Politicians urge speedy reinstatement of Aurora College board

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The education minister wants to have a new Aurora College board of directors in place in two years, but other politicians remain impatient.

Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson said in the legislature this week “the plan” is to re-establish a board for the college in 2022.

The college has been without a board since the body dissolved in June 2017 and was replaced by an administrator by then-Education Minister Alfred Moses.

Monfwi MLA and former education minister Jackson Lafferty and Fort Smith Mayor Lynn Napier have both come forward in the past week urging its return.

Aurora College has been without a Board of Governors since 2017.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

“During the polytechnic university transition period, we need that expertise, which we don’t have today, until 2022, 2024, 2025, whatever the case is,” Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty said about the Board in Assembly on Feb 12.

Concerns over the independence of the college from the GNWT appeared to reignite after the recent dismissal of former College President Tom Weegar. 

The reason for Weegar’s dismissal remains under wraps as an HR issue. Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson on Feb. 12 said in assembly he and the premier  briefed regular MLAs in detail privately the previous week. Weegar has also indicated he’d prefer a public discussion.

“It’s been three years since they’ve been without a board,”  Lafferty told the Assembly on Feb. 13, pointing to Weegar’s firing by the premier. “Why does this government deny an arm’s-length (governance structure)?”

Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty speaks in the Legislative Assembly building last October.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

Under current rules, the minister has the power to direct the board, determine and approve many of its policies, and remove board members. 

“We have an act, but it does not create a board that is free and clear of government interference. In fact, the power essentially lies with the Minister,” he said at the time. 

MLA Frieda Martselos of Thebacha, which includes the College’s Fort Smith headquarters, said in an interview this week that she wasn’t interested in “defending somebody (like Weegar) who’s only been there 11 months.”

“I’m very supportive of the College. It’s time to move on,” she said.

Martselos said her goal now is keeping the school in Fort Smith, where it forms a significant part of the town’s economic base. 

“The wealth has to be shared out of Yellowknife. There’s just too much there. We have extremely qualified people that can help this move along. We can’t put all our eggs in one basket and think that it’s okay,” she said.

Martselos agreed that the College’s board ought to be reinstated by 2022, but added that “everything is on track.”

Mayor Lynn Napier of Fort Smith said in an interview Friday that she shared many of Lafferty’s concerns.

She released a statement on Feb. 10 that promised a motion in the NWT Association of Communities, pushing the government on issues like independent oversight and transparency of the College.

In that statement, Napier also called for an independent commissioner to be created and the reinstatement of the College’s board. 

“My biggest concern is we are losing opportunity with the courses that have been cancelled: the bachelor of education program, and the social work program,” she said in a Feb. 14 interview.

Her understanding was the programs were under review, and were prioritized to return.  

“But when is that going to happen?” she said. It’s been three years since there was in the Bachelor of Education program, and social work has been shut down entirely, Napier continued.

Noting that the Fort Smith campus draws students from across the NWT, she doesn’t see these concerns as competition between other college branches in Yellowknife and Inuvik. 

“What we’ve heard at NWTAC is directly what’s come out of the Auditor’s Report is students aren’t coming out prepared to even attend post-secondary education. We’re not hitting graduation rates. We need to have regional representation. We need to have Boards that are effective (and) reinstated,” she said.

That’s going to be a huge part of the success of creating any post-secondary institution in the North,” Napier continued.

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