Sunday, January 31, 2010

Governance - Charles I, FNUC and the norms of governance

In some ways, the feast of St. Charles, King and Martyr, may seem an odd day for a reflection on governance. Charles I believed in a particular sort of earthly governance - the Divine Right of Kings - which was already passed its best before date when he was executed 361 years ago. Yet he defended the Church of England from the joyless fatalism of the Puritans and the people of England from the rapacious greedof those who stole the common lands into private ownership.

Perhaps governance is on my mind because of tomorrow's annual meeting of the parish - my first as incumbent though my fourth as priest in that place.

Or perhaps governance is on my mind as I consider the tragic destruction of the once-promising First Nations University of Canada.

It started with such promise, 35 years ago, as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, a part of the University of Regina. It was officially opened in its new digs by HRH the Earl of Wessex in 2003, and was the first place visited by HM the Queen during her visit to Canada in 2005 (before she had actually officially arrived).

Unfortunately, just a few weeks before HM's visit, the process of destruction had begun. Saskatchewan Federation of Indian Nations Vice-Chief, Morley Watson siezed control of the university administration, ostensibly on behalf of the Board of Governors. He siezed files and computer hard drives and he suspended the university president and two senior officials.

The FSIN's interference in the running of FNUC lends credibility to the worst stereotypes of Indian politics. FNUC is in crisis, but none of the First Nations politicians want to do anything about it - except collect per diems and sign off on sweet deals for their patronage appointments.

It didn't have to be this way.

It doesn't have to be this way.

But the FSIN leadership refuse to accord the institution the kind of autonomy which is the norm for universities throughout the world. In the last week it was revealed that the former Chief Financial Officer had not resigned, but had been fired for calling attention to the fact that senior administrators had been allowed to convert significant unused benefits into a cash payout, contrary to existing policy. More than a quarter million in unused vacation was paid out in cash to the president and other senior officials.

Although cleared in the courts, there are continuing issues about academic freedom. The institution was on probation with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada - the organization that accredits degree granting institutions. FNUC is currently under censure from the Canadian Association of University Teachers - meaning that CAUT would advise academics not to apply for positions at FNUC. As of this weekend, apparently the federal and provincial governments are seriously considering pulling a combined $12 million in funding to FNUC, with a plan to restructure FNUC degrees to be completed and granted instead through the University of Regina.

In any other institution, this bizarre sideshow would not be tolerated. Unfortunately, for the powers that be at FNUC, it's just business as usual.

Educational attainment among First Nations people lags behind the rest of the population. Education - including post-secondary education - is the key to the future for the next generations of First Nations youth.

The relatively trouble free success of the Gabriel Dumont Institute or the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies demonstrates that Saskatchewan's Aboriginal people are fully capable of leading and managing post-secondary institutions. Yet when it comes to FNUC, the circus continues and never seems to end. First Nations status is offered up as an excuse for ignoring the norms of academic governance.

As I see it, it is only partly a failure of governance. It is principally a failure of ethical leadership - beginning with Morley Watson and continuing with every First nations politician who has chosen to screw over the future of his people by running FNUC into the ground.

Charles I lost his head before the Crown could begin to negotiate its way in an enlightened and democratic society.

It was tragic - certainly for Charles.

It would be equally tragic if Canadian First Nations had to lose their university before learning to negotiate their way among the democratic norms of academic governance.

In the meantime, here is a video of the execution of the martyr king from the movie Cromwell.


Anonymous said...

So you have no respect for the Puritans who founded Harvard and Yale? You'd rather have the cavaliers and their paternalism?

Malcolm+ said...

Actually, I'm not a fan of Puritans ancient or modern, no.

But I hardly see how calling for accountability is paternalism.

By contrast, the excuses that the FSIN Assembly of Chiefs and the FNUC Board and senior administration have been using (up until this week) that they deserved to be excused from any norms of accountability because they are First Nations is pure infantilism.