University teachers’ association censures First Nations U

Says administration has violated principles “fundamental to higher education”

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has voted to censure the First Nations University of Canada after years of turmoil at the Saskatchewan school.The association voted on the motion at a council meeting Nov. 30, saying the university has serious governance problems that must be addressed.

“Censure is a measure of last resort used only when we are faced with violations of principles that are fundamental to higher education,” says CAUT executive director James Turk.

Censure means that most university teachers will be told to refuse appointments at the university, decline invitations to speak or participate in academic conferences hosted by the university, and turn down any distinctions it offers. It was last imposed by the association in 1979.The vote comes after several years of turmoil at the university. In 2005, according to CAUT, “Morley Watson, a vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and then-chair of the university’s board of governors, suspended 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.”

As a result, the FSIN appointed an All-Chiefs task force to recommend a new governance model for the university. Their November 2005 report recommended a smaller and more depoliticized board 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.”

James Turk, CAUT exective director, says the governance recommendations were never implemented and problems persist.

In most cases, he says, university administrations realize the damage that censure will do to their ability to attract and retain staff, as well as host academic conferences, and try to resolve internal problems quickly.

“While the [First Nations University] administration and board were given every opportunity, they refused to show any serious willingness to address the concerns,” says Turk.

The association says ongoing problems at the university have led to the dismissal or resignation of the president, two vice-presidents, deans of two campuses, more than one-third of the academic staff and about half of the administrative, professional and technical staff. Enrollment has also dropped along with research and special project revenue.

In order to lift the censure, the First Nations University will have to implement the recommendations in its own task force report from 2005 and prove to the association that its governance problems have been resolved.