2. The interdisciplinary reason

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).

2.  The interdisciplinary reason:  As the “Queen’s University Academic Plan,” just approved by Senate (22 November 2011), rightly observes, “Interdisciplinarity has been prescribed for years—at Queen’s and elsewhere—with good reason.”  The “Academic Plan” reminds Queen’s that SCAD was calling for greater “Interdisciplinary and Inter-Unit Cooperation” back in 1996, and that interdisciplinarity “is prominent in the recommendations of both Principal Woolf’s Where Next? and the Academic Writing Team’s Imagining the Future.[1] 

“In practical terms,” advises the “Academic Plan,” “Queen’s might do well in this area by building upon strengths it has [. . .] its innovation should be less a matter of dissolving or amalgamating disciplinary departments than of sending more emissaries (both students and faculty) between them” (p. 28).

It is ironic, to say the least, that in the same session Queen’s Senate (a) unanimously approved this “Academic Plan” and (b) heard the Dean (who voted to approve the plan) justify freezing BFA admissions.  For the BFA is one of those “strengths” the university already “has” in interdisciplinary terms, a program that is vitally interdisciplinary in itself and that contributes to interdisciplinary work in other units.   This is attested repeatedly in the “Testimonials for Queen’s Fine Arts (November 2011)”:

  • Of the academic importance of this distinguished programme in Fine Arts I have no doubt. My own interdisciplinary course in modernist literature has been greatly enriched in the past by the vitality of the fine arts community on this campus. Future versions of it will be impoverished by this move, as will many similar interdisciplinary efforts across the university. I regret not having been given the opportunity to submit a case for the academic value of this programme before this decision was made and I implore the Faculty of Arts and Science to reconsider its decision. (Patricia Rae [Professor, Department of English], 17 November)
  • The Fine Arts courses I took as an undergraduate student in Biology have served me well. I can not imagine becoming half as successful in my science career without the experience learnt in non-science courses. Please reconsider this decision.  (Nuno M. Fragoso, ArtSci ’95, MSc ’98, 18 November)
  • Personally, I chose Queen’s BFA over other Universities and Art Schools because Queen’s provides serious, intensive studio practices as well as the opportunity for students to engage in other academic areas like the sciences–unlike the fine arts program at U of T or Western, where only fundamental art classes are offered. Queen’s BFA students are producing artwork at the artist level. They are empowered with the skills, knowledge, and experience to go on into art conservation, art therapy, and many other fields. Thus, the fine arts program is unique as it produces academically inclined artists.  (Anonymous, 18 November)
  • As if the arts weren’t already under fire in this country! Queen’s has the potential to offer the best fine arts program in the country – a top notch regional art museum with significant Canadian and international collections, the ONLY art conservation program, art history and fine arts. A unique combination that this country needs. (Kelly McKinley, 19 November)
  • The BFA program offered at Queen’s particularly attracted me because of the intensiveness of the program in combination with the opportunity to take other courses, in particular science courses. I value the chance to minor in a science program, something difficult to do at any other schools while still receiving a worthwhile Fine Art education. If it were not for these opportunities in Queen’s Fine Art program, I would not have considered attending Queen’s for either Art or Science.  (Anonymous, 21 November)
  • How can a university foster the study of art history or cultural studies without having practicing artists on campus? (Anonymous, 23 November)
  • Most [BFA] professors encouraged cross-disciplinary work if it satisfied the requirements, regardless of the title of the course. (Anonymous, 24 November)
  • Queen’s BFA is unlike any other in this country. We work closely with our peers and professors to build our identities as artists and have amazing opportunities to study other academic fields. (Hilary Longtin, 14 November)
  • Queen’s has a really unique program operating on a “module” system. This . . . allows students to study other subjects. Many students feel that their work and lives have really benefited from the ability to take science courses, film courses, English courses, etc. – I myself have enjoyed the opportunity to minor in Philosophy. Queen’s is one of the few schools in Canada that allow these opportunities. (Sarah Ammons, 17 November)
  • It’s not easy to find a Fine Arts degree at a prestigious university where you can also have your pick of academics. Most BFA programs pigeonhole you into taking only art courses. I’ve had the opportunity to study a variety of subjects in the humanities where I’ve found inspiration for my work, and have many classmates who’ve taken science, commerce, as well as computing courses, keeping up with students in those programs while juggling time consuming studio work.  (Emma Kent, 22 November)

Why is Queen’s shutting down a vitally interdisciplinary program even as it calls for more interdisciplinarity?


[1]  Queen’s University Academic Plan (November 2011), pp. 26-27, citing SCAD, “Report on Principles and Priorities” (Approved by Senate, Jan. 1996); Daniel Woolf, Where Next (Jan. 2010), p. 7; and Michael Adams et al., Imagining the Future (Aug. 2010), sec. 4.3 and goal 4.7.

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