Delegates to the CAUT Council meeting in Ottawa last month voted unanimously to censure First Nations University of Canada for its ongoing failure to resolve the serious problems with the governance of the university.
“It is with great sadness and only after careful deliberation that we have taken this decision,” said CAUT president Penni Stewart following the vote. “This is the first time CAUT has imposed censure in almost 30 years.”
Censure means academic staff in Canada and internationally will be asked not to accept appointments at the university, honours or awards, or invitations to speak or participate in academic conferences at FNUniv.
“Censure is a measure of last resort used only when we are faced with violations of principles that are fundamental to higher education,” said CAUT executive director James Turk.
“In most cases, university and college administrations recognize the serious consequences censure will have on the reputation of the institution and its ability to recruit staff and students, and they look for ways to resolve problems before censure is imposed.
“Unfortunately, while the First Nations University administration and board of governors were given every opportunity, they refused to show any serious willingness to address the concerns.”
Stewart emphasized that censure of FNUniv was not a reflection on the academic staff, many of whom have been harmed directly or indirectly by the governance difficulties at the university.
Problems erupted in 2005 when the board chair at the time, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice-chief Morley Watson, suspended several senior administrators, seized the university’s central computers and copied the hard drive which held all faculty and student records, and ordered administrative staff out of their offices.
Facing protest from academic staff, university elders, the University of Regina Faculty Association and CAUT, the federation appointed an all-chiefs task force, which released a report in November 2005 recommending a smaller, depoliticized board — one that would respect and incorporate First Nations culture and governance traditions, ensure governance effectiveness and efficiency, incorporate high-quality governance standards, enable the linkage with and participation of the university’s ownership and improve accountability.
“Regrettably, the key governance recommendations the task force laid out were never implemented,” Turk said. “Meanwhile, the problems continued.”
Ongoing governance issues since the upheaval in 2005 have resulted in the dismissal or resignation of the president, two vice-presidents, deans of two campuses, more than one-third of the academic staff and approximately half of the administrative, professional and technical staff.
The university has also seen a significant drop in enrolment and in research and special project revenue, adding to an already acute financial situation.
Turk said the task force report is a basis to find a resolution of the difficulties and allow censure to be lifted.
FSIN’s vice-chief for education, Lyle Whitefish, had asked to meet with CAUT this month, but then cancelled the meeting.