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Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Featured |

Open letter to ACAD re: instructor dismissal over “chicken affair”

Open letter to ACAD re: instructor dismissal over “chicken affair”

I am writing to express my disapproval of Gord Ferguson’s dismissal from his position at ACAD.

As a citizen of Calgary, I am deeply disturbed by this destructive action on the part of the ACAD administration. I fail to grasp what led to this draconian and punitive reaction to an infringement of good taste by the instructor’s student. The connection being that Mr. Ferguson gave approval for the project, which from my understanding is not an infraction of anything – other than the aforementioned good taste. I believe that not even bylaw officers raised an eyebrow.

At best the “chicken affair” was a minor scandal, a bold and tasteless end-of-year art school project. And not even so shocking given the prevailing food obsession our culture is experiencing. There’s even a movement, complete with training, of DYI butchering.

Mistakes were made. Ideally, we warn people of performances that may offend. That didn’t happen. But we don’t fire the prof for that. Yes, some students were offended. Others thought the performance was provocative, but valid. That’s what is generally termed as healthy debate.

Instead, the powers that be at ACAD have turned the proverbial molehill into a mountain. They’ve unleashed a controversy that is entirely unnecessary and can only prove to be regrettable, painful and probably expensive. I’m sure Mr. Ferguson will not go gently. Neither should he.

Throughout the “chicken affair” ACAD administration has shown an utter lack of understanding about the consequences of its actions. Nor does it seem to grasp the role of higher education. Its labour relations practices are clumsy and in this case, likely contravene some labour code.

I’m pretty sure if you look back through ACAD records you won’t find a precedent of this kind of summary dismissal. So what happened in the case of Mr. Ferguson? Why were there no disciplinary reviews? What about a warning? I believe these are all processes that as a long-term employee, Mr. Ferguson would expect and would automatically have available to him.

For 32 years Mr. Ferguson has been integral part of ACAD’s evolution and as an instructor, he is said to enhance the student experience. I bet that the sum of all of the time the administration team involved in his sacking has been at ACAD doesn’t equal that.

So, I’m trying to understand what I perceive to be a ham-fisted reaction by ACAD’s administration.

Like other postsecondary institutions in Alberta, ACAD is under a great deal of stress as a result of deep cuts to their budget. At ACAD, a good metaphor for the belt tightening is that it has been so restrictive that even the cafeteria has been closed to save a minor sum of approximately $50,000 annually.

I don’t doubt the distaste of some of ACAD’s funders has found a way to influence the college’s administration. But how much sense does that make?

An expensive lawsuit – and quite possibly a hefty payout – will drain ACAD’s coffers faster than the beleaguered cafeteria filled up with media after the “chicken affair”.

What cost – financial and reputational – is ACAD’s administration willing to incur to drive their point? And what is their point exactly?

As a citizen of Calgary, an advocate of a respectful workplace and workers rights and a supporter of our city’s vibrant cultural community, I am submitting my formal strong objection to Gord Ferguson’s dismissal. I call for his reinstatement.

But my point goes even beyond the firing issue.

I support ACAD with my taxes.  And as a responsible taxpayer I want my money to be spent wisely.

I want to know who is responsible for this debacle that can only have negative consequences not only for Mr. Ferguson – but for all of ACAD’s current and future students and faculty. It has implications about censorship in lean times. It begs questions about the competency of ACAD’s current administration. It underlines the vulnerability of employees in Alberta’s institutions.

Who’s next? And for what politically motivated reason?

I am watching carefully as this episode unfolds. Do the right thing.

 

Yours respectfully,

 

Anne Georg