Gov’t withholds funds from First Nations University

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada imposes deadlines, demands “action plan”

According to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the federal government will be withholding more than $2 million from the First Nations University of Canada until the school agrees to make fundamental governance changes.

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.

According to The StarPhoenix, the $2.4-million that is being held back represents one-third of all Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) funding to the university.

An INAC spokesperson says university officials must meet various deadlines in the coming months and submit a final “action plan” by Jan. 1, 2010 to trigger a release of the funds. This is the first time the federal department has placed these kinds of conditions on an institution.