Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Academic Freedom/Censorship Debate at Capilano U

I had taken this post down, but in the interest of full public discussion of the matter have decided to put it back up and keep updating as the story progresses. 

I wrote the following on the morning of Monday May 13. Many others wrote letter of protest or called the University.

Free speech and academic freedom have been under attack at Capilano University. Please check out the article in the Straight (link below). My letter to Cap U President, Dr. Kris Bulcroft explains. 

Dear Dr. Bulcroft,

I learned today from an article in the Georgia Straight that the University has taken George Rammell's sculpture. The following article is making the rounds of social media this morning at lightning speed:

I saw the work when it was unveiled and thought it was hurtful and in very poor taste. I feel it damaged the relationship between the Faculty Association and the Cap U administration and did not help dialogue between the parties. I expressed that opinion to the Faculty Association executive.  Be that as it may, I believe that George had a right to make the sculpture and show it in any public forum he likes. This is Canada, not North Korea. George has a right to express his opinion through his art or in any other way he chooses, even if that opinion is unpopular in some quarters or seems to some to be in poor taste. The idea that the work belongs to the University because it was created on University property is a gross abuse of University policies in this area and a flagrant violation of George's academic freedom and intellectual property rights. George Rammell is the owner and creator of this work and the University has stolen it. It makes me wonder whose work will be next and I am sure it makes the public wonder what kind of University we have.

This seems destined to ruin a year's worth of positive efforts to put the pain and tumult of the last year's cuts behind us. Why would the Administration want to create more bad press for the University at this critical time in its development?  Many departments at Capilano, including mine, have spent the past year in damage control trying to recover from the harm done to our reputation by the cuts of last year.  Now basics rights to free speech, intellectual property, and academic freedom at our University are called into question.  The recent budgeting and academic planning processes have done much to restore trust and collegiality between faculty and administration.  I was so hopeful for the future of this kind of dialogue.  This seriously damages that relationship again.  What a terrible mistake. Please do the right thing and give back George's art.

Most sincerely,

Dr. Jared Burrows
Coordinator, Jazz Studies

*UPDATE* as of evening May 13, 2014
Since I wrote this, the University has given the sculpture back to George (perhaps in damaged condition or in pieces? waiting for news on that).  They sent the following outrageous and laughable explanation to the University community;

Late last week, an effigy of the University President, produced by George Rammell, was removed from campus on my direction.

The effigy has been repeatedly displayed on and off campus and online over the last year. The decision to remove the effigy was not taken lightly, but rather was the result of endeavouring to find the right balance among many competing values.
Our University is committed to the open and vigorous discourse that is essential in an academic community, the inherent value of artistic expression, and the rights to free speech and protest that all Canadians enjoy. No one wants Capilano to be a place where art is arbitrarily removed or censored.
We must also be mindful of the University's obligations to cultivate and protect a respectful workplace in which personal harassment and bullying are prohibited. These obligations are reflected in our employment policies, as well as legislation. Our policies are intended to protect the interests of all individuals in our community - including our president, as well as our faculty and all others.
I am satisfied that recently the effigy has been used in a manner amounting to workplace harassment of an individual employee, intended to belittle and humiliate the President. This led me, as Board Chair, to take action.
I understand the University's Administration has offered to give Mr. Rammell the effigy. The condition attached to this is that it not be returned to campus, and I fully support that position.
Jane Shackell, QC 
Board Chair
Capilano University

Stay tuned for more!


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