Dear NSCAD Community,
On behalf of the Board of Governors, I wanted to write to provide you with some additional information on the leadership transition as well as some further insights on topics that have been of concern over the past few weeks.
We recently welcomed Dr. Sarah McKinnon as Interim President. Dr. McKinnon, one of Canada’s most experienced and respected academics in the arts, brings to NSCAD valuable experience in management, partnership-building, student recruitment and academic excellence. She has served as acting President of OCAD University, among other appointments, and joined us on July 15. Dr. McKinnon has been meeting with members of our community in recent weeks and I know she is excited to gather perspectives as she collaborates with you to advance NSCAD’s important mission.
The Board continues to ensure that NSCAD progresses the important work of addressing anti-racism and taking concrete actions to foster a culture of equity, diversity, inclusivity, and accountability – including at the Board level. This will also be a priority for Dr. McKinnon, working with administration, faculty, employees, and students. As ever, recognition of these values and principles are of continuing importance as the Board initiates the search process for our next President.
As a governing Board, we recognize some questions have been raised by members of our University community. You will find below answers to some of the key questions raised. Please know that we are striving to be as transparent as we possibly can, and will continue to communicate when possible, while respecting the privacy of the former President and recognizing her contributions to NSCAD.
As we focus on ensuring NSCAD is fully prepared to support our students’ success, we are confident, under Dr. McKinnon’s interim leadership, that our University will continue to provide the excellence for which we are known, inspiring our students to make a positive impact in the world through art, ideas and actions.
We appreciate the support we have received from members of the NSCAD and broader community, including donors, alumni, and community and government leadership.
Louise-Anne Comeau, Chair
NSCAD Board of Governors
What is the role of the NSCAD Board of Governors?
The duty of an independent University Board is to ensure that the mission and vision of the University is fulfilled, strategic direction is assured, financial stability is safeguarded, key risks are mitigated, and that the President of the University fulfills the requirements of the role as lead administrator of the institution with oversight of ongoing operations.
The Board has oversight over the hiring, ongoing management and removal of the President. The Board’s priorities have been and always will be to ensure that governance of the University is effective, and that the University’s long-term sustainability and interests are first and foremost.
Why isn’t the Board explaining itself publicly in addressing the departure of the former President?
The NSCAD Board recognizes there have been questions raised about the conclusion of the former President’s term, as well as comments about the Board’s role in such a process. We cannot and will not get into details on decisions made regarding confidential personnel matters that rest between the Board and the President of the institution.
Some are calling for the reinstatement of the former President. Is the Board considering this?
Reinstatement of the former President is not under consideration. As a governing Board, we understand there may be outstanding questions around the recent leadership transition. We are striving to be as transparent as possible, while respecting legal obligations and the privacy of the former President. The Board recognizes the contributions made by Dr. Mac Namara during her time as President.
What is the Board’s position on addressing systemic racism? Was there an issue with the approach taken by the former President?
The Board vigorously condemns any form of racism and wholeheartedly supports the initiatives undertaken at NSCAD to date. The Board will continue to support all actions taken by NSCAD to address systemic racism and take concrete actions to foster a culture of equity, diversity, inclusivity, and accountability – including at the Board level.
Advancing these goals will also be a priority for Dr. McKinnon, working with administration, faculty, employees, and students. Recognition of these values and principles will also be of continuing vital importance as the Board initiates the search process for our next President.
The Board supports the BIPOC initiatives undertaken by NSCAD to date, and is currently making changes to its own appointment process to provide greater transparency and ensure that it is reaching as many diverse voices and perspectives and engaging with as many constituencies as possible with respect to Board openings and opportunities. A key step in this process will be to start an open call for Board members every year – a new initiative at NSCAD.
Another important step towards greater transparency will be to clearly outline the application process for a Board position, including the requirements and selection process. This will be made publicly available on the NSCAD website. Diversity, inclusion and respect of all members (and potential members) of our community are absolutely core values that NSCAD is built upon, and which the Board supports wholeheartedly.
The Board looks forward to continuing this important work. Please see a notice to the community, issued in June: https://tagon4.ca/bogmessage/
Was the Board hesitant to establish the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery?
The Board is highly supportive of the Institute and was very pleased to approve the appointment of an academic as accomplished as Dr. Charmaine Nelson to lead its development. This work will have reach well beyond our communities, nationally and internationally, and the Board applauds the work of our VP Academic & Research, Dr. Ann-Barbara Graff, who played a key role in the creation of this institute on behalf of NSCAD.
The NSCAD community can be assured that Dr. Nelson has the Board’s full support and encouragement. On behalf of the Board, the Chair has reached out to Dr. Nelson to reinforce our support for her work. The Board reaffirms its commitment to building a diverse, inclusive and accountable culture, which includes NSCAD’s own recruitment practices and processes.
What is the status of NSCAD’s infrastructure plan? Is the Board pursuing a “backroom deal” with respect to infrastructure development, as has been alleged?
The Board must address significant infrastructure challenges if NSCAD is to remain sustainable. The Fountain Campus has, for a long time, been deemed “unfit for purpose”, in part because it does not meet the requirements of the provincial Accessibility Act, which aims to improve accessibility by 2030. NSCAD must determine a path forward that is affordable, achievable, and aligns with our vision for the future.
In July 2019, a developer presented an unsolicited conceptual proposal related to a waterfront development project to some members of the Board for consideration. This was an initial, informal discussion. As it does with all proposals received in this manner, the Board requested that the administration of NSCAD review the proposal and consider it for its merits. The administration determined not to consider the proposal or bring it forward for Board review.
There has been no further discussion on this by administration since the summer of 2019 and it was therefore never brought to the Board for consideration.
Under no circumstances would the Board ever engage in a “backroom deal”, consider any concept or project without a process of review in line with policies and best practices. The Board is committed to a full, fair, and transparent procurement process with respect to any infrastructure strategy it pursues.
What is the Board doing to address the alleged conflict of interest with respect to an unsolicited development proposal?
Recent social and traditional media commentary have not accurately reflected the fact that this was an unsolicited proposal, nor that no steps other than a suggestion to the administration to consider the proposal were ever taken. There was never an opportunity for any Board member(s) to be in a conflict of interest in relation to an infrastructure strategy, as there was never any decision before the Board to this effect.
Further, in the event this matter ever did come forward for a decision of the Board, any member(s) who were in a real or perceived conflict of interest would be expected to recuse themselves. The Board takes this matter very seriously and while we’re confident in our processes, we have nonetheless undertaken an external review of policies to ensure alignment with best practices in the post-secondary landscape.
What is the Board’s reaction to some calling for the Board’s resignation?
The Board is comprised of a group of committed volunteers who care deeply about NSCAD, its place in our community, and the role it plays in improving and inspiring the lives of our students. The Board has been disappointed by the amount of misinformation circulating online and, in the media, and has been disturbed by some of the personal attacks. This behavior is not aligned with the expectations of respect and civility that any individual deserves, nor is it conducive to positive and constructive engagement among the various stakeholders of the University.
In addition to representatives from faculty and the student body, the NSCAD Board is comprised of diverse leaders from the community with expertise in a variety of fields, including finance, human resources, arts, communications, real estate, strategy, and entrepreneurialism, to ensure the good governance of the institution and proper management of risk.
As an independent Board, it is our duty to ensure good governance, to uphold the mission and vision of the University, and to always act in the best interests of the University as a whole. We are committed to ensuring NSCAD remains independent and continues to take its place as a leading center for education and research. We take this responsibility very seriously.
What is the Board doing to search for a new President?
According to the University’s formal Presidential search process, the Board is now taking steps to engage with various stakeholders in order to constitute a search committee. We will share updates as this progresses in the coming period.