1. Reasons of False Economy

This page is a sub-section of the Open Letter to Senate: Six Reasons Why it is Wrong to Freeze BFA Admissions Without Academic Process, by Mark Jones (4 December 2011).

1.  Reasons of False Economy.  The only reason officially cited for freezing BFA Admissions has been “resources.”  But freezing the BFA to pay down the deficit is false economy in three ways: (a) it won’t save Queen’s much (and may not be the real reason); (b) the same money might be saved elsewhere with less detriment to academics; and (c) in the bigger picture, Arts are major contributors to Queen’s culture and to the Ontario and Canadian economy.

Reason of False Economy (a): Freezing BFA admissions will save so little that “resources” may not be the real reason.

“The decision to suspend fine arts admissions [. . .] was a result of budget constraints in the Faculty of Arts and Science, said Dean Alistair MacLean” (QJ, 11 November).

“Going through the budget process for Arts and Sciences, it became clear that there was a question about whether the program had sufficient resources to continue in the future,” he said.

Fine arts is one of the more expensive programs at Queen’s, MacLean said.

“They require particular space and particular resources to be able to teach appropriately.”

MacLean said the problem with the University’s budget is that it has a structural deficit that incurs severe costs for departments and faculties.

“In a normal year, the revenues for the faculty [of Arts and Science] go up by $1 million and our costs go up by $2 million. One of the things we’re also battling at this moment is the University deficit,” he said.

The $1 million revenue increase each year comes from increases in fees and student enrolment, while the $2 million deficit is a result of inflation, costs of materials, heating and lighting and increased salaries, benefits and pensions, MacLean said. (ibid.)

At the same time, the Dean “said the suspension won’t affect professors in the department.  ‘The professors will continue to teach their courses.’”  And no one is talking about changing their  “particular space and particular resources,” either.

This makes it hard to see how cutting admissions to Fine Arts will in fact save money.

Though no retirements are mentioned in the FAS memo sent to students on 9 November, or in the Queen’s News Centre’s announcement of 11 November, a CBC report of 11 November reports that the “dean of arts and science blamed a retiring teacher and a tight budget.”

Is it then, merely a matter of replacing a retiring instructor?  According to sources in Fine Art, the impending retirement is not even a full position, but a half-time instructor, and will not take place till summer 2014.  And hiring an adjunct professor to teach a single course would suffice to keep the program open and would likely cost under $25,000 a year.  As Jan Winton, the Undergraduate Chair in Fine Art, commented on the “no closures without process” petition:

Closure on financial grounds?  In this case for the BFA Program to continue, no need to close first-year admissions AT ALL: it would cost Queen’s a grand total of an adjunct for a 1.5 course load each year.  (Jan Winton, 22 November)

Savings on this scale are not going to put a scratch in Queen’s deficit, and when weighed against 30 enrolments they do not add up at all.

Moreover, the Deans’ promise “that Fine Art students currently enrolled in the program will be able to complete their degrees without disruption” (QJ, 9 November 2011) implies that the studios will continue to be maintained.  So if faculty are not cut, and if the building-maintenance and utility expenses are not cut, where exactly are the savings?

The weakness of the “resources” explanation lends credibility to rumours that the real reasons for the freeze lie elsewhere.  But if so, why is it presented as a “resources” issue?  This could be a matter of legal positioning:  for the Administration and its lawyer argue (see Reason 5, below) that the Board’s authority over financial matters gives Administration absolute “managerial” authority where “resources” are at issue.  Claim that it’s about resources, and you don’t need to consult about the academic issues.

Reason of False Economy (b):  The same money could be saved elsewhere with less impact on academics. 

The theory that Administration has unilateral authority over financial decisions, as a “managerial” power delegated from the Board (see Reason 5, below) gives it a strong incentive to present any potentially unpopular decision as financially based, for this theoretically frees it of the obligation to advise and consult. And where Queen’s budget is more or less opaque to all but Administrators, it is easy for Administration to plead financial necessity in any given instance.

But there are always financial trade-offs.  If Queen’s cannot afford to replace a half-position in Fine Art for under $25,000, how can it afford to pay, in the same year as it pleads this, $100,000 to a Toronto ad agency for its new (to Queen’s) “brand idea” (“the spirit of initiative”)?  And who gets to prioritize these expenditures?  And how can they do that without considering the effects on academics?  How can the Administration that cannot afford $25,000 a year to continue a program, afford to create a new provost and deputy- and vice-provosts, and to advertise still other new administrative positions, such as the new “Executive Director” (Position no. 32730 001) in the Office of the Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs (salary $90k to $120k, closing date 1 Dec. 2011)?

Where the budgetary tradeoffs are not transparent, the Administration can designate virtually any decision necessary for “resource” reasons while continuing to disburse money elsewhere.  That is why due process, transparency, and academic input are necessary:  to ensure that the financial tradeoffs are not always to the advantage of administration and at the cost of academics.

Reason of False Economy (c):  The bigger picture.

It must be questioned, moreover, whether the narrow accounting perspective is not entirely missing something bigger.  The testimonials to the BFA are all over this issue. BFA students and faculty make huge contributions to the culture of Queen’s through events like Cezanne’s Closet and the Union Gallery.  “Canadian society (not to mention Queen’s) will be much the poorer by losing such a valuable and reputable asset – to put it in business terms”  (Andrew Gregg, 17 November).  Even supposing that Fine Art were on balance a debit to the university in dollar terms, aren’t some cultural and educational functions worth paying for?

Outside of Queen’s, it is widely recognized how much Arts contribute to the general economy.  More than one of the BFA testimonials invoke Steve Jobs, who “credited taking an art class in calligraphy as the single most important and creative event in his professional life” (Alamogordo, 10 November).  Another supporter of the BFA recalls facts from the promotional drive, last February, of the Ontario government’s own Media Development Corporation:[1]

A couple facts on “Creative Industries” contributions to Ontario’s economy:

  • contributes $12.2 billion annually to Ontario’s GDP
  • contributes more to Ontario’s GDP than the Energy Industry, Agriculture & Forestry, as well as Mining
  • nationally, it is forecasted to grow… not slow (unlike the total GDP in 2008)
  • approximately 1.1 million Canadians jobs rely – directly or indirectly – on the industry
  • = 7.1% of Canada’s total workforce….

The Arts are not “useless” programs.  (Corey Snelgrove, 21 November)

Just after the BFA freeze was announced, Queen’s News Centre reported that “A resolution drafted by a Queen’s University professor to make arts education accessible to all students around the world was unanimously adopted by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).”  A week later, the European Union “proposed the world’s largest-ever cultural funding program under the title Creative Europe. The initiative, which would disperse a projected €1.8 billion ($2.4 billion) between 2014 and 2020 [. . .] is part of a larger Pan-European goal to stimulate the economy through cultural enterprise” (Artinfo, 24 Nov. 2011).

So, others must see something Queen’s doesn’t see.  And as Queen’s cuts its Fine Art program to save a few thousand a year, others are ramping up.  Waterloo has a new Fine Arts campaign:  “come here + go anywhere!”   Simon Fraser is advertising “BCreative,” an inaugural “conference/showcase focused on British Columbia’s creative economy.”  As their brochure explains:

They have met with members of the artistic community and representatives of some of BC cultural industries as well as with the digital media sector, the business sector and city officials. They held some brainstorming sessions last spring and, on the foundation of the feedback received, drew up the attached proposal for BCreative 2012 an inaugural conference/showcase designed to bring together government, business, the creative sector, and researchers.

The organizers in B.C. invoke the information concerning the multi-billion-dollar value of the “creative industries” to Ontario’s economy (see note 1, below)—information that seems to have escaped people at Queen’s.

What do Waterloo and Simon Fraser see that Queen’s doesn’t?

[1] See the OMCD promotional brochure and website, both from Feb. 2011.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s