CALGARY — The Alberta College of Art and Design has reinstated an instructor fired after one of his students beheaded a chicken.
The college said Wednesday in a statement that it has learned lessons from the incident and hopes to develop clear policies around academic responsibility and artistic freedom.
“While the College’s decision to terminate Mr. Ferguson was never intended to be about academic or artistic freedom, the College acknowledges the perception this action may have created,” it said.
“All parties acknowledge that this incident has raised important issues about the relationship between a teacher and student, and a student’s work.”
The student killed the chicken with a knife, then plucked it and cleaned it in the school’s cafeteria last month as part of a performance art project. Some students were so shocked they called police but no criminal charges were laid.
The teacher in charge of the class, Gord Ferguson, was fired last week. The Canadian Association of University Teachers quickly took up his fight and filed a grievance with the college.
He had been with the school for 32 years.
Ferguson said Wednesday he’s relieved to have his job back. He found it unfair the college punished him for something a student did, adding students should be allowed to be creative at an art school.
“We never tell them what they can’t do or what they can do,” he said. “Any subject is available to be debated and discussed and investigated and you have to feel free and supported to be able to do that.”
He said the student’s chicken project was about commercial food production.
He wanted to remind people that meat doesn’t come wrapped in plastic from a grocery store — it has to be killed first.
Ferguson briefly discussed the project with the student beforehand but, in hindsight, wishes they would have spent more time talking about how best to carry it out.
Ferguson said he has been overwhelmed with supportive letters and messages from students, past students, professors and strangers from across the country.
About 1,400 students also signed an online petition supporting Ferguson. Others flocked to Facebook, planning to protest his firing later this week during the school’s graduation art show.
Ferguson said he and the school have agreed to host a symposium when classes resume in September “to air some of these issues arising from this event.”
“I think that the goal here is to not come up with a set of restrictions where people may not do this and not do that, but rather inform people that they are free to explore any topic that they want to explore — but maybe with a bit of framework.”