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Teachers group backs art instructor fired after student killed chicken

Newborn chicks at the Couvoirs de l'Est firm. Feb 23 2006. Willgottheim, east of France. Photo credit Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images.

A national lobby group for teachers is backing a Calgary art instructor who was fired after one of his students beheaded a chicken as part of a school project.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has filed a grievance demanding the Alberta College of Art and Design reinstate Gordon Ferguson and apologize.

Ferguson, head of the school’s sculpture program, was fired last week. He had been with the school for 32 years.

“It’s just outrageous, in our view, that an art college would take action for a student expressing himself — in a manner that, while maybe contentious, was certainly not illegal — and would retaliate against the faculty member,” James Turk, CAUT’s executive director, said Monday from Ottawa.

“It’s unheard of.”

The student slit the chicken’s throat with a knife, then plucked and cleaned it in the school’s cafeteria. Some students were so shocked they called city police.

Officers consulted the Crown on the case but no criminal charges were laid.

At the time, the college released a statement on its Facebook page saying it was working with faculty, students and staff to better understand what had happened. It also directed upset students to contact the school’s counsellor.

Turk said once the school completed its investigation, it sent Ferguson a letter of termination describing the incident as “prejudicial” to the school’s business and reputation. It did not discipline the student.

“What’s hurt their reputation is their own behaviour in firing the professor. We’re very upset by this.”

Turk said the chicken was killed as performance art, which is supposed to push boundaries and challenge ideas.

The group has hired Ferguson a lawyer. Turk said if the teacher does not get his job back, with compensation for lost wages and benefits, the group will take the matter to arbitration.