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Education Tensions between president, faculty grow at Ontario College of Art and Design

Sara Diamond, President of the Ontario College of Art and Design, poses in one of the class rooms of the OCAD building on McCaul St., Toronto March 03, 2005.Tensions between faculty and the administration at the Ontario College of Art and Design have boiled over, with one of the school’s governing bodies objecting to how the president’s contract was renewed for a third term. The senate action raises questions about how Ms. Diamond will steer the school through its ambitious plans for growth while arresting a drop in enrolment.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Tensions between faculty and the administration at the Ontario College of Art and Design University have boiled over, with one of the school's governing bodies objecting to how the president's contract was renewed for a third term. The senate action raises questions about how Sara Diamond will steer the school through its ambitious plans for growth while arresting a drop in enrolment.

Early last week, the school's senate, which is primarily composed of faculty, passed a motion expressing its lack of confidence in the chair of the committee that decided to renew Dr. Diamond's contract for a third term. Many teaching staff, who requested anonymity because of fears over their careers, say the quality of undergraduate education at the school has slipped as the university has initiated new programs. The motion has no impact on the president's power or her renewal, but has forced OCAD to shift its attention to fixing internal problems.

Dr. Diamond says she can persuade faculty to work together with the administration.

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"I genuinely think there was real friction between the senate and the board of governors and I can absolutely assure you that as president I take that very, very seriously," she said. "The kind of change that I have been leading across the institution has met with success and has been able to provide resources across all faculties."

In Dr. Diamond's nine years as president, OCAD has grown far beyond its roots as a studio-driven art school that trained generations of artists from the Group of Seven to Venice Biennale laureate Shari Boyle. Since it began granting bachelors of arts in 2002, it has expanded to textbook-based programs such as visual and critical studies, opened an entrepreneurial lab and has grown its footprint beyond its Sharp Centre home, most recently announcing that it has received 25,000 square feet in a Frank Gehry-designed development in downtown Toronto.

Faculty members question these priorities, especially at a time that enrolment is declining – 15 per cent fewer high-school students enrolled this fall compared with last year.

The administration knew there were concerns around Dr. Diamond's presidency, and specifically about the confidentiality of the consultations it conducted as part of the renewal process, said Carole Beaulieu, an OCAD vice-president. As a result, it brought in an independent firm to collect and summarize the responses.

"Everyone needs to trust the process and people did not trust the process," said Charles Reeve, the president of the Ontario College of Art & Design Faculty Association. His group also conducted a survey among its members on how the president was chosen. "People thought the decision had been made in advance and that there would be retaliation for expressing a negative view."

Some members of the faculty have been questioning the administration since the summer of 2013, when the university announced that it wanted to pursue the restructuring of the faculty of liberal arts and sciences and school of interdisciplinary studies. A senate committee spent several months reviewing the idea before releasing recommendations. The restructuring has since been dropped, but is mentioned as a turning point in the level of trust between the school and its professors.

Those familiar with the committee's findings say the recommendations reinforced the school's emphasis on training practising artists and the resources needed to do so.

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"We thought we were a university of art and design and we are becoming everything but that," one faculty member said.

At the same time, many faculty say they also recognize that the reputation of the school has grown under Dr. Diamond and that professors would benefit from increasing their publication output.

A group of faculty and administrators, including the school's president, are now engaged in what one person has described as "frank" discussions around how to move forward and how to align the president's plan for the next few years with faculty concerns.

"All of us have to move forward with a lot of goodwill," Ms. Beaulieu said.

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