Queen’s University temporarily suspends admissions to the Bachelor of Fine Art program

After months of consultation, Queen’s University has suspended admission to its Bachelor of Fine Art Program. Photo via Queen’s University.

The Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) at Queen’s University has made the decision to temporarily suspend admissions to the school’s Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) program for a period of two years, beginning this September. According to Warren Mabee, Director and Associate Dean of Arts and Science, the move will allow the university to address some of the “structural issues” that have plagued the program for some time.

“The program is structured in such a way that, although the quality is good, [and] the students are great, it’s hard for students to come in and out of the program. It’s hard for students to do things like take a semester off to do an internship or another program. Dealing with those structural issues can be really challenging because what we need to do is kind of recreate the way the program is taught.” 

Mabee said that the issues were first raised during the 2016 Cyclical Program Review (CPR), a government-mandated review process each program at the university is subject to every eight years. “The last time the [CPR] was done, they had flagged these concerns about structure as one of the things as we needed to focus on.”

In the fall of 2022, Queen’s University initiated a consultation process involving students, faculty, and other staff on how to best address the program’s underlying issues. 

“We heard that students appreciate the quality of the education they’re getting, and they like a lot of things about the program,” Mabee said about some of the comments received from students. “They do see the lack of flexibility in the program as a concern, because many of them are looking to pair their education in art with education in other areas, and that can be a very diverse range of things.”

“So students did want us to pursue [greater flexibility], but they were also looking for ways to further specialize in their areas. Are there ways that we could augment the education that they’re getting in painting, drawing, printmaking, or in sculpture?” Mabee continued.

While the university did consider alternatives to a temporary suspension of admissions, it eventually became clear that such a move was necessary to fully address the program’s structural concerns. 

“A lot of what we heard in consultation… supported the idea that a temporary suspension of admissions can help us renew and strengthen the program… There were people on both sides: [some] thought we could get it done without going to a suspension, [while others] felt it would take longer… But there’s lots to be done.” 

In terms of how the program is structured currently, BFA students essentially take one big course per semester, for a total of two courses per year throughout the four-year program. “Over the course of the [entire] program, there’s really only eight courses they take. While it sort of sounds easy to just divide those courses up, when you start to get into how courses would be designed, how they would interact with each other, how we make sure we’re doing all the things that we’re doing right now… we need time to be able to focus on that,” Mabee explained.

As for what the next two years will look like as faculty find ways to address the program’s structural issues, Mabee said the first step will involve bringing multiple programs together for further consultation. “We will assemble a committee that will involve people from Fine Art and from some of the [related] departments [like] Art History and Art Conservation, [who] will work with us to start redefining how the program is delivered and looking at the learning outcomes and how we can better achieve what we’re trying to do.”

“We’ll also be looking at things like how the program is administered going forward, what kind of governance structure [it] will have. We’ve heard a lot about that in the consultation process: [there’s] a lot of really great ideas, and I know that Dean [Barbara Crow] is committed to ensuring that we have the appropriate governance and the right support for the program as it goes through this process of renewal,” added Mabee. 

While the Associate Dean said that students were vocal about the need for structural changes, he noted there has been some concern since the news of the temporary suspension first broke: “There are students [who] are concerned, and what I’ve been trying to reinforce is that we’re trying to respond to issues that they themselves have raised. And we’re trying to do it in a way that will impact them as little as possible.”

According to Mabee, the program’s admissions suspension is a temporary one, with a new crop of BFA first-years expected to return to Queen’s in the fall of 2025. “It’s a temporary suspension of admission designed to give us some space and time so that we can renew the program, make it stronger, respond to student desires… and give us a really strong program moving forward.”

While the temporary suspension means that no new students will be brought into the program for 24 months, the move will not impact current BFA students. “The students that are going through the program right now will be able to finish their program as it was promised… as they signed up for. We’ll be doing things to support those students who have… gone through some stressful times, as we’ve talked about this over the last year,” Mabee stated.

“What I’m really looking forward to is getting [current students] involved in some of this renewal work — actually having them provide input into what a [fine art] program looks like and how it could operate.” 

Similarly, faculty and staff currently working in the BFA program will not have their employment impacted during the two-year suspension. “All the faculty will remain faculty members. The only thing that really changes is their workload over the next couple of years… Because we’ll have fewer courses being taught, that frees up some time. We don’t have a long list of faculty teaching in this area… so it’s really important that the members that are there are given the chance to contribute to building something new.”

While the university has a lot of work to do over the next two years, the Associate Dean is confident in the amount of time being given to identify and implement the necessary changes.

“We have a very passionate group of faculty. We’ve got a lot of people from related departments that want to help. The Dean’s office and the Dean herself are strongly committed to supporting the process as it goes forward. And I think that our students have amazing ideas that can be brought to support this,” he said.

“I think there will be lots of eyes watching to see how we do. But I’m very confident that we’re going to end up with a renewed program that will strengthen what we’ve already got, build on those positive elements of the program, and provide art education going forward that students really, really love.” 

While the temporary suspension affects only the Bachelor of Fine Art Program, leaving other related departments untouched, the move may seem contradictory to the university’s ongoing efforts to preserve and display works of fine art. According to Mabee, Queen’s — which houses tens of thousands of artworks, across numerous collections of paintings, sculptures, and disciplines — remains “committed to art and culture.”

“We’ve got strong programs [like] film and media, art history and conservation, drama, and music,” he said. “Visual art is one of those key pillars. We just want to strengthen that pillar.”

One thought on “Queen’s University temporarily suspends admissions to the Bachelor of Fine Art program

  • This article only gives one side of a more complex story. This suspension was controversial both in its substance and with respect to process and was fiercely debated at both the Faculty Board for Arts and Science and Senate. Good journalism would dig into that.

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