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British Columbia Group calls for apology from Capilano University over sculpture’s destruction

George Rammell poses with his sculpture, Margaux and the Monarch, which includes shards of the piece Blathering On in Krisendom destroyed by Capilano University security, in this file photo.

A year after an unflattering sculpture of a B.C. university president was seized by campus security, a body representing Canada's professors has released a scathing report calling on the school to publicly apologize to the art teacher behind the satirical piece for violating his academic freedom.

Last May, George Rammell arrived at Capilano University to discover that his sculpture of school president Kris Bulcroft with her poodle Margaux wrapped in an American flag had disappeared from his studio.

The chair of the school's board had ordered security to remove the sculpture, which was destroyed in the process, after she concluded that displaying the massive acrylic head on campus amounted to "personal harassment" of Dr. Bulcroft.

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A new report from the Canadian Association of University Teachers has found that while the piece was unflattering, it was also "legitimate expression, not bullying or personal harassment."

"The sculpture was clearly in the tradition of political satire of a public figure," says the report, obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The report also says 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.

The association represents 68,000 teachers, librarians and other academic staff across Canada, but the university dismissed all the report's recommendations, saying the group has no authority to compel the school to do anything.

At a special board meeting held soon after the seizure, the chair said it was her decision alone to remove the Blathering On in Krisendom sculpture, according to the report. However, a year earlier, Dr. Bulcroft had publicly criticized the piece at an employee forum discussing the looming cuts to arts programming, the report noted. It also stated that Mr. Rammell's piece communicated a broad concern of the Capilano community over cuts to arts courses. Last year, the entire arts program was shuttered, ending Mr. Rammell's 24-year teaching career.

A week before the two-metre sculpture was seized, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of the university's faculty association that the programs were cut without proper consultation. The report also stated that the faculty association and student groups protesting the cuts had their leaflets, posters and banners destroyed by the school.

David Robinson, the CAUT's executive director, said it's rare that his organization issues a report that so clearly finds an administration tried to "shut down legitimate protest and dissent."

"Every university that's worth its name recognizes that academic freedom is at the core of what it does," Mr. Robinson told The Globe and Mail. "The treatment of George Rammell obviously is a clear violation of his academic freedom."

"President Bulcroft [should] do the right thing, issue an apology to George and recognize that you made a mistake."

The report recommends that the administration issue a public apology to Mr. Rammell, compensate him for the distress and damage caused by the incident and review its policies to ensure academic freedom is being upheld. It also calls on the school to publicly commit to protecting free speech on and off campus and allow students and staff "criticize and peacefully protest administrative actions."

Shelley McDade, chair of Capilano's board, issued a statement that said the Canadian Association of University Teachers has no "relationship, authority or jurisdiction" when it comes to the university, which considers the matter closed. (The CAUT can, however, censure the university and recommend that professors avoid teaching there.)

Mr. Rammell, now working out of his small studio in Vancouver's hip Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, said he was "absolutely enamoured" by the CAUT's findings. He said he doesn't want any more money from the university after a $1,100 grievance settlement for the destruction of his work, but wants the board to get a lesson in academic freedom.

"It was a cheeky satire. It was an anti-monument. It was really a way of redressing the kind of injustices that were coming down from the presidential office," he said, adding that Margaux the poodle was included in the sculpture because only the president was allowed to bring her dog to work.

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"It's really reassuring to know that this national body representing university educators is informed enough to take on issues of censorship."

Shards of his old sculpture have been added to a new, more ornate piece, that again depicts Dr. Bulcroft and her dog and is now being shown at the John Nutter gallery in Granville Island.

Editor's note: A previous caption on the photograph accompanying this article incorrectly identified the sculpture pictured as Blathering On in Krisendom. In fact, the artwork is Margaux and the Monarch, which includes shards of Blathering On in Krisendom.

Capilano University sculpture report

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