Arctic U: A, cautiously, good idea

Administrators should study the pitfalls of their predecessors to ensure mistakes aren’t repeated

Calls for a new university serving Canada’s north are growing. Approximately 50 academics gathered in Yellowknife this week and came away with renewed hope that such an institution could be established, and in the near future.

But we’ve heard these arguments before.

“As Northern peoples of Canada, we envision in our homelands a renowned institution centred on the teachings of the land, led by the wisdom of Indigenous peoples, fostering innovation, dialogue and inspired communities,” reads a statement from the group issued on Nov. 4.

Compare that with:

“First Nations University of Canada will acquire and expand its base of knowledge and understanding in the best interests of First Nations and for the benefit of society by providing opportunities of quality bi-lingual and bi-cultural education under the mandate of the First Nations of Saskatchewan,” reads the mission statement of the First Nations University of Canada.

Pretty similar, isn’t it?

But First Nations University of Canada demonstrated that special interest groups running a school with public money is fraught with problems. As recently as February, FNUC had its funding cut by the federal and provincial governments because of “long-standing, systemic problems related to governance and financial management.”

While the move sparked widespread criticism, inconsistent spending, sketchy expense accounts, that included trips to Vegas, and a desperate need to reform the board of governors, as demanded by both the province and the feds.

The funding cuts were just the icing on a cake that included staff dismissals, resignations in protest and accusations of infringement of academic freedom.

A university in Canada’s north is long overdue. Aside from Canada’s steady push for sovereignty in the north, which is greatly assisted by the presence of a well-educated local population, Canada’s north is an oft-neglected element of the Canadian landscape, and one that would be greatly assisted by the formation of a new school.

But given the recent precedent set by the formation of a similar special interest school, there are serious lessons to be learned. And administrators of this new institution should study the pitfalls of their predecessors carefully, lest they be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. A university in the Arctic should be about serving the needs of the region, with students as its number one priority. Independence will also be key. If it stays on this path, the university should succeed, and it will be a great thing for Canada’s north.