Fired Aurora College president Tom Weegar is contradicting cabinet explanations for his departure.
Weegar, who has only been in the job for about a year, says he was “surprised” when he was dismissed last week, and is calling into question comments made by Premier Caroline Cochrane and Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson.
Simpson told Cabin Radio Wednesday that Weegar had stepped “away to pursue other opportunities.”
When asked about his firing in the legislative assembly Wednesday, Premier Cochrane told MLAs “to jump (and) say, ‘he was shown the door’ might not be the term that I would use.”
But Weegar says that is “incorrect,” saying his firing last week came out of the blue.
“My initial reaction was very much surprise,” said Weegar. “I had no knowledge that the government was interested in letting me go and replacing me. No communication about that whatsoever.”
He said he was offered no explanation for his dismissal.
The territorial government announced Weegar was out as Aurora College president and associate deputy minister of Education, Culture and Employment, post-secondary education renewal, on Tuesday. His replacement is Andy Bevan, who had served as the department’s assistant deputy minister, labour and income security.
“The Premier thanks Dr. Weegar for his work in helping to advance the transformation of the College into a polytechnic university and wishes him well in his future endeavours,” the government press release stated.
Weegar said he suspects his dismissal was politically motivated, believing cabinet was lobbied by a yet undisclosed party to have him terminated.
He said one of his colleagues at Yukon College told him, “Tom, you’re the third president to be sabotaged from within.”
Prior to the Aurora College job, Weegar served as vice-president of academics at Sir Sandford Fleming College of Applied Arts and Technology in Peterborough, Ont. From 2013 to 2018, he was president and CEO at Cumberland College in Nipawin, Saskatchewan.
Weegar said he recognizes the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university has been a challenging journey, that at times can be political. However, there was no indication his position was in danger, he said.
“I believe someone went to the premier and said something. What that was? Who that was? I have no idea,” said Weegar.
“I don’t think a premier makes a decision partway through the term and makes a decision like this without some impetus. I’m curious as to what this impetus was.”
Weegar said he was still in the early stages of Aurora College’s transformation when he was let go. He said he was attempting to engage the institution’s faculty and staff in the process under what Weegar called “a shared leadership approach.”
“We were on that journey going hand in hand to make things happen,” he said.
Last year, when Cochrane was the education minister, the GNWT was aiming for a polytechnic university to be in place by 2025.
Weegar, however, said his dismissal will set that timeline back significantly.
“It puts leadership in question,” he said.
“Premier, what’s your plan? Where are you going with this? How do you plan to ensure there’s a solid basis of educational leadership with this institution.”
Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green told NNSL Media after Wednesday’s question period in the legislative assembly that Weegar’s firing was likewise a surprise for MLAs.
“But this certainly caught me off guard and people I’ve spoken to hadn’t seen this coming,” she said.