The British Columbia legislature has passed the Sea to Sky University Act, giving the go-ahead to David Strangway, president and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, to establish a private university in the town of Squamish.
The legislation, introduced last month as a private member's bill, gives SSU the right to grant degrees, diplomas and certificates at the undergraduate and graduate level. It follows the recent passage of the Degree Authorization Act, which allows private, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations to apply to grant B.C. degrees.
Strangway, former president of the University of British Columbia, told the Vancouver Sun the SSU Act means his university is now a reality and can begin building partnership agreements with other universities in Canada and abroad.
"It establishes us as a formal entity," Strangway said. "It allows us to go for charitable status. It lays out the governance structure, what the board structure is going to be. It's no longer a proposal. We exist as a university."
After seeing his proposal placed on hold when the NDP was in power, Strangway was quick to heap praise on the current Liberal government. "My project team members and I sincerely thank Premier Gordon Campbell and his government for their confidence in our ability to establish and operate a self-sustaining and progressive university that will contribute to the development of our leaders of tomorrow," he said.
When it opens its doors in 2004, SSU will be home to between 100 and 400 students. There are also plans to include a 960-unit university "village" of commercial and residential buildings on donated land around the campus, portions of which will be sold off to raise funds and generate an endowment. Tuition is anticipated to be about $25,000 per year.
While Strangway insists his project will be completely self-financing, opponents say taxpayers will pay a big price.
CAUT president Vic Catano pointed out the B.C. government has exempted the private university from paying property tax and given the District of Squamish the right to provide assistance to the university "despite any prohibition in the Local Government Act that might otherwise apply."
Catano said the donated land will generate a tax receipt worth "likely millions of dollars of foregone income tax."
He said SSU students will be eligible for publicly provided student loans and grants and its faculty will apply for research grants from government granting agencies.
"After freezing funding for colleges and universities, the province of B.C. is now indirectly offering large sums of public money to this private university," Catano said. "This is unacceptable."
Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C., agreed, predicting SSU will seek significant public funding in the future.
"The question is: Does this university really exist as a private institution or is it some sort of quasi-public institution? There appears to be some confusion about whether SSU would have some sort of claim on public funding in the future," Clift said.
"Given that we already have a limited pie for publicly funding universities, is Strangway going to find a way to muscle in on this?"
Cindy Oliver, president-elect of the College Institute Educators' Association of B.C., also criticized the government's actions.
"I'm very concerned the provincial government appears to be rushing ahead with privatizing post-secondary education," Oliver said. "British Columbians have been denied any input into the government's approval of a new private university and what amounts to a new public policy direction."
Catano noted another concern: the university will have no senate.
"The legislation makes the creation of an 'academic council' optional. Should the council be set up, it would be appointed by the university's board and its role would be limited to consulting with the president. Under the legislation, it would only have powers the president was willing to delegate to it."