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Aurora College seeking feedback on governance model as discussion paper issued

Mayors want shared post-secondary vision
Aurora College's campus in Inuvik. NNSL File Photo

Aurora College is still in the process of transitioning into a polytechnic university but to get there, the GNWT needs an entirely new governance model that would oversee the new institution.

The department put a notice out earlier in August seeking feedback from residents and Indigenous governments on a proposed 32-page document that lays out how the post-secondary university could be governed.

The GNWT is proposing to have "a bicameral governance system" that involves two decision-making bodies.

According to the discussion paper  those two bodies will include a Board of Governors - which oversees "management and control of the polytechnic university, including its property, revenues and expenditures."

Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson speaks to reporter at the Legislative Assembly earlier this year.
NNSL file photo

The governing model proposed also includes a university Senate that "establishes and oversees academic programs, research programs and associated supports."

The board is proposed to be made up of a president of the college as well as one instructor elected by instructors, one employee elected by employees, a student and eight people appointed by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.  Of those, five are to be residents in the NWT and at least three of those must be Indigenous.

The board could also be made up of people "who have expertise that would contribute to the operation," the discussion paper states.

NNSL Media was unable to secure an official with the department to speak on the matter this week.

According to a news release issued by the Press Secretary's Office on Aug. 12, residents and interested groups have until Sept. 14 to provide feedback.

Officials with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment say that the proposed discussion paper provides "a starting" point where residents and key groups - especially Indigenous governments - have input into shaping how the future post-secondary institution is governed.

RJ Simpson, minister of education, culture and employment provided a statement on the issue saying it is important to reach out to partnering organizations on how the governance model will develop.

"As part of a transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university, we are taking an active approach to engaging with partners and stakeholders in the early stages of developing a governance model," he stated.

"Working together to create a robust governance model is an essential step towards ensuring that Aurora College and the polytechnic university have the tools necessary to operate successfully at arm's length from government."

The process for the college transitioning into a polytechnic began in October 2018 when then Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Caroline Cochrane announced the GNWT's direction with post-secondary studies in the NWT.

"A polytechnic university combines the practical approach of a college education and the depth of study associated with a university program," Cochrane said at the time. "Polytechnic programs are hands-on and technology-based, providing students with practical training for in-demand jobs."

The Aurora College transitioning file has seen its share of controversy since the beginning of this year when Tom Weegar, college president was fired in February. Weegar had held the positions of president of Aurora College and associate deputy minister of Post-Secondary Education Renewal for a year after being hired in February 2019.

Andy Bevan, a former assistant deputy minister of labour and income security took both roles.

Jackson Lafferty, MLA for Monfwi, alleged that Premier Caroline Cochrane broke the law called by firing Weegar as dismissal is the role of the Education, Culture and Employment minister.

The file has received little public attention since the exchange between the Monfwi MLA and Cochrane.

Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North said that that he believes the transition appears to be on pace, however slowly, and the central concerns of creating an independent post-secondary institution.

Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North says that he has no problems with the governance model as proposed but more engagement needs to be done to explain to the public the purpose of a polytechnic university.
photo courtesy of Rylund Johnson

"I have no issue with the governance model and I think it is long overdue to have a proper plan for a polytechnic that is at arm's length in place," he said. "So I think it is heading in the right direction and that the department understands needs to get away from government."

He said that public engagement on the governance model and greater clarity on the polytechnic's purpose still remains and should have happened months ago.

"I think the department is working diligently and is on track, but they're not likely to get anymore public interest in the polytechnic until the bigger decision surrounding programming and a new flagship is established," he said, noting that there has to be better clarity on if the polytechnic is aiming to develop teachers and social workers or miners and other related technological workers.

Dechinta strongly supports proposed structures that will lead to a bicameral governance model. This is a fundamental tenet of academic institutions Dechinta and our post-secondary education program delivery partners strictly adhere to. It promotes the development of an independent culture in the pursuit of knowledge and in the development of research that can benefit all Northerners.

Kelsey Wrightson, executive director with Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning provided a statement this week indicating that the institution "strongly supports proposed structures that will lead to a bicameral governance model."

"This is a fundamental tenet of academic institutions Dechinta and our post-secondary education program delivery partners strictly adhere to," she stated. "It promotes the development of an independent culture in the pursuit of knowledge and in the development of research that can benefit all Northerners."

Wrightson stated that Dechinta is avoiding influencing the shaping of the governance model for the college or the new polytechnic university.

However, we are willing and ready to work with the new board on areas of common interest for the benefit of students and local community economic diversification and development," she stated.

We were pleased to see a minimum standard for Indigenous community representation and the expressed statement that a minimum does not preclude a broader participation of Indigenous peoples."

She added that the college will need to engage and consult with communities to show what Indigenous representation might look like.

"We respect each nation’s and community’s agency in working with the college to state how they wish to be engaged and we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with all partners to continue building a system that reflects and responds to the land and its peoples," she stated.