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Aboriginal course splits college

UCN head ousted for opposing mandatory class

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University College of the North pushed out aboriginal president Denise Henning because she opposed a mandatory native awareness program that promoted "white guilt," sources say.

Northern Manitobans fear that the fledgling UCN could suffer from the secrecy and mystery over the governing council's decision not to renew Henning's contract.

Henning's downfall reportedly came about because she sided with the school's academics against the governing council over a mandatory native awareness program that all students and staff are required to attend, and because of her dispute with John Martin, the elder-in-residence, over Henning's hiring of two non-aboriginal senior administrators.

The governing council has mandated that all students and staff take a two-day "traditions and change" course.

"They do a sweat and they talk about colonization," said one senior aboriginal source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Right from day one, there were complaints about the course, because it was mandatory and in your face, pushing white guilt."

The combined university and college institution that the north waited decades to get is poised to enjoy significant enrolment increases and to build more than $100 million in campus expansion in The Pas and Thompson -- yet UCN is letting Henning go.

"There's a lot of people really worried about UCN. We want UCN to succeed -- this isn't helping," the source said.

"Whenever there's turmoil in an organization, it's a concern for us. If you're going to have growth, you need stability. It is one of our economic drivers," said The Pas Mayor Al McLauchlan, emphasizing that he was not speaking in his role as a law-enforcement instructor at UCN.

UCN's governing council decided late last year not to renew Henning's contract when her five-year deal expires June 30. She had sought another five-year contract.

Henning said in late December that although she was surprised and disappointed by UCN's decision, she would serve out her contract, but has instead landed on her feet in another top job.

Northwest Community College in northern British Columbia announced this week that it had hired Henning as its new president as of March 1. She will succeed Stephanie Forsyth, now president of Red River College in Winnipeg.

UCN says that Henning no longer grants interviews and no longer speaks for the school. Northwest refuses to say when Henning submitted her resumé.

Most of the key players have declined to be interviewed or have not returned calls, including elder-in-residence Martin, governing council chairman Lorne Keeper -- who is executive director of the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre -- learning council chairman Gary Melko, a UCN college instructor, and UCN chancellor Ovide Mercredi.

But several sources say the two conflicts ended Henning's tenure at UCN.

The aboriginal source says that elder-in-residence Martin opposed the hiring of non-aboriginal senior administrators, and wrote to staff on campus, saying "This is a sad day."

"He sent this to all staff, and Denise reprimanded him," said the source. Henning was contemplating further discipline, until Martin obtained the support of the governing council.

Henning sided with the learning council's opposition to the traditions and change course -- the academics argued that the program's "learning outcomes" had already been incorporated into all programs.

Melko issued a formal statement Wednesday in which the learning council alleges that the governing council has violated academic freedom over the mandatory program by intervening in an issue that is exclusively within the learning council's jurisdiction.

Souces say that the school needs someone respected by all sides to bring everyone together to talk.

The professors and faculty belong to the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, which says it is not aware of problems with its members.

Some professors, vastly outnumbered on campus by their college colleagues, have been asking the Canadian Association of University Teachers for advice. CAUT threatened censure of UCN in 2005 over fears about academic freedom and tenure for university staff.

CAUT executive director Jim Turk says that prospective applicants for the president's job are aware how uncommon it is for a president to be denied a requested second term.

"It's a shame this whole thing is happening," said Turk.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

What is UCN?

University College of the North has two co-main campuses in The Pas and Thompson, as well as 12 regional centres across northern Manitoba.

Formerly Keewatin Community College, UCN has 2,400 students, with university enrolment up 49 per cent last year and college enrolment up 10 per cent.

Unlike other universities, which have two levels of governance, UCN has three: the governing council (board of governors), learning council (senate) and elders council.

 

What the motion says

 

THE motion adopted by UCN's learning council on a controversial mandatory course:

"The UCN Learning Council has passed a motion to eliminate the Tradition and Change course as a mandatory requirement for graduation. This course continues to be offered as an elective to interested students. This is clearly an issue of academic governance and under the exclusive authority of Learning Council yet the matter has come under discussion at Governing Council which has no authority in this area. Governing Council's intervention on the Learning Council decision represents a violation of academic freedom."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2011 A4

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