Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 4 of a Series]

 

Canada—Capilano University

In May 2014, George Rammell, a professor of art at Capilano University, discovered that a sculpture had been removed from his campus studio. The sculpture was of “school president Kris Bulcroft with her poodle Margaux wrapped in an American flag” (Hager). Rammell learned that the sculpture had been removed by campus security and that it had been irreparably damaged in the process

The chair of the “school’s board” had ordered the removal of the sculpture “after she concluded that displaying the massive acrylic head on campus amounted to ‘personal harassment’ of Dr. Bulcroft” (Hager).

In May 2015, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) issued a report that found that the university had violated Rammell’s academic freedom: specifically, CAUT “found that while the piece was unflattering, it was also ‘legitimate expression, not bullying or personal harassment.’ . . . ; ‘ [rather,] the sculpture was clearly in the tradition of political satire of a public figure” (Hager). Moreover, CAUT contended that “even if school administration believed the monument amounted to harassment, the North Vancouver university didn’t appear to follow its own policies when it failed to bring a formal complaint to the school’s conflict resolution adviser” (Hager). CAUT demanded that those responsible for the removal and destruction of the sculpture issue formal apologies to Rammell.

Hager, Mike. “Capilano University; Group Calls for Apology over Satirical Sculpture’s Destruction.” Globe and Mail (British Columbia Edition) 12 June 2015: S, 4.

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Some background on Kris Bulcroft’s tenure as president of Capilano University and the issues that seem to have led to Rammel’s creation of the satiric sculpture is provided by Andy Rice in an article for the Capilano Courier. The article is titled “A Final Chat with Capilano’s Most Polarizing President,” and these are some excerpts:

“To some, she was a builder—to others, a wrecking ball—and when Dr. Kris Bulcroft parts ways with Capilano University this July after six years at the helm, she’s well aware the dust might take some time to settle. In fact, she hopes it will. For her, dust is change in motion—a sign of long-term leadership, the kind she set out to embody when she took the job in 2010. . . .

“When CapU announced a $1.3 million budget shortfall in the spring of 2013, Bulcroft shouldered considerable heat for the actions taken in its wake. The University’s Board of Governors suspended a series of programs and courses that year and many students, who were supposedly at the centre of the university’s new value system, began to feel abandoned. By the halfway point of her tenure, Bulcroft had become Public Enemy No. 1, a label she’s still fighting to shake, albeit with a great deal of patience and understanding. ‘This is not a popularity contest,’ she said. ‘You have to have a pretty thick skin in today’s world to be a good leader.’

“But everyone has a limit, and on May 10, 2013, Bulcroft reached hers during a tense solo meeting with the campus community. Weeks earlier, Studio Art instructor George Rammell had created a ventriloquist dummy of her likeness, entitled Margaux and the MonarchAs one of his colleagues stood at the mic to refute Bulcroft’s claims that the piece was sexist and misogynistic (‘If you act like a queen you’ll be treated like one’) she abruptly left the stage of the Blueshore Centre. ‘This is a campus where we have a policy on respectful workplace,’ she explained. ‘I agreed to have that conversation with the faculty with the understanding that we honour the respectful workplace environment and I would never expect anybody—a student or a faculty member—to have to sit in a meeting or in a situation and have personal attacks made and have to tolerate and put up with that . . . So to model what you should do in a situation is what I did—I left the stage when I felt it had crossed the line.’

“Since then, Bulcroft has received further criticism over those cuts in a variety of formats—letters, emails and even a second, more elaborate ventriloquist dummy—but to this day she believes the alternative, which was making smaller, across-the-board cuts to every program, would have proved even more disastrous for the institution as a whole. ‘When I took this presidency I knew what was coming,’ she said, ‘and I remember in my interview saying there’s going to be less money in a public institution, we’re going to have to figure out how to work with the ‘do more with less’ mindset. I’d seen it in the US, and I saw a lot of schools in the US do what I thought was a wrong approach, which was to just across-the-board cut—everybody takes a five per cent, everybody takes a 10 per cent—and then pretty soon after a number of years of doing it that way every single program suffers, students can’t get the classes they need. It really takes a toll on the whole organization and that’s bad leadership because it’s easier to make an across-the-board decision. . . . Hard leadership, hard decision making looks at quality and says ‘this is what we do really well, this is where we’re trying to build a place,’ and really tries to preserve the quality for students.’

“Bulcroft recalls one occasion early in her presidency when a faculty member took her aside and reminded her that a happy faculty would make for a happy president. Her ensuing response wasn’t quite what he was expecting. ‘I said, “Well, two things: what makes you think I want to be happy? If I wanted to be happy I wouldn’t have taken this job, okay, and number two, just so you understand, my version of that is “happy students, happy president,” so if we’re doing the right thing for students, supporting students, helping students succeed, helping students feel like they’re empowered to go out into the world and make a difference, then we should be putting resources in that way to make sure that happens.’”

Rice’s complete article is available at: http://www.capilanocourier.com/features/call-me-kris/.

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Rammel Sculpture

George Rammel with Sculpture

Rammel Sculpture Damaged after Removal

George Rammel with Sculpture Damaged after Removal from His Studio

Kris Bulcroft

Kris Bulcroft

Illustration w Rice Article

Illustration with Andy Rice’s Article

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Previous Posts in the Series:

Post 1. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 1]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/24/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-1-of-a-series/.

Post 2. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 2]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/25/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-2-of-a-series/.

Post 3. Canada—University of New Brunswick: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/26/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-3-of-a-series/.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 4 of a Series]

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