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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2008

First Nations University Facing CAUT Censure

CAUT Council delegates on May 2 voted on a call to censure First Nations University in November.
CAUT Council delegates on May 2 voted on a call to censure First Nations University in November.
The First Nations University of Canada may be censured by CAUT unless the university agrees to remedy gross violations of basic university governance principles, address concerns about academic freedom and respect collective agreements it has negotiated.

Delegates to CAUT’s spring Council meeting this month overwhelmingly supported a resolution to censure the university in November if satisfactory steps are not taken to improve governance, academic freedom and respect collective bargaining.

“Censure is an extremely serious action that is very rarely used,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “But First Nations University has violated the most fundamental traditions of university governance, disregarded negotiated agreements and threatened academic freedom. We have an obligation do everything in our power to remedy the situation.”

FNUniv was plunged into crisis three years ago when Morley Watson, a vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and then-chair of the university’s board of governors, summarily dismissed several senior administrators, seized the university’s central computers and copied the hard drive with all faculty and student records, and ordered administrative staff out of their offices.

In the face of opposition from academic staff, university elders, the University of Regina Faculty Association and CAUT, the FSIN appointed an all-chiefs task force to recommend an appropriate governance model for the university. The task force reported in November 2005 and recommended a much smaller board largely independent of the FSIN.

“Regrettably, the task force’s key governance recommendations were never implemented,” Turk said. “Meanwhile, the problems have grown more acute.”

Turk said that since Watson’s initial intervention, the university has witnessed the dismissal or resignation of the president, two vice-presidents, deans of the three campuses, more than one-third of the academic staff and about half of the administrative, professional and technical staff. Other consequences have been a significant drop in enrollment and in research and special project revenue in addition to a serious financial crisis.

The University of Regina Faculty Association has filed 33 grievances in response to violations of the collective agreement in place for its members at FNUniv. Last year, after concluding negotiations for a collective agreement for academic staff, the university announced that it had insufficient financial resources to implement the agreement.

If censured, FNUniv would face serious difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff and in hosting academic conferences.

“Censure means that the academic community in Canada and abroad will be asked not to accept appointments at a censured institution,” Turk said. “They will also be encouraged not to accept an invitation to be a speaker or otherwise participate in any institution-hosted events or conferences and not to accept any distinction or honour that may be offered by the institution. Academic organizations also will be asked not to hold events at the censured institution.”

Censure was last imposed in 1979 on Memorial University of Newfoundland and on the University of Calgary.

Turk said CAUT will meet with representatives from FNUniv on June 24 to discuss concerns.

“We’re looking forward to that opportunity to sit down with the First Nations University and see if we can work out a mutually satisfactory solution,” he added.