Yellowknifer editorial: Polytechnic in peril

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The issue: Polytechnic university
We say: NWT maybe not ready for one

A few tough lessons are being learned about the territorial government’s limitations as the latest controversy surrounding Aurora College embroils the legislative assembly.

Not only has the public’s confidence in the ability of our elected officials to handle such a complex task been shaken with the latest bungled personnel matter but concerns have now been raised over whether attention needs to be focused on providing education basics to our younger kids, before we realize our post-secondary dreams.

The firing late last month of Aurora College president Tom Weegar by Premier Caroline Cochrane without fully informing Education Minister RJ Simpson has led to days of negative headlines as the pair attempted to get their stories straight on the reasons behind the dismissal.

Weegar was hired with the help of a southern executive search firm – at an undisclosed cost – in February 2019 for the dual role of president of Aurora College and associate deputy minister of Post-Secondary Education Renewal. Weegar says news of losing his job “came out of the blue,” and he wasn’t given reasons explaining his dismissal.

In 2017, Alfred Moses – then education minister – dismissed Aurora College’s college’s board of directors and replaced them with an administrator. In 2018, following a foundational review of the institution, the college’s president resigned.

With Weegar’s departure, Andy Bevan — formerly assistant deputy minister of labour and income security — will now take on both of Weegar’s roles.

The obvious questions are: Why was an internal hire possible now? Why was a cross-Canada search needed last year? How much did it cost to re-locate Weegar here from Ontario and how much did they have to pay him to leave?

Cochrane maintains Bevan is fully qualified for his new dual-job, although he didn’t know “why he never applied,” for the position in 2019.

Setting the personnel issues aside for the moment, Yellowknifer suggests it would be wise for the assembly to do some soul-searching as to the actual need for a polytechnic university.

The GNWT has committed to a years-long process to transform Aurora College into a polytechnic university, “creating a new kind of institution that will better meet the needs of NWT residents, employers and communities.” A polytechnic university will “improve the quality and kinds of education and training opportunities” at the Thebacha Campus in Fort Smith, the Yellowknife North Slave Campus, the Aurora Campus in Inuvik and at community learning centres across the NWT, states the government.

Sure, those benefits would very likely be realized. But as the release of the Auditor General’s report last week has shown, the NWT has bigger problems than its capacity to produce post-secondary educational programs. More than half of the NWT’s Indigenous students are unable to graduate high school.

How on earth is the NWT going to fill a polytechnic university if it cannot even produce students to attend it? Never mind the difficulties it will encounter finding qualified academics to teach there.

It would likely be more prudent for the GNWT to funnel resources into the junior kindergarten to Grade 12 system that is currently floundering outside of Yellowknife. 

The city would certainly benefit from a polytechnic in terms of jobs, growth and prestige but the project finds itself on shaky ground after last week’s events. 

It would probably be a better use of tax dollars to get the territory’s education system in order, rather than waste money and energy working toward transforming Aurora College into a polytechnic institution — a project that seems increasingly doomed to fail.

 

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