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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2001

Trent Appeal Fails in Court

In a split decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Aug. 10 that Trent University's board of governors acted within its authority when it decided to close two downtown colleges in defiance of the senate's opposition to the plan.

The majority ruling also supported the university administration's position that the two Trent faculty members who brought the case forward did not have standing to bring a judicial review application challenging the board's resolution.

CAUT president Tom Booth said the decision raises matters of concern to academics across the country.

"We are troubled the court concluded that senators and affected faculty members should not have standing to ask for a judicial review of a board decision that appears to trample legislative rights accorded to a senate," he said. "We are equally troubled with the court's reading of the Trent Act to allow the board to override the senate even on matters of overlapping jurisdiction."

Writing for the majority, Mr. Justice George Finlayson argued that, "In supporting the members of the faculty and alumni who oppose the restructuring plan, the senate lost sight of the broader interests of the university as a whole." He added, "Under the Trent University Act, the board is the keeper of the university purse and has no obligation to indefinitely provide financial support to any policy, educational or otherwise that is draining the coffers of the university, even if that policy originally was agreed upon by both the board and the senate."

Mr. Justice Robert Sharpe's dissent concluded, "Neither the board's power of general governance nor its power of the purse allow it to usurp the role of senate to control, regulate, and determine the educational policy of the university ... The legislation mandates a sharing of powers between the board and the senate with respect to decisions implicating both financial management and educational policy. The evidence relating to past practice supports the conclusion that the concurrence of both bodies was required on the facts of this case."

Sharpe also found that professors Ian McLachlan and Andrew Wernick, one as a member of the senate and both as program heads at a downtown college, satisfy the requirements for public interest standing.

CAUT, which provided financial support to McLachlan and Wernick to take the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal, will decide in September whether to support seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.