First Nations University says it’s being "picked on"

Both province and feds are withholding funding from beleaguered university

Officials from the First Nations University of Canada are accusing the federal and provincial governments of being uncooperative and unnecessarily negative in their attempts to address alleged governance problems at the Saskatoon school, according to The StarPhoenix.

“The government should just get off its pot and start doing something more positive,” said faculty member Sharon Acoose in a speech to a gathered crowd of about 100 at Thursday’s open house. “Work with us. We have a beautiful university. Open your eyes and see that.”

In 2005, Morley Watson, chair of the university’s board of governors, suspended several senior administrators and allegedly seized the university’s central computers, copied the hard drive with all faculty and student records, and ordered administrative staff out of their offices.

Since that time, two different studies by both the provincial government and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations have recommended changes to the university’s board structure in an effort to improve transparency and good governance. Enrolment at the school has plunged, and many of the faculty and administrative staff have left.

In November 2008, the Canadian Association of University teachers imposed censure on the university, which meant that most of the Canada’s university teachers have been 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.

Last March, the province suspended $200,000 of funding to the school, saying that “fundamental changes” needed to be made, and the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is withholding more than $2 million for the same reason.

Those reactions are not sitting well with many of Thursday’s speakers, reports The StarPhoenix.

According to Acoose, the university is being “picked on.” She praised the work of university president Charles Pratt and vice-president of finance Al Ducharme. “Let us do our jobs. Quit holding the purse strings above our heads. We are not puppets.”

The university’s vice-president of academics Herman Michell said he agrees with Acoose.

“Sharon Acoose mentioned the struggles our university has gone through in the past four or five years. She’s right. As far as I’m concerned, we should have 50 of these First Nations universities across Canada. A lot of institutions across Canada are facing the same challenges we are,” he said.

“I call on the federal and provincial government to step up to the plate and help us do our work.”

A spokesman for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada says his department is “not going to address the comments made at the open house.” He said the funding conditions will remain, along with their late-November deadline.