When administrators at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina realized in January that they would post a deficit this year, they put a freeze on hiring, travel, and raises. They estimated that the school would come out $100,000 in the red.
But this week, we learned that the school actually ran a $1.2 million deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008. Surprise! That’s two years in a row that the school has run over $1 million in the red.
Now FNUC is going to both levels of government looking for funding to bail them out of the shortfall, which is just the latest in a long series of recent problems at the school.
The university was put on probation by the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) last year after allegations that the school wasn’t operating independently of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. AUCC cited concerns about the university’s independence, institutional autonomy, and academic freedom in relation to the decision.
The concerns were linked to a incident when the board of the university fired two administrators (and suspended a third) in connection to a forensic audit. In the months that followed, several high-ranking officials were fired or suspended and others resigned. Senior staff, including one of the fired administrators Wes Stevenson, alleged political interference in the operation of the university by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and its vice-chief, Morley Watson.
Although FNUC has since been reinstated to full status with the AUCC, not everyone is convinced that the autonomy problems have been resolved. The Canadian Association of University Teachers is currently censuring the institution and asking the academic community to boycott because of alleged limits on academic freedom.
Then, in June, the RCMP charged Stevenson with fraud. The RCMP issued a release saying that a 57-year-old man, formerly of Regina, is accused of defrauding the university of a sum exceeding $5,000.
Stevenson, who maintains that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, said in June that he was looking forward to his day in court so that he can clear his name. “After three horrific years I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel here,” he said. “I must admit I am angry that it has come to this, because I have done nothing to defraud the institution. But that’s what the courts are there for.”
In an email this week, Stevenson said that the FNUC’s annual audit “saddens” him. “Before the political turmoil began in 2005, this was a healthy and budding institution,” he wrote. “What other Association of Universities & Colleges of Canada (AUCC) member in good standing could get away with shenanigans like these?”
The Saskatchewan government is expected to make a funding announcement next week.