A portrait crossed with a ventriloquist’s dummy

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Kris Bulcroft doesn’t look as harsh as her sculpture suggests. But she doesn’t behave with the authority of a really smart leader either…

Here’s a basic rule about leadership: If you have thin skin, stay out of the business. Kris Bulcroft, president and vice-chancellor of Capilano University in North Vancouver, doesn’t seem to understand this rule.

Here’s another: Pick your battles carefully. She doesn’t appear to get that one, either. When she announced a closure of the school’s studio arts, textiles and interactive design programs, teachers and students were understandably upset. That goes with the territory. And, for the record, I support her right to make unpopular decisions.

But when one of the teachers, George Rammell, made a caricature of Bulcroft, she appeared to feel it crossed some sort of bizarre Maginot line. Campus security seized the sculpture in May, broke it into shards and last week sent it back to the sculptor. It was a really dumb decision to destroy the artwork— after all, that only drew more attention to it. If Bulcroft had taken a deep breath and maturely ignored the piece, no one would have thought more about it.

Now that it’s back in the hands of the sculptor, however, he’s taking the shards and is transforming them into a new sculpture. And he already has Vancouver art galleries lining up to display it. The new work is less of a caricature and more of a “portrait crossed with a ventriloquist’s dummy,” Rammel said — rather memorably, I thought.

The whole episode recalls another piece of advice that leaders in a crisis to consider really need to remember: Never pick fights with anyone who buys ink by the barrel (or who knows how to get others to spill it.)

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