Nova Scotia

NSCAD faculty union votes overwhelmingly against board after president fired

An overwhelming majority of faculty union members at NSCAD University in Halifax have voted "no confidence" in the board of governors after the removal of the school's president less than two weeks ago.

Faculty calling for board to explain firing or reinstate former president and step down

NSCAD's faculty union has voted overwhelmingly against the university's board of directors in a non-confidence motion. (Robert Short/CBC)

An overwhelming majority of faculty union members at NSCAD University in Halifax have voted in favour of a no-confidence motion against the board of governors after it fired the university president last month.

The faculty union — which is made up of technicians, full-time and part-time faculty, and librarians — released results of its vote in a news release Wednesday. The union said it conducted the vote by secret ballot this week on a secure online platform.

"Full and part time faculty, librarians and technicians at NSCAD University powerfully expressed their lack of confidence in the Board of Governors with 95.6% of members voting and 96.3% of those voting NO CONFIDENCE in the Board."

NSCAD president Aoife Mac Namara was in the post for less than a year when the board dismissed her on June 26

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

Many students and faculty disapproved of Mac Namara's removal when the news broke two days later, and have started an online petition and letter-writing campaign calling for the provincial government to remove the current board and reinstate the former president. 

Faculty union president Mathew Reichertz said he had been impressed with Mac Namara's work, and he highlighted her apparent commitment to addressing systemic racism, which included launching a formal anti-racism strategy.

The board of governors made the decision to fire Mac Namara in private and has not released an explanation or justification. 

"We cannot and will not get into details on decisions made regarding confidential personnel matters that rest between the board and its president," the board said in a June 30 statement.

In the news release about the non-confidence vote, Reichertz said the board's lack of transparency in its decision to remove Mac Namara "has created a vacuum of information that is destabilizing to the University and destroying our trust in the Board and its ability to responsibly fulfil its fiduciary duties."

Mathew Reichertz is the president of the Faculty Union of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (FUNSCAD). (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Reichertz calls for the board to either provide a "satisfactory explanation" for its decision, or reinstate Mac Namara and step down.

Vote not legally binding

The faculty union doesn't have any formal authority over the board, but Reichertz said he doesn't think that means the non-confidence vote is powerless.

"Votes of no confidence are not legally binding, and so really this is symbolic," he said. "But I think for the board to ignore a symbolic gesture from 95 per cent of the people who work for them … would be irresponsible."

He said he thinks the turnout is especially notable given that it's summer, when many faculty are less engaged with university business, and people are distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The fact that in less than two days we got the result that we got, it's just a very strong message of disappointment in the board's lack of communication and in the board's decision to fire the president," Reichertz said.

Brody Weaver, a student set to enter their fourth year at NSCAD, is among those who would also like to see Mac Namara reinstated.

Weaver said the results of the faculty union vote were reassuring.

"It really shows that we're all on the same page, except for the board of governors," they said.

Other messages of disapproval

Last week, Charmaine Nelson called Mac Namara's firing an "attack on anti-racism." Nelson had recently been hired to lead a pioneering research centre on slavery, and made the comments in a letter to NSCAD board chair Louise Anne Comeau.

Nelson said she came to NSCAD because of Mac Namara, and now wants her rehired.

Charmaine Nelson said Mac Namara was the reason she chose to accept an offer to lead a research centre on slavery at NSCAD. (Charles Michael)

Carrie Allison, an Indigenous artist and part-time faculty member at NSCAD, also penned a letter to the university after Mac Namara's removal to voice her disapproval. Allison, who studied at NSCAD and started teaching there in 2019, addressed her letter Ann-Barbara Graff, the acting president. 

In the open letter, she gave an ultimatum: reinstate Mac Namara, or she would no longer teach at the university.

Allison was supposed to teach this summer but has walked away from the work.

"It's a hard decision to make and I'm really hoping that the board of governors actually steps and starts listening to the people that are calling them out," Allison told CBC's Information Morning earlier this week.

She said Indigenous artists have had to "fight tooth and nail to exist within the arts sphere," and Mac Namara's plans to address systemic racism were a positive step. 

"This pushes us back because we finally had a president who wanted to listen to students, to make connections with community," Allison said.

Interim president appointed

NSCAD also issued a news release of its own on Wednesday, announcing the appointment of a new interim president. Graff, vice-president academic and research, briefly stepped in after Mac Namara was fired, but Sarah McKinnon is now slated to assume the role on July 15.

NSCAD said McKinnon most recently served as academic director at the Glenn Gould School at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where she is the director of academics.

Comeau, the board chair, responded to CBC about the union's non-confidence vote in an email statement, saying in part, "The Board respects the rights of the faculty union members to express their opinion.

"We recognize and thank the faculty and employees for their hard work and commitment to our students, particularly during this shift to new modes of teaching and learning. As a Board, our responsibility is to ensure that governance of the university is effective, and that NSCAD is positioned for long-term success and sustainability." 

Comeau said McKinnon would act as president until a permanent replacement is recruited. 

About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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