Editorial—Sometimes I Get Hopeful

And then reality steps in.

You may not yet be aware, but the former chair of the Board of Governors of AU has been summarily removed.  Nancy Laird’s term was supposed to go until sometime in August.  However, for reasons the Alberta provincial government hasn’t seen fit to tell anyone, it suddenly was quite urgent that she be removed and a new lackey, one Byron Nelson, a commercial and personal injury lawyer from Calgary who is a two-time failure at attempting to gain a seat in government, first as the PC candidate in Calgary Bow in 2015, then as a contender for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in 2017.  He also enjoys playing rugby and is an active horseman, so obviously is well connected with the concerns of the average AU student?

At any rate, what warrants this sudden change?  Well, the Tyee has access to an exclusive letter where apparently Ms. Laird explained in rather direct language to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, that telling AU to start consolidating staff in the remote small town of Athabasca was something that was not within his purview as the minister of Advanced Education, I expect because it has absolutely nothing to do with advanced education and is completely outside of any of the responsibilities listed on the Ministry of Advanced Education’s website. It seems likely that this is part of the reason, though as yet, the Minister has not provided any comment as to why the early termination was required.

Her letter, as reported, lends support to the new AU President, Dr. Peter Scott, who, as I reported on earlier, took the Advanced Educations Minister’s request to consolidate within Athabasca and gave it the full respect it was due, noting that AU wouldn’t be changing its current plans one iota. It has been noted in various reporting about this board change that Minister Nicolaides does not have the power to fire President Scott, that has to be done by the board.   In one of the least subtle real-politick moves I’ve ever seen, Minister Nicolaides has quite clearly decided to send a message.

Meanwhile, AU gets a smaller portion of its funding from the provincial government than most so-called “private” schools, and certainly less than the brick-and-mortar post-secondary institutions in Alberta, yet it seems the current government is bound and determined that a good chunk of that money be spent on boosting the employment rate in a small town that can’t be bothered to make itself a more attractive option with its own local governance and taxes.

Perhaps that’s because the $53,000 raised by the town, county, and residents of the Athabasca region to pay lobbyists close to Kenney is a heck of a lot less than it would cost to actually invest in the town enough to make it attractive as a long-term home to most advanced academics.  The town website advertises “Bingo and Cards” as one of the towns foremost leisure activities, after all.   Yes.  I’m annoyed that the town and especially the local residents, which include a number of AU staff and faculty, have seen fit to encourage the government to step into AU’s operations as it’s attempting to do.  Maybe those staff and faculty didn’t see how dangerous a thing that was to do with this government, but if that’s the case, I suggest they simply haven’t been paying attention.

So why should you, as a student, care about any of this stuff?  One reason I can think of off the top of my head is that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the group that grants AU it’s accreditation in the US, has specific standards that an institution must meet to maintain accreditation.

One of those standards is “Institutional goals that are realistic, appropriate to higher education, and consistent with mission;” I think AU would be hard pressed to argue that supporting employment in a small town is a goal that is somehow appropriate to higher education.

In addition, an institution needs to have a clearly defined mission and goals that “are developed through appropriate collaborative participation by all who facilitate or are otherwise responsible for institutional development and improvement.”  Does anybody really think this UCP government would allow any institution to develop a mission or goal “through appropriate collaborative participation”?  One of the reasons for the leadership review that saw Kenney promise to hand in his resignation at some unspecified point in the future was that members and MLAs within the UCP were complaining that there was no collaborative process going on, the grass roots were being trampled—and that’s within their own party, not something that’s an expense like post-secondary education.

More than that though, there’s the larger issue of academic freedom.  If governments start making wholesale changes to boards because those boards are not making the universities run in the specific operational fashion that they like, what happens when the university has a course that is critical of the government?  “No, no, they’d never do that,” people might exclaim, but then who ever thought a government would think it gets to tell a post-secondary institution how to do its hiring?

So if you’re an AU student, and especially if you’re an Albertan, I urge you to either send an email to Advanced Education Minister Nicolaides or perhaps to call him at (780)427-5777, and register your concern with unjustified changes to the board, and with the government’s attempts to direct AU’s hiring process that extend well beyond any benefit to the university or yourself.  We need to let them know we’re watching, or they’re more likely to think they can get away with this.

In the meantime, this issue is coming out a bit late because I’ve been having some technical issues, but if you’re reading this, they should be all sorted out, which is good, because aside from my rant here, we’ve got a solid issue.  Check out the photographic talent of our latest student interviewee, along with discovering which he prefers, AU or brick-and-mortar schooling.  Or maybe get a glimpse of the immigrant experience here in Canada with Alek’s passionate defense of immigration in Canada.  Jessica Young also gives us a look at ableism with an example story that may have you fuming.

Plus a recipe for Chinese hot-pot, an examination of the correspondence between Freud, Einstein and what it means for you as a student, music and book reviews, advice, events, scholarships and more!  Enjoy the read!

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