A fond farewell

As this is my last blog post before I take my leave, I thought it fitting to recount the many changes at NSCAD over the past couple of years as we collectively addressed our financial management and enrolment challenges. If I had to list in order of importance the accomplishments we have shared the list would look something like this:

1. Virtual elimination of operating deficit – This was made even more significant as our move toward gaining financial stability occurred during a time when provincial grants decreased by 10 per cent and tuition revenue decreased by an almost similar amount.
2. Debt Reduction – We were able to allay concerns over the size of our debt by demonstrating that by simply servicing our debt it reduces by $1 million per year. Simple tables projecting debt reduction for several years forward provided the Province with the evidence we were making progress.
3. Government relations – By demonstrating good stewardship in reducing our annual deficit; by meeting all report requirements (which incidentally were frequent and numerous); and by introducing strong management controls, we were able to gain the confidence of our provincial partners.
4. Media relations – The shift from negative to positive treatment by the media has been most apparent and most beneficial.
5. Internal governance Improvements – Our new board governance structure has resulted in greater operational clarity, focus and efficiency in board operations.
6. Major consultant-led studies – We have successfully completed two major consultant studies: Space and Affiliation. Both studies have great consequence to the future of NSCAD and provided the Board with evidence-based information on which we were able to chart our future with confidence.
7. Strategic Plan – While behind schedule (on track now), the ultimate outcome will prove very beneficial in informing future directions and priorities for NSCAD.
8. Labour relations – We have successfully negotiated collective agreements with all unionized employees without work disruption, and we continue to enjoy good relations.
9. Presidential and Academic Dean searches – We have concluded two national searches for these important positions with great success. The attraction of many fine candidates for these important leadership positions is yet another indication of our improved status within the university community.
10. Academic programs – We have completed external reviews of all academic programs. When processed, the review findings will be very helpful in the consideration of important program refinements.
11. Enhanced program collaboration – We have added or are in the process of adding many new programs in cooperation with Nova Scotia Community College, University of King’s College and other local universities.
12. Student recruitment improvements – With the assistance of specially earmarked donor funds, our registration and admissions personnel have introduced numerous robust strategies to augment our recruitment efforts.
13. Institute of Applied Creativity – IAC, while still experiencing growing challenges, has been successful in securing significant government grants, hosting significant events and forging important partnerships.
14. Groundbreaking capital donation – The recent generous donation from Margaret and David Fountain is significant for two reasons. First, the gift will allow NSCAD to make significant improvements to the Granville Block (now Fountain Campus). This solidifies our earlier decision to declare our intention to hold onto this historic site for the foreseeable future. Second, the donation conveys confidence in NSCAD’s future as Atlantic Canada’s only exclusive art and design University.

All in all, I believe NSCAD has its worst days behind it and can, with renewed and justly warranted confidence chart a future rich with potential and greatness.

Please allow me to close on a note of appreciation and thanks to all in our community – Board of Governors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni for their collective welcome and support to me, an outsider, during my stay. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the support and assistance provided my most immediate administrative team.

It has been a pleasure, frustrating and exhausting at times, but always rewarding.


Here I am with Kelly Toughill, Director of King’s School of Journalism, and Dr. George Cooper, President of the University of King’s College, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding for a new collaboration. Eliot Wright Photo.


A great day for NSCAD: Margaret and David Fountain pledge $3 million to NSCAD and our historic downtown campus is named “Fountain Campus” in appreciation. Eliot Wright Photo.

Here's a picture of myself and my wife Valerie with a painting by Professor Alex Livingston. This photo was taken the same day the Board of Governors considered the Affiliation Study and resolved to keep our autonomy.

A picture of myself and my wife Valerie with a painting by Professor Alex Livingston. This was the same day the Board of Governors considered the Affiliation Report and resolved to keep our autonomy. Eliot Wright Photo.

A report on reports

I want to bring you up to date on the status of the two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) which were a component of our Framework for Sustainability (PDF). As you will recall, the Province of Nova Scotia agreed to fund the studies late in November.

The RFPs were posted in early December and attracted eight submissions. Following careful vetting, the firms ATN Consulting Inc. and Educational Consulting Services were selected and both are in the early phases of their work.

To oversee their work, we have established a liaison committee. Representing NSCAD on the committee are: myself, Acting President; Sharon Johnson Legere, VP Finance & Administration; Kenn Honeychurch, VP Academic and Provost; Sarah Trower, President, SUNSCAD; Professor Glen Hougan; Board members Ian Austen and Ross Cantwell. Representing the province on the committee are: Ava Czapalay, Senior Executive Director Higher Education; and Nancy Vanstone, consultant to the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

Here’s a bit more information on the studies. The Space Utilization Study being conducted by ECS will examine two sets of questions we need answered. First, how much space does NSCAD require given our existing program mix? Do our three campuses adequately serve our space requirements? Secondly, could either of our potential partner universities accommodate new construction on their campuses sufficient to satisfy NSCAD’s needs should affiliation occur and assuming the Granville Campus will no longer be used? I should mention that ECS is very familiar with our type of educational institution, having done most of the spatial studies for art and design universities in Canada.

The second study, A Feasibility Study to Explore an Affiliation Between NSCAD University and Dalhousie University or NSCAD University and Saint Mary’s University, will be done by ATN Consulting Inc., a local firm with solid credentials and familiarity with each of the universities with which we are exploring affiliation potential.

I know that even the mention of the word “affiliation” conjures up negative associations for many. However, I should remind you that we have been obligated by the Province through the Windsor Report (PDF) to be open to exploration of enhanced collaborations with local universities.

In signaling its openness to explore closer relationships, the Board of Governors placed numerous conditions on the type of relationship that could be explored. Specifically, the proposal identifies the strategic option to be explored is: “to fully investigate opportunities for affiliation with Dalhousie University or Saint Mary’s University which does not adversely affect NSCAD’s academic, financial and governance sovereignty.” Furthermore, this mandate is qualified by 18 conditions which must be adhered to in the investigation.

I know there has been much confusion around the terms “collaboration,” “merger,” “amalgamation,” and “affiliation.” These terms mean much different things. The only form of closer association between NSCAD and the other two universities being investigated in this study is affiliation. We believe that this is the only form of institutional realignment which will protect NSCAD’s autonomy and independence.

I invite you to look at the terms of both studies:

Please note that the heart of both proposals begins on page 22. The first 21 pages contain tender specifications.

I addition to the two RFPs, I am making another report mandated by the Province available for your reference. All of Nova Scotia’s universities were expected to prepare this report using a common template of seven overarching questions in which to describe its hopes and aspirations for the future.

The Bilateral Report: Institutional Outlook (PDF) was submitted to the Province on January 31, 2013 and represents the work of senior academic and administrative officers of the university who worked tirelessly to meet the tight deadline.

As always, your comments are invited.

Where we stand

Please receive this message as my best understanding of the current status of the university with its Framework for Sustainability. By way of background, all or most would know that we have been implementing Plan A of our sustainability plan which was submitted to the Province on March 28, 2012. While the implementation of the plan has not been without difficulty and sacrifice, the results have produced predicted and significant reductions in our operating deficit for the current fiscal year. We have been able to half the deficit projected from where we would be, had we done nothing. You will also know that we have been awaiting a decision by the Province to proceed with the implementation of Plan B. This plan is more ambitious and, if implemented, would have allowed the university to achieve almost immediate balanced budgets for the present and foreseeable future.

The principle component of this plan was dependent upon a provincially funded Early Retirement Incentive Plan (ERIP). The plan envisioned phased but manageable reductions in our employee complement by twinning early retirement with a non-replacement of vacated positions. The complement reduction to the plan was to be guided by a commitment to protect program integrity. There were other components in Plan B but this was the principle one.

Now fast forward to January 2013, the Province communicated formally its response to the outstanding requests contained in our sustainability plan. In that letter, it confirmed the following:

  1. Commitment to cover (up to $1.364 million) our 2012-2013 projected operating budget deficit;
  2. By an earlier decision (November 21, 2012), the province agreed to fund the two studies proposed in our sustainability plan—namely, a Space Utilization Study and an Affiliation Feasibility Study. The first study’s aim is to determine the efficiency with which we use our current space and ascertain what our spatial needs would be if we were to leave the Granville Campus. This study would also assess the capability of Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s to accommodate new construction on their respective campuses should we decide to affiliate.

The second study is intended to conduct a thorough, cost/benefit, risk assessment of a potential partnership/affiliation with either Dalhousie University or Saint Mary’s University. Please keep in mind that these studies will not be exploring merger options, a much mentioned fear. Rather, the studies will be conducted in such a manner as to ensure that affiliation options will not adversely affect NSCAD’s academic, financial and governance sovereignty. In other words, any affiliation must ensure that NSCAD retains control over its academic programs and regulations, including the appointment and promotion of faculty, control of its finances, and control over its management through an independent Board of Governors.

New information conveyed in the letter (dated January 10, 2013) stipulates that NSCAD needs to submit a new three-to-five year sustainability plan by March 15, 2013 that includes the following:

  • a financial plan to eliminate the current unsustainable level of debt servicing costs;
  • a detailed plan for how the university will meet current and future needs for office, classroom and workshop facilities on an sustainable basis;
  • a plan to take full and effective advantage of opportunities provided by one or more universities and identified and elaborated through the upcoming affiliation study and facilities review; and
  • a formal commitment by NSCAD Board of Governors to fully implement these elements of the sustainability plan.

The letter also states that decisions regarding new student fees rest with NSCAD, subject to review by the Province to ensure proper student consultations have occurred. Finally, the letter states that increases in tuition fees above the approved three per cent level will be addressed through the MOU process underway with the Province’s universities.

Notable by its absence is the central plank our 2012 Framework for Sustainability – a measured contraction of our employee footprint to be financed through a provincially funded Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP). It is important to note that the Province has not officially refused to fund this part of our sustainability plan, but its omission suggests that it is highly unlikely that we will be able to proceed with this part of our plan. However, I have been advised informally that while the government is not interested in direct funding (grant) of an ERIP, they have still not ruled out the possibility of introducing a SOFI loan program, which we would be eligible to apply for to support an ERIP. The savings to our budget with such a plan would be less than if we received a grant but would still be considerable. Please note the Province has not made a decision as yet on the reintroduction of a SOFI Plan. Therefore, while our position is subject to change, until instructed otherwise, this part of our 2012 sustainability plan is on hold.

I also wish to inform you that I have written to the Province to convey my surprise with the apparent shift of focus from the removal of operating deficits to the elimination of our debt. In the same letter, I have asked for further clarification of the conditions they have made for the payment of our 2012-13 operating deficit. As it now stands, the time lines they have set presuppose consultant study results, which are not likely to be available until May.

Essentially, this is my best read of the situation as I understand it. Unfortunately, the situation is still very fluid and subject to change as we receive more clarification from the Province. I will endeavor to keep you informed as I receive clarification. In the meantime, we will continue to “stay the course” with Plan A, which has allowed us to meet budget targets for this year. The executive committee of the board will meet at the end of this week to formalize its response to the aforementioned letter from the Province. As well, we will consult the community as best we can as we develop a debt reduction plan as requested by the Province by March 15, 2013 – a daunting task.

Yours truly,

P.S. I intend to outline for you details surrounding how NSCAD is currently funded, including the grants we receive from the Province. I know it is part of popular belief at NSCAD that we are under-funded by the Province and all we need to do to remove our deficit is to demand larger grants from the Province. I hope to share with you some facts that will dispel that belief.

Best wishes for the holidays and end of term

As the first semester comes to a close I thought it timely to take the opportunity in this blog to extend to all readers, faculty, staff, students, board members and alumni good wishes for peace, happiness and relaxation with family and friends over the holiday season.

I know this has been a trying year for all in the NSCAD community.  We have experienced more than our fair share of uncertainty and unwelcomed and sometimes critical public scrutiny. Despite all this, we have managed to continue to attract top-notch students and deliver the high-quality, unique programs for which NSCAD has gained its enviable reputation. Moreover, given our small size, we have a disproportionate share of students, faculty and alumni winning prestigious awards and recognitions compared to other universities in the Atlantic provinces.

On the planning front, we are making progress, albeit painfully slow progress, in winning government support for our Framework for Sustainability.  Two components of the plan, namely a thorough cost/benefit analysis of affiliation and a detailed space utilization study, have been funded and consultants are actively being sought.  I am in the process of establishing oversight/liaison committees to work with the consultants. These committees will be composed in such a fashion as to have representation from all our significant internal stakeholders groups. In the meantime, we are still awaiting government approval of the other components of the Framework for Sustainability’s Plan B.

I recognize that important sectors of our internal community are not supportive of the framework, but frankly, the Board of Governors and I have not as yet received a single alternate proposal which would allow NSCAD to return to fiscal balance. The government, our principle funder, has made it abundantly clear that they do not intend to fund our operating deficit indefinitely.  Nor do we win friends in the public arena for systematically failing to operate within our means. To achieve savings, we must change current expenditure patterns. The status quo is not an option, nor are proposals which would result in increased expenditures. The Board believes that changes can be made without fundamentally damaging our ability to offer high-quality core programs. NSCAD Administration and the Board of Governors are committed to implementing the plan in a fashion which ensures such protection.  The Board and I also recognize that we will need to invest more time in attempting to explain the imperatives of the plan and to be open to compelling options; that’s our work for the next semester.

I realize I have strayed into heavy subject matter when my original intent was simply to extend holiday wishes. But I know these important matters are on everyone’s minds, so I thought it disingenuous not to address them.

Best wishes to all,


Making progress

As we begin the month of August, I find the halls becoming more depopulated, as folks schedule much-needed vacation time before the September rush.

Since my last post, I have continued to inch away at the various tasks contained in my mandate.  Predictably, this has meant lots of meetings with government officials, members of the board, senior administration, and to a lesser extent, faculty and students.

I wish I could tell you that all my efforts with the Province have been 100 per cent successful.  But what I can tell you is that we continue to make progress in both clarifying our position and gaining their confidence in our ability to steward our finances to a balanced position.  As of this writing, the Province has agreed to fund the 2011-12 deficit and has approved our 2012-13 budget. Still pending is a decision on funding Plan B of our Framework for Sustainability and funding for a consultant-led cost/benefit/risk study of a closer association with one of the peninsular universities.  I remain hopeful that favorable decisions will be reached on these two files by mid-fall.

In the meantime, I cannot overstate the importance of staying on target with Plan A of the Framework for Sustainability.  As you know, the budget for 2012-2013 was built on the expenditure and revenue assumptions of the plan.  These assumptions led us to identify cost savings in the form of non-replacement of most vacated positions, spending freezes and part-time appointment savings by eliminating under-enrolled courses and altering the frequency of course offerings.  Combined, these measures allow us to shrink our expenditure base considerably.  I should add that all this belt tightening comes with a cost.  For example, we have removed one vice-president position, two positions in financial services, and have realized considerable savings in the operation of my office.  On the revenue side, Plan A includes increases from two sources: increased rental revenue and increases in student fees.  I appreciate the new fees introduced this year are not welcomed by students; why would they?  But I can assure you that the fees in question have been well researched and processed properly.  They are ones which all or most universities in Nova Scotia and all Canadian art colleges have collected for years.  So while the Board had some reluctance to impose the new fees, on balance they were thought to be justified in the face of the fiscal challenges facing the university.

On a brighter note, I had the pleasure of attending the closing ceremony for our current group of artists based in Lunenburg.  NSCAD grads Nadia Gemeinhardt, Lynette de Montreuil, and Jason Skinner shared their experiences of the past year with a very appreciative assembly of friends, family, NSCAD supporters and community residents.  The occasion was enhanced by the choice of venue – the beautiful Tall Ship Providence berthed in Lunenburg Harbor.  By attending the event, I was able to gain a first-hand understanding of the value of the community resident program, both to our artist participants and the host community. Residents with the New Glasgow program get their turn next. 

That's me with NSCAD-Lunenburg Community Residents past, present and future: Andrew Maize, Nadia Gemeinhardt, Lynette de Montreuil, Kat Frick Miller, Jason Skinner and Rebecca Roher.

I also attended a couple of events in relation to the Tall Ships celebration; one was a NSCAD-hosted event for staff and students at the Port Campus.  Finally, I attended the exhibition of a Tom Forrestall work commissioned by the Canadian Navy. Kelly Zwicker, Vice-President External of SUNSCAD, accompanied me at the event.

Best wishes for a restful August.


Stepping into summer

Here I am, a month later, still finding myself occasionally lost in a strange hallway or stairwell. But I’ve been having a grand time—thanks to everyone for the warm welcome.

I can’t remember ever having so many meetings, but then there’s a lot for me to catch up on. I’ve met with members of SUNSCAD, FUNSCAD, the board executive and senior staff—not to mention donors, government reps and reporters. So you might say I’m rapidly expanding my understanding of NSCAD. It’s been heartening to hear about NSCAD as I’ve been out and about, introducing myself and talking up the university; there’s a lot of interest and goodwill out there for NSCAD and our students past and present.

One of the big things on my plate is the Framework for Sustainability. There’s still been no substantial response from the government, other than ‘go ahead and do what you can do on your own and we’ll examine your proposals in more detail.’ We take that to mean ‘Proceed with Plan A of your Framework for Sustainability.’

NSCAD’s 2012-2013 operating budget, which we presented to the Board of Governors this week, does exactly that. Under Plan A, we’ve been able to trim the operating deficit by almost half—a substantial improvement from the 2011-12 budget which put NSCAD in the red by $2.6 million. We’ve done this by some belt-tightening: by offering fewer multi-section classes and under-enrolled required classes less frequently, imposing a university-wide spending freeze, and not replacing all positions when they become vacant (some, of course, such as the registrar and head librarian will need to be replaced). Other aspects of the budget include a three per cent tuition hike, approved by the provincial government under the MOU with all Nova Scotia universities, and the introduction of three student fees (a facility fee of $45/semester, a technology renewal fee of $50/semester, and a one-time graduation fee of $50.)

One other aspect of the Framework for Sustainability is also going ahead and that is to seek out collaborations with other Nova Scotia universities. We’ve made an application through the Department of Labour and Advanced Education for funding to engage arm’s length consultants to conduct a comprehensive cost benefit study to align closer with Dalhousie or Saint Mary’s. Such a study would compare the academic and research synergies of a closer association, benefits to students, potential facilities improvements and cost efficiencies. I’ll let you know more when there’s news on that front.

Some good news to share: student enrolment in the fall appears to be on par with fall 2011, even a little ahead. As of this point, the number of acceptances (student who have applied and offered acceptance) exceeds the number recorded at the same time last year. However, the number of registrants is down slightly. I’ve asked Kenn Honeychurch, VP Academic, to reach out to those students who have accepted but not yet registered. It certainly speaks to the excellence of NSCAD’s reputation and programs that enrolment has not been adversely affected by all the publicity over the past year. Terry Bailey, the Director of Admissions and Enrolment Services, says he’s been seeing some very strong portfolios and reading compelling admissions essays. I look forward to meeting some of these students myself in the fall.

Some more good news: the NSCAD Alumni Association has some very ambitious plans to celebrate NSCAD’s 125th anniversary in the fall. I invite you to circle the weekend of September 21-23 on your calendar right now. There’s going to be historical exhibitions, a big concert called the “Back to School Special” and a group performance that Linda Hutchison in University Relations has dubbed “ANNAmotion-LOGOmotion” and involves creating Anna Leonowens’ likeness on the side of Citadel Hill. Not sure how that’s going to work, but I sure am interested to see it happen. Members of the alumni association had their Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, June 27 and I took the opportunity to meet with them.  Afterwards, I popped in next door where a reception was being held to congratulate Eleanor King, acting director of the Anna Leonowens Gallery, as a finalist for the Sobey Art Award. I am continually humbled by the accomplishments of NSCAD faculty, staff and students; what an amazing place this is.

So that’s it for now. Enjoy the summer weather whenever it gets here!

Notes from the fourth floor


Welcome to my blog. I’ve never had one before but I thought this might be a good way to introduce myself and let you know what I’ve been up to since I arrived at NSCAD University about three weeks ago.

Did I say three weeks? The time has flown by as I’ve become more acquainted with ongoing issues at the university and met with stakeholders both on and off campus.

In saying hello, I must bid adieu to two important members of our NSCAD team: Laurelle LeVert, NSCAD’s Registrar and Director of Student Services, who is taking a position at the University of New Brunswick, and Tanja Harrison, University Librarian, who has already started at Mount Saint Vincent University. All the best to you both — you will be missed here at NSCAD!

There is, of course, one big file that is getting my attention and that is NSCAD’s Framework for Sustainability, which was prepared for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education at the end of March. In the coming days and weeks, I will be re-examining the plan in consultation with senior staff and the Board of Governors to decide how to proceed while we await the government’s official response. Some aspects, however, are already in play. You may notice that the university is getting some new tenants at the Granville campus; that is part of a plan to bring in new revenue by maximizing the campus’s rental potential.

I’ve arrived at a wonderful time for the university. NSCAD has been getting some terrific exposure in the media for two events in particular: Artist for a Day which happened on the Halifax waterfront on May 12 and the opening of Oh, Canada at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Mass., on May 26th weekend. I’ve heard nothing but raves for Artist for a Day, which turned into such a great family event for Halifax. No doubt some of the kids who had their hands in clay, hammed it up in front of the green screen or watched the steamroller press a print that day will be applying to become NSCAD students in a few years.

NSCAD should be justly proud of its representation in Oh, Canada, the largest exhibition of Canadian contemporary art north or south of the border in years. One-third of the artists and curators at the show have NSCAD connections—which speaks to the university’s incredible role in shaping generations of artists and critical thinkers.

“I remember when I was in college, in grad school, I remember hearing about this place called NSCAD,” said Oh, Canada curator Denise Markonish, in an interview with CBC Radio. “So when I started doing the show and I discovered it for myself, (I realized) what an amazing legacy this place has had. It’s unbelievable that a college like this exists that has bred generation after generation of phenomenal artists. I’m really proud of having all these NSCAD connections here.”

Linda Hutchison, director of University Relations, alumni & development, tells me it felt like old home week at MASS MoCA since there were so many familiar faces there, including alumni and faculty members past and present. I should mention that Linda was able to organize an alumni event during Oh, Canada’s opening weekend through the generosity of NSCAD board member Rob Dimitrieff (BFA 2003). A big thank you to Rob. I wasn’t able to make the opening myself, but the show will be up for almost a year so there’s plenty of time to make plans for a visit.

As for this blog, I hope to update it regularly and let you know what I’m up to. Throughout the summer, I hope to meet with faculty and staff in small groups to introduce myself and to find out more about the programs at NSCAD. I’ve got a lot to learn and I want to listen to what you say.

In the meantime, if you see me in the hall or in the elevator, please say hello. I’m the guy in the suit (at least until July). Or, come up to the fourth floor anytime. I’m looking forward to meeting you.

Until next time,