FAS considering suspension of fine arts program

Students concerned by the lack of changes in past 10 years

Image by: Herbert Wang
Printmaking is a staple part of the BFA program on Ontario Hall.

The Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) is initiating a consultative process to consider the temporary suspension of admissions to the Bachelor of Fine Arts/Visual Arts (BFA/VA) program.

As it stands, the program is not suspended going into the next Cyclical Program Review (CPR) in 2023. The CPR process is a quality assurance process requiring each academic program to be reviewed once every eight years. 

“The Dean of the [FAS] recently shared some information at Faculty Board that the Faculty is initiating a consultative process to consider the temporary suspension of admissions to the Bachelor of Fine Art/Visual Art program, following defined Senate procedures,” Warren Mabee, interim director of fine art (visual art) said in a statement to The Journal.

According to Mabee, the recommendation to consider the suspension of the program came from himself and John Pierce, vice-provost (teaching and learning). The consultative process is expected to begin in mid-October and run into November. 

“Students currently enrolled in the BFA/VA can be assured that the courses and instructors in the program will continue to be supported and their progress to degree completion will not be impacted,” Mabee said. 

In the 2016 CPR report, three options were brought up for the BFA/VA program.

The first option involved refining the current BFA/VA program, while the second was moving away from the conservatory-style fine arts program. The final option was to discontinue a focused BFA/VA program. After the CPR, most of the work was focused on the first option of refinement of the program. 

The University explained that while progress was made, there wasn’t a clear direction identified to revitalizing the BFA/VA program.

For students like Abby Gowland, BFA ’22, the program has offered her life changing opportunities and networking abilities. She said the BFA program is what inspires her to apply to MFA programs in printmaking.

Gowland told The Journal in an interview an invitation was sent to everyone in the department to discuss the potential of a temporary suspension in program admissions.

She believes the program was not given the adequate resources following the last CPR. Gowland is concerned students applying this year will be apprehensive due to the potential of admissions suspension.

“We’ve kind of been put on the back burner, because we’re such a small program […] Now the next CPR is coming up, there is a frantic effort to figure out what they’re going to do,” Gowland said. 

“That’s why they’re putting off admissions for this upcoming year—there would be a quarter less students in our building and it would have a huge effect.” 

Gowland said in the meeting there was mention of moving the fine arts program to buildings across campus, away from Ontario Hall, where the program currently resides. 

“Fine art is literally just community networking and having other people to work with who inspire you—it’s basically what fine art is,” Gowland said. 

The BFA/VA program focuses on more traditional aspects of art.

According to Gowland, this was something that drew her into the program at Queen’s over other offerings at other institutions like OCAD. 

The Co-Presidents of the Fine Arts DSC, Claire Dobbie and Lauren Russo expressed disappointment with the potential of a suspension in admissions.

“The Dean [Barbara Crow] feels the program is not up to par, and that we should go on a one-year suspension so that the program can be fixed before the CPR […] If we pause admissions, then the CPR doesn’t have to happen right away, which means we don’t look bad right away,” Dobbie said in an interview with The Journal

“We are disappointed at the quickness of wanting to just take a freeze. The concerns have come out of neglect for the fine arts program. We’ve had the option to fix these things over the past 10 years,” Russo said. 

Russo added the undergraduate chair has put in significant effort and is having a difficult time getting answers from the FAS. 

Both presidents said there was frustration in a lack of representation of their department’s views being represented, particularly since a mediator was being brought in—their concern is the lack of representation from an arts background.

“You don’t have first-hand experience at how this kind of stuff works and how important certain aspects of the program are,” Dobbie said. 

Both presidents expressed they had challenges communicating with the head of the department, describing communication as “filtered.”

“The head of our program [Warren Mabee] does not come from an arts background—he’s a nice guy—he tries to be as neutral as possible, but we need someone to fight for us and nobody’s fighting for us,” Russo added. 

Dobbie said the department needs the CPR to happen, otherwise she believes issues will not be addressed properly. 

“If we have the CPR that at least somebody’s telling us, we have to fix them,” she said.

A principal concern Russo laid out was the lack of tenured teaching staff, and the use of adjuncts to fill positions once faculty retired. 

“We’ve had four tenured professors retire with zero replacements, which has left us with one full time tenured professor and one half time tenured professor—the third is on sabbatical and will retire in three years,” Russo said. 

“We have been starved in the program with no resources. Our choices for professors are really tiny. We used to have a lot more resources, there’s been no effort to be made to keep the program running appropriately.”

Another concern Russo and Dobbie have is around the lowering of admissions numbers for the class of 2026 without any consultation. 

This is combined with their desire to have the program departmentalized instead of the current floating model—they said a potential home could be the Art History Department.

In a statement to The Journal, Department Head of Art History, Norman Vorano said he is eager to work with the FAS Dean, the BFA/VA program, and students.

“Given our longstanding and close ties, a significant number of our students in the Department of Art History and Art Conservation come from the BFA/VA program,” Vorano said. 

“We are obviously very concerned by the prospect of a temporary suspension and the impact this might have in our classrooms. The BFA students are amazing and enrich our campus immensely.”

Vorano said fine arts are essential for the development of Canadian society as a whole. Vorano said it’s more important than ever to not lose sight of the importance of fine arts education.

“This is not only important for Canada’s growing creative economy, but of vital importance as we advance our social development goals and build a more inclusive, just society. Visual artists have always been at the centre of societal changes.”


Faculty of Arts and Science, FAS, fine arts

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