On October 20, voices from across Alberta’s post-secondary sector spoke at a public forum on the current state of post-secondary governance in Alberta.
The forum was hosted by Sourayan Mookerjea, Climate Resilience Fellow at the Kule Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Alberta. The event was organized as an opportunity for the community to discuss and respond to a Parkland Institute report on the corporateization of education.
Topics discussed at the forum ranged from possible changes to the Post-Secondary Learning Act to possible ways of preserving bicameral governance in universities. Professors from various Alberta universities and a representative from the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) were present. Representatives from the U of A student union were invited but “declined,” Mookerjea said.
The first speaker was Fiona Nicoll, Kule Fellow and Professor in the Department of Political Science. Nicoll said the reason she came to U of A was to do gambling research, but said she was concerned about academic restructuring from Australia, a country that has been going through a similar process in recent years.
“Things are changing really fast at the University of Alberta… we are told that there are core tasks that need to be done in order to become a university for tomorrow.”
Nicoll said she was concerned that instead of becoming a university for tomorrow – which is the title for the U of A’s strategic transition – the university will become “like the universities of yesterday in Australia”.
The U of A used the same business consulting firm as the University of Sydney to plan the academic restructuring process.
Lynette Shultz, a professor in the U of A’s Department of Education Policy Studies, continued to speak about the Parkland Report and how the U of A Board of Governors (BoG) has evolved towards a more business-centric model.
“One of the things in the report I could question…is the notion of outsiders infiltrating the inside of our institution.”
She explained that the transition to a more enterprise-centric model has been a nearly decade-long process. She recalled Gwyn Morgan, a founder of energy company EnCana and business commentator, coming to university and saying, “If universities were in business, they would be out of business.”
Shultz said this marked the beginning of a new period of “managerial fantasies” that included an expansion of human resources (HR) and a shift from academic decisions to managerial decisions. She said this created a perceived barrier between faculty and management.
“There was a sense of being inside and outside, so people could take a leadership role and be inside.”
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Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies, spoke on the state of bicameral governance at the U of A based on recent General Faculties Council (GFC) meetings.
Sale spoke at a recent GFC meeting where U of A President Bill Flanagan ruled that the college dean selection process — a new position introduced by the academic reorganization — bypass GFC and go straight to BoG could. She said the bicameral system of government at the U of A was being “very aggressively undermined.”
“One of the problems is that the overwhelming majority of the university community has no idea what’s going on.”
Sale spoke about the long-term legacy this could have for the university.
“The university was founded in 1906 and should not be allowed to perish because of a government in the 2020s [unfriendly] in the interests of the university and a CEO and President willing to serve as servants of destruction.”
Chris Beasley, a CAUS representative and former student union council member, recalled his first tenure on the student council, where he was first exposed to BoG. Beasley said it gave the impression that students were unable to make governance decisions for the university. This was based on the assumption that “students are not fit to do a governor’s job,” he said.
“There is a certain level of superiority of knowledge, and there is a hierarchy of what knowledge is most valuable to directors.”
Noting that students appear to be underrepresented on governing bodies, Beasley added that “students are in the best position to represent student interests and student interests deserve at least adequate representation in these institutions.” be”.
The board of governors has a conflict of interest when it comes to fossil fuels, panellists say
The report found that the UCP has appointed at least 42 people to post-secondary boards with ties to the oil and gas sector — nearly 28 percent. Eight of the 21 chief executive officers are also associated with the industry, including the chairman of the U of A, who is currently senior vice president at Capitol Power.
Laurie Adkin, a professor at the U of A in the Department of Political Science, was one of the lead authors of the report.
Adkin called for more transparency in the board appointment process, citing another Parkland report she worked on that found that the fossil fuel industry disproportionately influences research at Alberta universities.
“Not a single board of directors of a post-secondary school in this province today would support a campaign to move away from fossil fuels, no matter what the students think or what faculty might want it to do. And I think we should pay attention to what that tells us,” she said. “Which representation do we actually have?”
“We need to think about what really is a conflict of interest. And the way it’s now defined for the Board of Governors is really ineffective.”
Shultz also spoke on climate, claiming that the climate crisis is under-addressed and obstructed at U of A.
“What’s going on at the University of Alberta to curb that [progress] – it’s one of those things that keeps me up at night.”
Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez, a professor in the Department of Political Science at U of A, said that ties to oil and gas are not only “inherently a conflict of interest,” but also speak to larger conversations about universities’ colonial history.
“I think presenting the value of education only in terms of what wealth can produce…reinforces settlers’ colonial notions of exploitation,” she said. “This type of assessment sacrifices communities for corporate interests and subordinates local priorities to the global oil, gas and mining industry.”