Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Silence surrounds president's exit

Review into finances, staff departures at Red River College expected this fall

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Education Minister James Allum won't release details about the departure.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Education Minister James Allum won't release details about the departure. Photo Store

Stephanie Forsyth is out as president of Red River College after four often stormy years.

And that's about the only thing that was confirmed Wednesday -- Forsyth is gone, leaving in mysterious circumstances and under the cloud of a provincial government investigation into the college's finances and staff morale.

Red River College insisted Wednesday it did not fire Forsyth or give her a push, that leaving was her idea. But even so, she had not resigned.

The college won't talk about why she left, whether it's paid her severance, what her performance review showed or whether an ongoing provincial investigation played any role in Forsyth's departure.

Education Minister James Allum was equally unclear.

"We look forward to working with the new president and we continue to build and to grow a dynamic, innovative college that's built on excellence," Allum said, adding he was informed two weeks ago of Forsyth's decision to leave.

In April, Allum directed his staff and the Department of Finance's staff to conduct an extensive review of the financial and staff dealings at Red River. The review is to be completed this fall, and Allum said it would be made public.

"We'll be working to find ways of improving, if it's required, financial accountability at the college," he said.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union demanded a leadership review, citing a $2-million shortfall in the college budget, the departure of senior staff, low campus morale and a lack of confidence in college leadership.

At the time, an aide to Allum said the minister received "a number of serious allegations about financial and human-resource issues at Red River College. The minister has a responsibility to look into the allegations, which is why he immediately directed his department to undertake a review into those allegations."

Forsyth said, at the time, the review was prompted by what she called an ambush by college employees.

She officially left the job Sunday, after serving almost four years of a five-year contract, marred by turmoil over her expenses and a revolving door on senior management jobs.

Red River board of governors chairman Richard Lennon said in an interview Wednesday that Forsyth came back in mid-August from a summer-long vacation taken at her own request, and approached the board "to discuss moving on."

A mutual agreement was reached that she would leave effective Aug. 31, he said.

Lennon said the board did not ask Forsyth to go and he insisted it would be inaccurate to say she resigned -- Red River's favoured phrase is that Forsyth stepped down.

"She approached the board and that led to a discussion," said Lennon, who refused to say if Red River has paid or will pay Forsyth severance. "We won't discuss the terms of her departure.

"There's an agreement -- we don't discuss the terms of a staff member's departure."

He would not discuss reports Forsyth's spouse had moved back to B.C. and would not say whether the request to leave surprised him. Nor would he say whether the timing of her departure constitutes sufficient notice for such a high-profile position. Forsyth's home on Wellington Crescent is for sale.

Forsyth did not respond to interview requests sent by email and to her Twitter account Wednesday.

Forsyth arrived in September 2010 from Northwest Community College in northern British Columbia. She was intent on exploring her aboriginal roots and in making indigenous education and the environment priorities of the college's growth.

Post-secondary institutions typically decide whether to offer presidents a second term at the four-year mark of five-year contracts. Red River's board started a performance review in May, which, Lennon said, is incomplete. He would not discuss anything the performance review committee has concluded so far.

Nor would Lennon discuss Forsyth's previous three annual reviews or whether those reviews raised any concerns for the board of governors.

Lennon said there had been no discussion about offering Forsyth an extension and at no time had she requested a second term.

With 30,000 students and 2,000 staff, said Lennon, "We're focusing on moving ahead."

Last year, Forsyth came under fire over her expenses, including $205 golf shoes, a $134 bag she bought at the Vancouver airport, car washes, insurance, winter tires and a GPS device. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation made public her expenses, obtained through freedom of information legislation.

Said Forsyth in the spring: "Leadership isn't for the faint of heart." Declaring she wasn't going anywhere, Forsyth said then: "We've got lots to do. I'm very excited."

Lennon refused Wednesday to say how much money Red River has paid out in severance to departed senior employees who signed non-disclosure agreements.

"There's not a formal (board) sign-off -- the president makes human-resources decisions of staff reporting to her," was as far as Lennon would go.

Forsyth has not sought media attention very often during her tenure, infrequently alerting the media to any public appearances other than selected formal funding announcements.

Her name appeared in the Free Press only 32 times in four years, an extraordinarily low number for someone in her public position.

Lauren MacLean, president of the Red River College Students' Association, said the high satisfaction ratings given by students to the college speak for themselves and offered no further comment on Forsyth's departure.

"The students' association's priorities lie with providing the highest quality service to students and as long as the 95 per cent post-grad employment rate and the 93 per cent graduate satisfaction rate continues, I think the students' association will be happy," she told the Free Press.

— with files by Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2014 A4

History

Updated on Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 7:28 AM CDT: corrects typo

7:37 AM: adds colour art

10:57 AM: corrects numbers in final quote

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