'We're not closing': ACAD president speaks to students at town hall meeting closed to media

At a town hall meeting held on campus, students from the Alberta College of Art and Design heard from president Daniel Doz that the school isn't going to close this year — but beyond that, it's still a little uncertain.

Media not admitted to town hall meant to address art school's sustainability

ACAD held a town hall meeting Wednesday to reassure students it's not closing. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

Alberta College of Art and Design president and CEO Daniel Doz met with students Wednesday, in an effort to reassure them the school was not about to shut its doors — at least in the short term.

"We gave them a sense of the context, what started all this and how we were moving forward," Dozs told CBC Calgary News at Six on Wednesday. "It's really important to make sure the students are included in the conversation, as we are only at the start of this journey."

The town hall meeting arose out of reaction to a recent report, obtained by the CBC, that described ACAD as "an institution on the verge of unsustainability."

ACAD President and CEO Daniel Doz spoke to students at a town hall Wednesday about the institution's current financial situation, amid fears that the institution faces a financial crisis. (ACAD)

Doz said that in the short term, ACAD is doing well, but the long-term future of the institution isn't so clear.

"Things are really good this year," he said. "But it is our responsibility to look at the future — and one of the key components is really how we manage our finances."

Students want solutions

Second-year ACAD student Meghan Ivany said what she heard in the town hall meeting, which was barred to news media, wasn't good enough to reassure her.

"There's a lack of transparency, that there's a lot of really wishy washy solutions put forward," Ivany said. "Nothing concrete. And we don't have proper access to all the information — we don't know how badly off the school is, so it's really difficult for us to move forward not knowing everything."

Controversy has arisen over the $6.3 million spent on consultant fees and reports over the past five years, which critics on the ACAD faculty say is far too costly for an institution ACAD's size.

"We've never been informed of the costs, or of the brief that those consultants might have been given, or even whether we've had any processes to check outcomes," ACAD faculty association president Natali Rodrigues said, in a previous CBC News story.

"Six million dollars is a huge amount of money for an institution our size — and I am shocked. Deeply, deeply shocked."

'A void of information'

ACAD Students' Association director of leadership and guidance Camille Porcheron said distrust of the college administration is partly due to faulty communications between students and administrators in the past.

"There have been a couple of instances in the past where decisions were made — I don't want to say rashly, but under a very short time constriction, [in] which they had to be nimble — which was fair enough — but students didn't really have an opportunity to sit with those decisions or to have necessarily a very strong voice in what those decisions were when they were made.

"So ACAD's lack of communication in the past has made students very concerned about the situation right now, particularly in a void of information," she said.

Porcheron said that, in her opinion, the town hall meeting helped erode that sense of distrust.

"I think students feel more comfortable after a town hall like this, because it shows ACAD is trying to build that relationship with students and is really trying to get [the] student perspective," she said.

Waiting for government reaction

Doz said the institution's financial instability is the result of a trio of issues: a tuition freeze, a relatively low annual grant from the province, and a complete absence, on the ACAD campus, of the sorts of ancillary revenue that other post-secondary institutions enjoy, such as parking revenue, cafeteria, housing and conference centres.

Throw in the fact that the province is caught in a recession, and it's created a difficult situation for the school, Doz said, particularly given that the government has also frozen tuition fees.

"We had put a proposal together to the government," he said. "They came back to us this summer and said for the moment, because of the financial situation of the province, we can't help you … so you will have to figure out a way to really manage the budget with the resources that we have.

"And so here we are."

While he waits for a government response — they promised one by the holidays — Doz pledges the college's administration will keep the lines of communication open.

"One of the key principles of this undertaking was to be as transparent and inclusive as possible knowing that it creates a climate of uncertainty," he said. "But it was really also to reassure the students: we're not closing. We're not planning on closing their program.

"This is really the beginning," he said, "of how do we handle this?"

With files from CBC Calgary News at Six

With files from Dave Will