Nova Scotia

NSCAD prof says firing president an 'attack' on anti-racism

A NSCAD professor hired to run a pioneering research centre on slavery says the university's decision to fire president Aoife Mac Namara is an attack on "anti-racist principles" and that she should be rehired.

Charmaine Nelson says she came to NSCAD to work with Aoife Mac Namara and wants her rehired

Charmaine Nelson said NSCAD should rehire ousted president Aoife Mac Namara immediately. (Charles Michael)

A NSCAD professor hired to run a pioneering research centre on slavery says the university's decision to remove president Aoife Mac Namara is an attack on "anti-racist principles" and that she should be rehired. 

Charmaine Nelson wrote to Louise Anne Comeau, chair of the Halifax art-and-design university's board of governors, in a letter dated July 2.

NSCAD removed Mac Namara from the position on June 26, a year after she started. The board of governors did not give a reason for her dismissal.

Students and other faculty have also spoken against the move.

Mathew Reichertz, president of the faculty union at NSCAD, said Friday that they're holding a vote of no confidence in the board. He said the polls will stay open for a few days and he expected to get the results next week. 

Mac Namara has not spoken publicly about her departure.

Nelson declined to be interviewed for this story. 

Nelson will head NSCAD's Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery and said she's been asked to join the board as the faculty representative. 

"I was alarmed by the abrupt dismissal of President Mac Namara," she wrote. 

"Frankly, your lack of transparency, refusal to consult and the ongoing lack of information and clarification about your decision-making process is opening up a gulf between the board and NSCAD's constituents, the faculty and staff who do the work and the students and alumni that we have and will continue to serve."

She added that making such a big change while faculty and students are scrambling to figure out how to teach and study during the COVID-19 pandemic made it worse.

"At the same time, the murder of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis Police has sparked global protests against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and police brutality," she wrote.

'An attack' on racial inclusiveness

Nelson praised Mac Namara for her leadership on those issues. 

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

"Whether intentional or not, the board's decisions appear to be not merely an attack on President Mac Namara, but an attack on the greater racial inclusiveness and anti-racist principles that she so courageously championed."

Nelson said as a Black female professor and the only Black art historian in a tenured or tenure-track position in Canada, she carefully considered her decision to leave a 17-year career at McGill University for the NSCAD position. She decided to come specifically to work with Mac Namara, she said.

"Her clear vision and devotion to transforming NSCAD into a space that more directly attracts, recruits, retains, and supports Black, Indigenous, and people of colour constituents, convinced me that I might finally find a supportive academic environment."

She said dismissing the president pulled the rug out from under her, too, and it sent a message that Mac Namara was being removed specifically because of her efforts to "create an anti-racist university." The faculty union has also called on the board of governors to reverse their decision to remove Mac Namara.

Ann-Barbara Graff has been appointed acting president.

NSCAD board responds

Comeau, the chair of the board of governors, said in an email they can't speak about Mac Namara's departure due to confidentiality rules between the board and a former employee.

"I can assure you that the board exercised due diligence and undertook proper process, working closely with our legal counsel," Comeau said. "Board members have a duty to ensure that the mission and vision of NSCAD is fulfilled, key risks are mitigated, and that the president of the university fulfills the requirements of the role."   

Comeau did not address any of the issues Nelson raised in her letter, but said the work on Canadian slavery "will unquestionably lead to important discourse on this vital issue at NSCAD, in Canada, and beyond."

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