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OTTAWA, April 3 – The decision by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to restore full membership to the First Nations University of Canada does a disservice to Aboriginal post-secondary education, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). “We are deeply dismayed that AUCC chose not to uphold its own commitment to autonomous university governance,” said Greg Allain, President of CAUT.
AUCC put the First Nations University on probation in 2007, following two years of questions and concern expressed by faculty and students at the university and across Canada as well as by others in the higher education community. The concern was precipitated by the unprecedented and inappropriate intervention in the management of the university by the chair of the university’s board of governors.
The chair’s actions resulted in the university’s president, two-vice-presidents, deans of its three campuses, and more than a quarter of its faculty and a large number of its administrative staff resigning or being dismissed through this period.
In response to public concern over the actions of the chair, who was also a vice-chief of the Saskatchewan Federation of Indian Nations, the FSIN appointed an all-chiefs task force to recommend how to ensure proper governance of the university. In November 2005, the task force recommended substantial changes to the structure and operation of the university board. Few of their governance recommendations have been implemented, and those that were are largely “cosmetic” in nature, according to CAUT.
“It is a great disappointment that the FSIN failed to implement the recommendations of its own task force to restore proper university governance,” said CAUT’s Executive Director James L. Turk. “We are saddened that AUCC did not feel the First Nations University was worthy to be held to the same standard as Canada’s other universities.”
With membership in AUCC restored, CAUT fears the university will have little incentive to fix its problems. At CAUT’s council meeting last November, delegates from universities and colleges across Canada decided CAUT officials should meet with the First Nations University president and board chair to discuss concerns about governance, academic freedom and the university’s failure to implement the collective agreement with its faculty.
There have been no replies to CAUT’s requests for a meeting.
In May, CAUT council will consider censuring First Nations University – a sanction that could have grave consequences for the institution.
“Our desire is to see First Nations University return to its former traditions where institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and respect for its faculty, its staff and its communities were priorities,” said Turk. “Although it may be easier to remain silent about what is happening at First Nations University, we have too high a regard for the ideals of that university’s founders and builders to do so.”
The Canadian Association of University Teachers is the national voice of 57,000 academic staff at more than 100 universities and colleges across Canada.
For further information: James Turk, Executive Director, (613) 277-0488 (mobile); Lisa Keller, Communications Officer, (613) 726-5186
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