Mixed reception for Emily Carr overhaul

News that Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute will become the Emily Carr University of Art and Design has been greeted with skepticism by some postsecondary student and faculty groups. The April 28 announcement came just days after Premier Gordon Campbell announced that his government would bestow university status on Capilano College, Malaspina University-College, Kwantlen University College, and the University College of the Fraser Valley.

Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe, head of UBC’s department of art history, visual art, and theory, was muted in his enthusiasm for Emily Carr’s new designation. Windsor-Liscombe, who said he was speaking as an independent faculty member rather than as a department representative, told the Straight, “I think it’s more about politics than it is about academic or educational value.”¦I think, in a sense, there’s a mistaken idea that to call everything universities is (a) going to make them universities, and (b) is actually going to serve the purposes of the institutions themselves and their students. And I don’t think it will.”

Also critical of the move was Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. “Until this week, we had an understanding of what we thought a university was,” he told the Straight. “Universities are about a culture of scholarship, of inquiry, of research. A fundamental raison d’íªtre of universities in Canada is that faculty members are involved in advancing knowledge.”¦That does happen at university colleges and it certainly happens at Emily Carr, but”¦is that a fundamental value of those institutions, currently, and will it be now that they’ve changed their role?”

Shamus Reid, B.C. chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, told the Straight that the art school’s new standing raises the possibility of increased financial pressures on students. “A number of institutions have been transitioned to universities, and our concern is that we definitely don’t want to see this used as a justification to raise tuition fees at these institutions,” he said.

Emily Carr president Ron Burnett defended the move and explained that the school’s new name and standing more accurately represent its programs and mandate. “It’s a big change because the term institute”¦has a very, very vocational meaning to it,” he said to the Straight. “The College and Institute Act, which we have been under for many, many years, was essentially developed in the mid 1970s, 35 years ago. We’ve needed to clarify the fact that we are specialized, that we give graduate and undergraduate programs, and even more importantly, as a university, we do a lot of research in the areas that we specialize in. You can’t promote it and develop it fully even with funding agencies when the first thing they ask you is, ”˜How come you’re doing this? You’re a college.’ ”

Burnett maintained that tuition fees will remain unchanged, but that the university designation will necessitate some restructuring. “We’ll have a senate and we’re going to have a chancellor,” he explained. “Right now”¦we have departments, but we’re going to have faculties.” Degree programs will also be introduced in fashion and new media, he said.