Mark Jones, Open Letter to Senate: Six Reasons Why it is Wrong to Freeze BFA Admissions Without Academic Process (4 December 2011)

As emailed to Senators and to Queen’s campus lists, 4 December 2011:

Dear Senators and Colleagues:

The relative lack of genuine, two-way discussion on Queen’s campus following the Globe and Mail’s announcement in early November of our Administration’s decision to freeze admissions to the Bachelor of Fine Arts program is dismaying.  Despite trenchant analyses and objections put forward by members of the student community (e.g., in the Queen’s Journal, 1 Dec., Editorial and Letter); despite 650 signatures on a  petition asking for more careful consideration of the issues governing this and other potential closures; despite a student demonstration; and despite 40 pages of eloquent testimonial to the unique character, academic importance, and larger social (and indeed economic) values of the BFA, Senators and Administration have remained largely silent.  Important questions remain unanswered.

Faculty and students, and particularly Senators, need to take note of the profoundly academic character of the decision to suspend admissions to the BFA program and to recall the provisions of the document the “Purpose and Functions of Senate” (especially points 1 and 8).  Arguing that a question of “resources” gave it a unilateral “managerial” authority under the Board of Trustees, the Administration took this step without bothering to consult either Senate or Faculty Board about the academic aspects of the question.  If Queen’s Senate does not now register its opposition and insist on greater accountability from the Deans and the Principal, this case is sure to become a precedent showing that there is never any need for academic consultation or academic planning at Queen’s.  For if the Administration can claim unilateral authority on any question involving resources, it can claim unilateral authority on virtually anything.  More of us than just the BFA students, alumni, and faculty should be worried.  The BFA is hugely important in itself, and we should not tolerate its sacrifice for what appears to be a weak financial excuse.  But there is also a principle here that affects the future of all programs at Queen’s and the fundamental right of academics (the students and the faculty) to contribute to decisions that will always be both financial and academic.

In what follows I propose six reasons for which it was wrong to freeze BFA admissions without academic process.  For more detail, please follow the links.   My hope is to encourage more general and more two-sided discussion of these issues and more multi-lateral policy-making in the New Year.

1.  Reasons of false economy:  (a) Freezing BFA admissions or closing the program will save so very little money that “resources” are probably not even the real reason for doing it.  (b) Whatever money it does save could easily have been sourced from elsewhere with far less academic impact.  (c)  Turning from the accounting ledger to any larger view of campus and of provincial or national economy shows that Fine Art training is actually well worth the cost:  Fine Art cultures our campus and infuses billions into the economy.  That may be why, as Queen’s counts its pennies, others are re-investing in art education.

2.  The interdisciplinary reason:  Cancelling a vitally interdisciplinary program even while approving an “Academic Plan” that calls for greater  interdisciplinarity does not encourage confidence in the sincerity of our “academic planning.” 

3.  The gender reason (see also Asad Chishti’s photo of the BFA student body).

4.  The academic reason:  Almost 40 pages of testimonials, principally from Queen’s BFA students and alumni, underscore both the academic strengths of Queen’s BFA and the damage done to these strengths by budget cuts and admissions freezes.

5.  The reason of dubious legal authority:  The opinion of the “university lawyer” in Senate in November was that Queen’s administrators have a “managerial” right to make unilateral financial decisions even when those decisions have academic consequences; therefore, she argued, the Dean of Arts and Science had every right to announce the BFA admissions freeze without first consulting Faculty Board or Senate concerning the considerable academic dimensions of that decision.  But Senate’s right to “determin[e] all matters of an academic character that affect the University as a whole” cannot be nullified by the Board’s and Administration’s “managerial” rights to determine financial matters.

Moreover, the “university lawyer” who has now twice advised Senate of its total lack of authority has been hired by the Administration and the Board of Trustees, so it is no surprise that she should affirm that the Administration and Board of Trustees have absolute power.  As the guardians of the academic mission of the University, Senate and the Faculty Boards should have the advantage of independent counsel on a question that so centrally concerns the balance of power between them and the Administration and Board of Trustees; and an impartial authority should then adjudicate between the counsel for the Administration and the Board of Trustees, on the one hand, and the counsel for Senate and the Faculty Boards, on the other.

6.  The advancement reason: This decision has gained Queen’s the wrong kinds of attention all over the country.  The real and palpable loss in academic character signaled by such a decision will more than nullify any gains that Queen’s may hope to have made in burnishing its image through “planning” and “branding” exercises.  If Arts and Science won’t consult with its own Faculty Board and Senate before imposing budget cuts, program closures, and admissions freezes, maybe it could at least be persuaded to consult with the Office of Advancement.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark Jones

This entry was posted in BFA or Fine Arts, Cuts to Programs, Financial Constraints, Open Letters, Process, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Mark Jones, Open Letter to Senate: Six Reasons Why it is Wrong to Freeze BFA Admissions Without Academic Process (4 December 2011)

  1. Anonymous untenured assistant prof. says:
  2. Gary Porter says:

    Dear Mr. Jones

    I agree with you. Excellent article.

    When I read about Queen’s discontinuing its Fine Arts program I was shocked and disappointed with such a boneheaded decision. If an university is striving for recognition it must have a Fine Arts department and of course, fully support it.

  3. anonymous continuing adjunct assistant professor says:

    An excellent analysis, not that it will do much good in today’s corporate climate. At 60, I am growing increasingly cynical, weary and depressed at the stupid and short-sighted things of which humans are capable. Keep up the good fight, however!!

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