Nova Scotia

Students, faculty at NSCAD call for greater board transparency after president's firing

Students and faculty at NSCAD University are calling for greater transparency over the recent firing of the university president, Aoife Mac Namara. 

Aoife Mac Namara was removed as president on Friday

Aoife Mac Namara began her term as NSCAD president in August 2019. (The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design)

Students and faculty at NSCAD University are calling for greater transparency over the recent firing of the university president, Aoife Mac Namara.

Mac Namara started her term last August and was abruptly let go on Friday after a board meeting on Thursday. The board of governors announced the move to the university community in an email Sunday. 

"Ordinarily, we would have advised members of our community in a more timely manner," the board's email said. "However, we are respectful that this is a personnel matter and our priority was communication with Dr. Mac Namara." 

Board of governors vice-chair Sean Kelly referred CBC to the statement, saying he wasn't able to comment further on Mac Namara's removal. 

This comes at a time when the university is handling the pressures of moving teaching online due to COVID-19 for both the spring and fall term. 

"The president, in our opinion, was doing a very good job at navigating what is just a crazy situation," said Mathew Reichertz, the president of FUNSCAD, the faculty union at the university. 
Mathew Reichertz is the president of the Faculty Union of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (FUNSCAD). (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Reichertz said he feels it is "incumbent" upon the board to explain more about their decision to let Mac Namara go at such a critical time for the university.

"The way she was doing a good job was being collaborative and being transparent and being communicative. So when she was fired without any warning at all, and now without any real reason, it just doesn't make sense."  

Reichertz says the school has done well in recent years after a 2013 financial crisis, though it is highly dependent on hitting a certain level of enrolment. 

The firing also comes as Mac Namara had just put forward a plan to address systemic racism at the university, and as the university continues to deal with issues at its outdated Granville Street property, which a 2013 report called "unfit for function. "

There are two student representatives and two faculty representatives on the 22-member board of governors. 

First-year student Megan Hulan said she doesn't feel that arrangement is sufficient to properly represent the interests of the student body. Many of the other board members, including the chair and vice-chair, are members of Halifax's business or legal community. 

"Their meetings are in private. They do not post even their meeting minutes publicly. They're meeting by private video conference where students cannot have a voice," she said. "It has led to a lot of frustration and a lot of questions from the student body." 
Megan Hulan is a first-year student at NSCAD University. (Megan Hulan)

A group called Friends of NSCAD has created a petition, which Hulan supports, asking for the provincial government to remove the board and reinstate Mac Namara. 

"This is a decision that was made completely in private. It was made completely out of view of the student body and there was no indication that proper HR protocols were followed and no indication of their motivation or of what factors went into this decision," she said. 

DeRico Symonds is a Halifax community advocate who came to know Mac Namara through projects they began together. 

Mac Namara reached out to Symonds to learn more about the experience of the Black community in Halifax and how systemic racism has disproportionately affected Black citizens.
DeRico Symonds is a Halifax community advocate. (CBC)

"She was interested to learn more about the things that I was doing and hear from my perspective," Symonds said. 

"I thought it was amazing and pretty progressive of a university president to reach out and actively wanting to know those things."

Some of the ideas Mac Namara and Symonds were collaborating on included making a 50-seat theatre at NSCAD available to the Black community for storytelling, or making microphones, speakers and other equipment available to Black students in the school system who are being disadvantaged by COVID-19. 

"I was disappointed to see that she was let go," Symonds said, adding that the firing had ended some budding relationships between Mac Namara and the community.

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca

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