Editorial—Students? What are Those?

You’ve probably already heard that AU has a new President, with the board unceremoniously announcing the dumping of Dr. Peter Scott late Wednesday afternoon.  The new President is Dr. Alex Clark, who, previous to this, was AU’s Dean of Health Sciences.

No new hiring process was conducted, and the change in leadership apparently came as a surprise to the rest of the Executive team at AU.  While Dr. Clark was a candidate during the previous search, apparently a strong one if you believe the Minister Chair of the Board of Governors, it occurs to me that there was a reason he was passed over in favor of Dr. Scott, yet his new appointment does not seem to have involved any consultation with anybody on the previous hiring committee, including the academics or your student representatives.  And let’s not forget that over half the board who has now appointed him wasn’t even around during the first search.  Not that it matters, apparently it wasn’t even thought important to contact all of the Board members about the vote.

But was he passed over for perhaps some significant reason?  Unfortunately the AU Board, or to be more accurate, the fresh appointees of Advanced Education Minister Nicolaides, don’t care.  For all we know, maybe he was passed over because he views the students as secondary.  After all, in his first mailing to everyone, he notes, “I will work to prioritize supporting and growing our people, our resources, and our processes for continued success.”  Note something missing there?

It’s you.

He wants the University to be a success, but the students who determine that aren’t listed as part of what he prioritizes.  If you dig into some of his other work, you’ll see that this is a consistent trend. Reading through the rest of his recent email, students are barely mentioned, only as a part of the various groups that are “involved” with Athabasca University.

Do I think this means he doesn’t think of students at all?  Or worse, that he views them as some sort of obstacle?  No.  While his priority is obviously fellow academics, as that’s where the bulk of his writing, as well as his personal business lies, he does have some columns that suggest academics change things so as to provide some benefits for students, such as their mindset.  But do I think the experience of students is something near the top of his mind at any given point in the day?  Let’s just say that I’ve not seen much evidence of it.

Of course, there’s lots about building community.  He notes, in fact, “… that we can have an active presence that benefits the local community.” Because those 3,000 people that make up the local community of Athabasca absolutely deserve to be benefited by the tuition funding of more then 30,000 students or so who attend AU.  The town’s done so much for all of them, after all.

But hey, maybe everything will be just fine.  Maybe even more executives won’t leave as did AU’s vice-president of finance and its chief human relations officers did. Maybe Dr. Dron is wrong about many faculty and staff preparing to leave.  And maybe Sir John Daniel is also incorrect when he said this would cause “the collapse of the university in the short-to-medium term.”

And maybe it’s time for every Albertan student and AU staff member to write their MLA and demand Nicolaides resignation if they want to have a chance keeping their seat in the next election.  It’s too late to fix what’s been done, but it’s not too late to show that there are consequences for the politician that does it.

In the meantime, please enjoy the rest of the read.