NSCAD picture improves with fiscal plan
December 22, 2015

By Jeff Somerville

In October, The New York Times published an extended feature on Ellen Page. The profile contained a few paragraphs about Page’s hometown of Halifax:

“Page was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, about as far as you can get (geographically, historically and spiritually) from Hollywood. The city’s downtown wraps around a central hill; its North End was largely destroyed by a freak explosion nearly 100 years ago. The harbor is occasionally punctuated by breaching whales. A few years after Page was born, in 1987, Nova Scotia’s fishing industry hit a hard spell. The region still has one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada.”

This is a view of Halifax that is created without knowledge of the city we know, and clearly lacks the appropriate research to paint an accurate picture.

Paul Syme’s Dec. 12 letter to the editor elicited a similar reaction from me.

Since March 2012, when the NSCAD Board of Governors unanimously approved its framework for sustainability, the entire NSCAD community has come together in support of the university and its continued survival. Tough decisions had to be made so that NSCAD could live within its means and be sustainable. But those decisions have led to a revitalization in all areas:

  • unprecedented co-operation with NSCAD’s faculty and technician unions, resulting in 30-month agreements, reached before the expiration of current agreements on Dec. 31;
  • anticipation of a balanced budget for 2016-17 and continued progress on the pay-down of debt;
  • new dynamic leadership under Prof. Dianne Taylor-Gearing as president, who builds consensus using teamwork and consultation;
  • development of a plan to exit the historic Fountain Campus in 2019 and realign facilities to focus on accessibility, NSCAD community cohesion, and space that is appropriate for our programming;
  • creation of a new strategic framework (2015-2020) in which the university will move forward on four strategic pillars — Nurture, Curiosity, Steward, and Connect;
  • staff re-organization to focus on student success, including increased front-line services and support to students;
  • an openness to the community through initiatives such as Artist for a Day in the spring, and by NSCAD hosting groups on campus, including Art Teachers Association of Nova Scotia (October 2014), Universities Canada (May 2015), Universities Art Association of Canada (November 2015), EduNova and Association of Atlantic Universities.

The last piece of the puzzle has been to bring fairness to NSCAD’s tuition system, and the opportunity arose when the province allowed universities to make a one-time market adjustment this year.

Currently, NSCAD’s tuition is the lowest of all Nova Scotia universities, despite the expense of a studio-based education model, small class sizes, and unique 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to facilities.

It has also been a flat-fee system, meaning that full-time students taking four classes (12 credits), five classes (15 credits) or six classes (18 credits) paid the same rate. The change, approved by the board earlier this month, will be phased in over three years starting in the fall of 2016 and will mean students will pay for the number of credits they choose to take.

The NSCAD Board of Governors understands students do not want tuition increases; indeed it heard that students are advocating for zero tuition. We admire their passion and respect their views and right to protest. The board would prefer not to have to increase tuition as well, but we must face the reality of the current circumstances as we keep our principal objective in mind: that of maintaining a sustainable, independent, world-class creative arts university based in Nova Scotia.

The old adjectives such as “struggling” and “cash-strapped” that have been applied to NSCAD are from the past. NSCAD remains independent, and fiercely so. Our students, faculty and alumni are creative, entrepreneurial and award-winning; they make us proud every day. Having overcome many challenges and unprecedented scrutiny over the past three years, NSCAD is thriving.

 Jeff Somerville is the Chair of the NSCAD Board of Governors. This op-ed was published in The Chronicle Herald on December 18, 2015.