4. The academic 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).

4.  The academic reason.  In justifying the BFA freeze exclusively on “resource” grounds, and in announcing its decision before consulting with Faculty Board or Senate, the Deans of Arts and Science excluded academic considerations.  But, as the BFA Testimonials remind us, “Queen’s should be more than a business” (Don Stuart, 20 November).  One should not have to argue the point that a university’s decisions about academic programs should include academic considerations among others.

Just to be clear, when I say “academic” considerations, I mean the consideration of what is essential to “academics” (i.e., university students and faculty) and to teaching and learning, or of what the institution needs in order to be accounted an “academy of higher learning.”

In these terms, many former students testify to the BFA’s academic value, its “valuable training . . . both in terms of technical training and fostering of creative problem solving skills” (Harry Stooshinoff, 20 November).  As Melody Telford writes:

I graduated with my Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) from Queen’s University in April 2009 after four of the most fulfilling years of my life. I am crushed to hear that the program is in danger of closure. I have never been so challenged creatively and so thoroughly equipped with solid work ethic, problem solving skills, creative thinking and innovation as I was during my time in the Fine Arts program. The world needs people who are trained to think differently, to approach problems from new angles. This is what I learned through this program. Please let it continue so that others may be as richly benefited as I was!  (21 November)

See also the many passages quoted under “The interdisciplinary reason,” above.

The Arts contribute to cultural rounding and to critical thinking; as one testimonial says, “you can’t just funnel everyone into tight little job tracks like MBA, Engineering, or Social Work, and even people who are in those programs may need to also learn things like English Literature, Philosophy, Art” (Dan Cooper, 10 November).  Philosophy Prof. Jackie Davies writes:  “Fine arts, as well as music and drama and film, are essential to an engaged intellectual life and to what it means to develop and sustain the skills necessary for participating in a free society” (19 November).  Specifically, the university needs a studio component to its academic offerings.  The BFA complements not just Art History and Art Conservation, but other programs as well. A good number of current Cultural Studies students come to the program with MFAs.  The correlation is direct.  Two major art galleries operate on campus with university funds and several other venues are housed in departments and faculties.  The core of such activity remains the BFA; it is where primary production happens.

Within the BFA, shutting off next year’s admissions will affect the current year 1-4 students—those who have already committed themselves to the program.  What commitment does Queen’s have to them?  They were promised a thriving, vibrant program, not one whose future would soon be in question.  A testimonial of 24 November speaks eloquently to the effects on this group of students:

When do we ask whether we are still providing a valuable education to those who make commitments of four years and $22,000-$50,000 to this university and this program? [. . . .] When students spend more time talking and worrying about the future of their program—which in my experience began with the budget-cut announcement when I was in second year—than about what they are learning and producing, there is something very wrong.  (Anonymous, 24 November)

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