The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada last month voted to place the First Nations University of Canada on probationary membership pending a resolution of governance issues, in particular the independence of the FNUC board of directors from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations — the authority that founded the institution in the 1970s.
AUCC says if the issues can’t be resolved by March 2008, the AUCC board will recommend FNUC’s expulsion from the association.
“CAUT is deeply disappointed the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the FNUC board forced AUCC to place the university on probation for refusing to adopt governance changes recommended by FSIN’s own task force nearly two years ago,” said CAUT president Greg Allain.
The current problems at FNUC began in February 2005, when FSIN Vice Chief and board chair Morley Watson took it upon himself to intervene in the management of the university — evicting staff, suspending senior officials and seizing computer hard drives.
“These and subsequent actions have had a catastrophic effect leading to the loss of virtually all of the university’s senior administrators and a significant portion of the senior academic staff as well as many of the administrative, professional and technical staff who, together, had built FNUC into the top indigenous university in North America,” Allain said. “Enrollment has declined and the university is in serious financial trouble.”
In June 2005, FSIN set up an All Chiefs’ Task Force to investigate the worsening situation and identify solutions to remedy the controversy. The task force’s recommendations to restore proper governance and operating procedures at FNUC — procedures consistent with internationally-recognized standards of university governance — were reported in November 2005.
But FSIN and the FNUC board have steadfastly refused to adopt the changes recommended by the task force — prompting AUCC to review FNUC’s entitlement to AUCC membership, which requires a university to adhere to international norms on governance, institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
“In the face of FSIN’s latest action on Feb. 28, 2007, to postpone for another year any decisions about implementing the task force recommendations, AUCC took the only action it could,” Alain said.
Allain said CAUT hopes FSIN and the FNUC board will recognize the opportunity to restore the university to its former standing is limited as the continuing loss of respected teachers, scholars and administrators will soon make recovery impossible.
“FNUC occupies a unique role in Canadian higher education. Its demise would be a tragic loss for First Nations students and communities and for all Canadians,” Allain said.
On the Net: The All Chiefs’ Task Force report is available here. The final report of the AUCC review committee on First Nations University of Canada is available here.