Petition urges reinstatement of ousted art school president

Aoife Mac Namara dismissed by Nova Scotia College of Art after less than a year in charge

June 29, 2020
Nova Scotia sign
Source: iStock

A Canadian art school has fired its president less than one year after hiring her.

Aoife Mac Namara was dismissed by the board of governors of the Nova Scotia College of Art, which issued a brief statement calling it “a personnel matter” and offering no explanation.

That led to protests including an online petition with more than 700 signatures calling on NSCAD to reinstate Dr Mac Namara and dismiss the board of governors. The petitioners credited Dr Mac Namara with initiating work “to recognise and redress systemic and structural racism at all levels of the university”.

A report in the Halifax Examiner said that Dr Mac Namara’s initiatives included pushing ahead with an Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery, and it cited unnamed sources as saying the governors were “lukewarm to those efforts”.

The board voted 12-5 to remove her, with opposition to her firing coming from the board’s two faculty representatives, two students and the one black member of the board, the Examiner reported.

NSCAD officials declined to comment on the matter.

Dr Mac Namara, born in Nova Scotia and raised in Ireland, came to NSCAD in August 2019 after serving as dean of faculty of Communication, Art and Technology at Simon Fraser University.

Ann-Barbara Graff, NSCAD’s vice-president for academic and research, and a professor of art history and contemporary culture, has been named acting president, said Louise Anne Comeau, chair of the governors, in a statement. The board soon plans to name an interim president and begin a search for a full-time appointment, Ms Comeau said.

The statement described Dr Mac Namara as “playing a valuable role in the university’s future”, a reference understood by faculty to mean that she would take a teaching position.

The petitioners protesting her firing described their organisers as including faculty, staff, students and alumni. They accused the board, by acting during a pandemic, of “recklessly endangering the future of the university and exposing it to significant financial and future risk”.

NSCAD, with enrolment typically near 1,000 students, is facing a particular challenge during the pandemic of adapting studio-based arts to an online environment, the petitioners said.

The firing, with no advance notice, comes “at, possibly, the worst time imaginable”, said Mathew Reichertz, an associate professor of fine arts who serves as president of the NSCAD faculty union.

Professor Reichertz said Dr Mac Namara had made public her plans to address institutional racism at NSCAD, but said it was impossible to know if that was related to her dismissal.

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Reader's comments (3)

Whilst the governing board may have been lukewarm on the Canadian Slavery History project from my reading elsewhere that wasn't the reason she was removed, it was more her insistence of transparency on business dealings and more over the connections and conflicts of interest of members on the governing board. Simply dressing everything up in terms of race and racism and not telling the whole story, which is important considering how those with business interests now hold sway over many university governance boards/committees/councils, does a dis-service to all honest people in academia.
It seems rather a drastic move to fire her, but under the circumstances, their choices could have been limited. Even from the other article today, 'How should journal editors address accusations of racism?' and from the repercussions and extreme actions taken by proponents of placing blame for racism on all white people, and every day it seems, one has to question the advisability of having the President of the Arts School being adamant about the subject of inclusivity now, or giving people of colour increasing power over management of the school? How many more statues will end up in the harbour? How many more names will be dragged through the mud - and I am talking about white people such as myself who have done nothing to harm people of colour but due to circumstances have been treated as inferior people themselves - discriminated against, even, and due to the current climate, now get called 'racist' for just wanting to talk about how some black people are no more honourable than white people when it comes to abusing their power. Even in the area of health care, not everyone gets treated well, and I know it isn't always due to race, although some will try to claim it is. On Accountability in health care: ethics in aging, I write about my own experience as an older woman, realizing that some from other countries can have old-fashioned ideas about how we are supposed to behave, and when they decide to use their power in ways that do harm, then I am vulnerable. I am kept struggling, with no chance of thriving in this environment. I am sickened by what's going on, and the ways people have abused their power to pursue their own agenda and maintain their personal beliefs. I am a Canadian, but also British, born in Bristol, and I cannot see the wisdom of attempting to appease black people at this time, when emotions are high. The idea of overturning the decision of the board at the School of Art, resulting in giving this lady a voice and a vote, when she obviously plans to use it in ways that could do more harm than good, needs to be rethought. The Brits and Canadians whose first thought is for their country need to stop giving their power away.
UPDATE: As of July 13, the petition is closing in on 4350 signatures, and the faculty union at NSCAD voted over 95% in favour of a motion of non-confidence in the board. To add your name to the petition, click the link in the story or google "change.org fire nscad board reinstate Aoife."

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