The recent decision by the Board of Governors of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) to remove Dr. Aoife MacNamara from her position as president is more than a personnel issue, and will have repercussions that will affect the reputation of NSCAD for years to come. The Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT) echoes the sentiment of NSCAD students, faculty and the community at large in calling on the Board to reinstate Dr. MacNamara immediately.
NSCAD is a public, academic institution, built on the cornerstones of collegial governance and academic freedom. To that end, any norm common to ‘dismissals’ in the private sector is inappropriate when dealing with the president of a public institution such as a university, whose mission is to further the public good through the teaching and research of faculty. The Board’s dismissal of Dr. MacNamara, under a cloak of secrecy, not only sullies her reputation by insinuation and innuendo, but also erodes the principles of collegial governance on which our academic institutions thrive. If the Board has just cause to remove Dr. MacNamara, then they should specify immediately what that justification is.
The timing of their decision is also questionable. As many are aware, the current pandemic has required universities to quickly pivot to models of online delivery. This presents special difficulties for a university like NSCAD, which engages in a large proportion of studio-based courses. It is our understanding that President MacNamara was not only aware of these difficulties but was also working consultatively and cooperatively with faculty and students to navigate this very uncertain fall term. We are not alone in our criticism, as evidenced by the Friends of NSCAD petition, public letters of support from students and faculty, and the recent motion of non-confidence in the Board, which was supported by more than 95% of FUNSCAD members. Dr. MacNamara’s work over the last 11 months has clearly earned her tremendous support from faculty, students, and the community at large.
In addition to all that, and in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, when we as a society and a nation are trying to come to terms with, and indeed change the systemic racism within our country, President MacNamara was deeply engaged in actions to mitigate this racism. Her actions, which included the creation of a presidential committee to address institutional racism at all levels of the university, and her push to include the perspective and work of members of Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples in the curriculum, are far more meaningful than the mere words distributed by NSCAD administration just days before the Board removed President MacNamara from her position. Indeed, those words and that memo now come across as disingenuous given the decision to remove President MacNamara from her post.
These complaints against the Board will not simply ‘blow over’. The recent action will harm the reputation of NSCAD and linger in the distrust of both students (who will become alumni), faculty and NSCAD supporters throughout Nova Scotia, creating an uncomfortable climate for years to come. We urge the NSCAD Board of Governors to either show just cause for their actions or rescind their decision. If the Board feels they cannot do either, then they should resign to avoid irreparable damage to NSCAD and its mission.
Dr. Scott Stewart
Dr. Scott Stewart, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Cape Breton University. He is president of the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT), which represents 1,400 faculty and academic staff at 8 universities in Nova Scotia.