Athabasca University Faculty Association condemns sudden firing of president

The Athabasca University Faculty Association says it is outraged that some of the institution's board of governors moved to swiftly fire former president Peter Scott. (CBC - image credit)
The Athabasca University Faculty Association says it is outraged that some of the institution's board of governors moved to swiftly fire former president Peter Scott. (CBC - image credit)

The Athabasca University Faculty Association has publicly come out against the firing of former president Peter Scott.

Scott was dismissed from the position on Wednesday with the board chair announcing his successor, Alex Clark, on the same day.

Clark was the university's dean of the faculty of health disciplines.

The association said it wasn't given any advance notice of the shift in leadership.

"It took us a while to sort of wrap our heads around what had happened," Rhiannon Rutherford, association president, said in an interview with CBC News on Saturday.

"For many of us, I think it's been, 'oh, here we go again' ... another time Athabasca University is in the news and another round of disruption to our institution that has just suffered so many body hits."

Submitted by Athabasca University
Submitted by Athabasca University

"We're on the receiving end of these decisions that are being made behind closed doors in relatively secretive and closed processes," Rutherford said.

Other concerns from the association include deep cuts to public universities' budgets and interference in collective bargaining according to Rutherford.

"That is really the antithesis of collegial governance and open, transparent, accountable leadership that we would expect from a public university," she said.

'A done deal' 

Byron Nelson, board chair, cited privacy concerns in declining to say why Scott was let go in an earlier interview with CBC News.

Karen Fletcher, president of the Athabasca University Students' Union and board governor, said there was a complete lack of protocol in the replacement of Scott.

"I found out that Peter Scott was fired in the same email where I was invited to vote," Fletcher said about being presented with contradictory information.

Under normal circumstances, Fletcher said the board uses a system known as Robert's Rules of Order which requires a motion to be presented to all members for debate and to be voted on.

However since this did not happen, Fletcher said she spoke to Nelson on Wednesday evening to understand what took place.

"He said it had to be done this way, because otherwise, someone would have found out ... but the thing is, when you exclude all the members of certain categories on the board, you change the process," Fletcher said.

The university's board of governors membership list notes 11 public members, who are appointed and not elected, two academic staff members, a tutor member, a graduate student member and two undergraduate student members which include Fletcher.

"[Nelson] said he explicitly made sure to not involve the faculty members ... and I said 'okay, well, why didn't you involve students in this decision?' and he said, it didn't occur to him, which at a university is incredibly concerning, because the university exists to educate students," she said.

"We have a board chair who seems to be playing by his own rules, instead of the rules that govern the university and those rules are meant to protect the university ... students ... and staff," Fletcher said.

'Different visions'

Demetrios Nicolaides, minister of advanced education, fired board chair Nancy Laird last summer and appointed Nelson, a former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate and lawyer, to take her place.

He also rescinded the appointment of four board members, replacing them with seven new appointees in October. Nicolaides said the university's failure to submit a plan amid negotiations could put its operating funding at risk.

John Daniel served as a board governor for six months before being fired during that time.

"There had been a bit of a battle developing for some time, about two completely different visions of the university where it should go," he said.

Daniel said regarding the dispute over in what capacity the university's operations would remain in Athabasca.

After months of negotiations, Nicolaides and the board of governors finally signed off on a new investment management agreement at the beginning of December.

The agreement states the university has to hire 25 local employees and have half the university's executive team living in Athabasca within three years.

"It's kind of stupid, really, that getting ... more people to live in the town of Athabasca takes priority over the 40,000 students who rely on Athabasca for their futures," Daniel said.

Nelson was unable to provide an interview on Sunday and directed inquiries to the university's media relations team.

In a statement, the communications team said: "Board chair Byron Nelson has provided comments to the media on the matter, which are on the record, that Athabasca University's Board of Governors made its decision about the university president in accordance with board bylaws. He won't be making further comments."

In the Globe and Mail on Friday, Nelson said: "The way that this was conducted, while legal, I would acknowledge was not best practices."