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Today in the legislature I introduced a private member’s bill entitled Bill M222 —University Amendment Act, 2017. The purpose of this bill is to halt the creeping government interference in university governance, an issue I have previously raised in the past.

The independence of a University Board is critical. The purpose of a university is to educate people who can critically assess information to allow them to participate in an informed manner in a democracy. It’s a place that allows for innovation and creativity to flourish. It’s not a place for government to drive a top down imposition of its ideology. Unfortunately, under existing legislation the government has the potential to interfere in ways that could undermine that autonomy.

The Auditor General’s February 2014, University Board Governance Examinations report specifically notes:

The governance of universities is unique in that they have two governing bodies: the Senate
and the Board of Governors. The Senate operates in an autonomous manner from Government due to its academic responsibilities. The Board of Governors, on the other hand, has an accountability relationship with the Ministry of Advanced Education, as well as an important linkage between the university, Senate, and the local community.

The current composition of the Senate in special purpose teaching universities can potentially give the administration of these universities the majority vote. This also harms the ability of the Senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government.

The potential of political interference is unacceptable for our institutions of higher learning. My hope is that the government takes my suggestions for solving this issue seriously and takes action on this issue immediately to preserve the independence of our academic institutions.

Below I reproduce the text and video of the speech I gave as I introduced the bill. I also include the accompanying media release.


Text of my Speech


A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled University Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to be introducing a bill termed the University Amendment Act. Universities in the province of British Columbia serve a key role in an economy that is that increasingly driven by knowledge, information and ideas. Academic freedom is a fundamental tenet for a culture of learning to succeed and a key part of academic freedom is found in the right to participate in the university governance.

While the role of a board of governors is essential in a university, the governance of a university must also be independent. It is with this in mind that I bring this bill forward today. This bill amends the University Act to ensure that appointees from the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council cannot unilaterally set the tone and direction of a university board through having a majority of votes and that university boards cannot unilaterally appoint a chancellor for the university.

This act also amends the University Act to change the composition, not the powers, of the senate for special purpose teaching universities. The current composition of the senate in special purpose teaching universities can potentially give the administration of these universities the majority vote. This harms the ability of the senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government. This bill will bring British Columbia to the same university governance standards employed by much of the rest of Canada.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M222, University Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.


Video of my Speech



Media Release


Weaver tables University Amendment Act to protect academic autonomy
For immediate release
February 23rd, 2017

VICTORIA B.C. – Government intrusion in university governance is compromising the credibility of B.C.’s world class academic institutions.

“The purpose of this bill is to halt the creeping government interference in university governance,” says Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party. “While the role of a Board of Governors is essential in a university, the governance of a university must also be independent.

“Universities in our province serve a key role in an economy that is increasingly driven by knowledge, information and ideas. Academic freedom is a fundamental tenant for a culture of learning to succeed and a key part of academic freedom is found in the right to participate in the university’s governance.”

This Bill amends the University Act to ensure that appointees from the Lieutenant Governor in Council cannot unilaterally set the tone and direction of a university board through having a majority of votes, and that university boards cannot unilaterally appoint a Chancellor for their university.

It also amends the University Act to change the composition of the Senate for special purpose teaching universities. As it currently stands, it is possible for the administration (instead of faculty) of these universities to have the majority vote which harms the ability of the senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government.

MLA Weaver tabled a less comprehensive version of this bill last February in response to two significant controversies at B.C. universities. In a subsequent article in the Georgia Strait entitled Arvind Gupta, Andrew Weaver, and the future of B.C.’s Universities, author Charlie Smith detailed how MLA Weaver was in a unique position to address the situation.

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Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca


Backgrounder


In 2008 the BC Liberals amended the University Act to allow the University Board of Governors to appoint a university’s Chancellor. The BC NDP started this trend in 1997 by allowing the Board of Governors at the Technical University of BC to appoint its Chancellor.

MLA Weaver’s University Amendment Act amends the University Act to reduces the number of board members that the Lieutenant Governor in Council appoints and it empowers the convocation of universities to elect their Chancellor. In doing so, this Act introduces a standard of autonomy for the governance of universities to ensure they are free from political interference in their internal operations.

This Act also amends the University Act to change the composition, not the powers, of the Senate for special purpose teaching universities.

The governance of universities is unique in that they have two governing bodies: the Senate and the Board of Governors. The Senate operates in an autonomous manner from Government due to its academic responsibilities. The Board of Governors, on the other hand, has an accountability relationship with the Ministry of Advanced Education, as well as an important linkage between the university, Senate, and the local community.

The current composition in the University Act of the Senate in special purpose teaching universities can potentially give the administration of these universities the majority vote. This would harm the ability of the Senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government. By way of contrast, faculty hold the majority of votes in the senates for research universities. This bill ensures that the Senate composition at special purpose teaching universities is similar to that at research universities.

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