is an essential part of your job.  But I would like you to consider the ways you’re planning on gutting our institution.  Being left with a Brand Name is not enough for us.  NSCAD is a world-class institution, and we want it to remain that for years to come.

Our faculty are what makes our institution special.  They are why we came here, and they are why we’re fighting for our school.  Because they’ve made it a place that we care about deeply.   Our very identities as artists and as people have been forged here.  And our faculty are the people who have fostered this growth.  They have challenged us, pushed us, encouraged us…

They are the foundation our institution, and if you try to minimize that footprint without careful consideration of how to do it, or when and where it may be appropriate, the whole place will fall apart.

Please show us that you understand these issues.  Please show us that you understand the value of NSCAD as an arts institution.

To be clear, no one wants a strike.  I only have a few months left in my degree.  I’m not interested in having any of my remaining time taken from me in this way.  But I will not be crossing that picket line and I think it would be a mistake to suppose that the faculty are not well supported by the students.

We stand in Solidarity with Unit 1.

Sincerely,

Thea Reid

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