The president of NSCAD University has announced he will resign at the end of the school year, just as the storied but struggling art school enters one of the more pivotal periods in its 124-year history.
David B. Smith, an alumnus of the school, will relinquish the president’s job on May 15, although NSCAD – long known as the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design – confirmed he will stay on as a professor.
He will also continue to steer the creation of a strategy to get the school, which has posted escalating deficits that rose to $2.4-million this year, back on sustainable financial footing. Nova Scotia’s government has set a deadline of March 31 to receive the plan.
A spokesperson for NSCAD said Mr. Smith’s decision “was unanticipated,” but that the university has made “good progress” on the sustainability report, and “we expect to make the deadline.”
Neither Mr. Smith nor Michael Donovan, chair of the university’s board of governors, were available for interviews. But in a written statement, Mr. Donovan thanked the departing president for his six-year tenure, saying he helped secure $8.4-million in private donations – “more than had been raised in the university’s previous 120-year history.”
“Together we have faced many challenges over the years and this recent period has seen perhaps the greatest challenge to our institution,” Mr. Smith said in the statement. “I have done everything in my power to advance my perspective, and what I believe to be the core essentials that define this great institution.”
The Halifax school, which has hosted distinguished graduates, such as Micah Lexier, and lecturers, such as Michael Snow, faced an identity crisis late last year when the province floated the idea of merging NSCAD with another university. Thousands of students, faculty, staff and alumni were outraged, arguing the school’s independence is central to its character and success.
But a government-commissioned report made it clear in mid-December that the status quo would not be tolerated, saying administrators must look at every option, including “closer affiliation” with other universities, to mend the school’s woes.
NSCAD’s financial challenges include $19-million in debt, much of which it accrued by adding a 70,000-square-foot campus in 2007 – an underfunded project Mr. Smith inherited. With a 3-per-cent cut to university funding coming next year, NSCAD has acknowledged some program spending cuts are likely unavoidable.
The university’s board will strike a committee to select an interim president and search for Mr. Smith’s permanent replacement.