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B.C. students reject chancellor appointments

Student leaders say that appointments will ignore voice of alumni, students


 

Students in British Columbia are opposed to a provincial decision to allow universities to appoint, not elect, their chancellors.

B.C. lawmakers amended the province’s University Act in May. Bill 34 passed final reading and received Royal Assent on May 29. Now, university boards of governors can appoint their chancellors.

But there will be no vote by alumni or senators, as was tradition. At the time, UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) passed a motion condemning the move, citing lack of consultation with alumni and the university’s Senate.

AMS president Michael Duncan said that the new rules disconnect that community from the work of the administration.

While the position of chancellor is often seen as a figurehead, he added, at UBC it is quite respected by the university community because it has a seat on the Board of Governors and all of its committees.

“There is not power held in the position, but there is a lot of influence,” he said. “People take their opinion seriously.”

B.C. higher education minister Murray Coell told the Ubyssey that voter turnout was as low as one per cent, and that the amended process is “more effective.”

Duncan disputed the relevance of voter turnout, arguing that there are 250,000 alumni and it is unrealistic to expect all of them to vote. He added that the elections were not promoted nearly enough.

“A lot of (alumni) didn’t know about voting,” he said.

UBC students weren’t the only ones upset. Natalie Bocking, the vice-president external of the Simon Fraser Student Society, also lamented the new rules. At Simon Fraser, the Senate used to be consulted when a chancellor was hiredand for good reason, said Bocking, as the Senate better represents the university community.

“The chancellor does academic work, so I think it is more appropriate for the Senate to choose the person for that job,” she said. “Another thing about the Board of Governors is that it has a lot of members that are appointed by the provincial government … What we don’t want is our chancellor to be a partisan political hack.”

Bocking added that the appointments represent “the erosion of the democratic integrity of the university.”

The Ubyssey, a student paper at UBC, wrote in an editorial that “symbols do matter”, and the decision to take away the votes of alumni is a sign that “those in power on this campus have sent their own silent message: Once you’ve graduated, we only value your chequebook, not your voice.”


 
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B.C. students reject chancellor appointments

  1. It is also interesting to note that if you read the Hansard from when the NDP brought up this issue, Murray Coell’s justification was twofold:

    1) An appointed Chancellor is standard practice.
    – In fact, there were only two universities in Canada that didn’t have an elected Chancellor.

    2) The change was a request from the University Presidents’ Council.
    – In fact, the only communication that Coell had with the Council regarding Chancellor elections was 2 years earlier when his deputy minister spoke briefly with the Council about a problem that occurred with some Chancellor election at one of the universities. According to Stephen Toope, the Council never endorsed or recommended a change to the election process.

    Michael Duncan is right – it is obviously unrealistic to expect anything better than a turnout of 1% given that there are 250,000 eligible alumni (many of them entirely disconnected to the university at this point) and extend of election promotion was a link on a website and a blanket email.

    As a member of Senate, I no longer have the ability to vote for the Chancellor, who serves as an ex-officio voting members of every Senate committee. The intent of Coell is clear – to have authoritative control over autonomous public education institutions and further erode any accountability that is left by eliminating the few elected positions that we have at universities.

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