AU President Peter MacKinnon Responds to Recent Task Force Criticism

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Athabasca University President Peter MacKinnon at the Open Our World closing ceremony at the Founder's Room, Arts Common, Jack Singer Hall, Calgary, April 28, 2015.  Photo credit: Brian Buchsdruecker, Bookstrucker Photography.

Athabasca University President Peter MacKinnon at the Open Our World closing ceremony at the Founder’s Room, Arts Common, Jack Singer Hall, Calgary, April 28, 2015.
Photo credit: Brian Buchsdruecker, Bookstrucker Photography.

Last Thursday, four unions and associations representing various employee groups at Athabasca University, issued a media release in response to AU’s Task Force on Sustainability.

You can read the media release here.

Normally, I would not respond to something like this, but given that the release is riddled with inaccuracies, accidental or deliberate, I feel I must set the record straight.

The document misrepresents the Task Force report in a number of important ways, and I will address these individually. Overall, though, it seems to suggest that the task force in general, and I in particular, have some sort of hidden agenda designed to harm Athabasca University.

This is patently ridiculous.

The release states “…(the Report) seems to urge shutting down the school and moving its functions to other institutions.”

I urge everyone to read the Report and try to find where we’ve made such a suggestion. You won’t, because it isn’t there. Instead once some background is covered, the Report clearly states, “It should be equally clear that discontinuance is not an option.”

Not only does the Report not recommend shutting down AU, it explicitly states the opposite. In fact, if one reads the Report carefully, he or she will note the Report makes no recommendations at all. Instead, it presents government with a series of options, something it was asked to do.

The union release also claims “President MacKinnon points the finger at government, employees and even the community for AU’s financial mess…”

I’ll make two points; firstly, laying out the background of AU’s sustainability issues is not pointing the finger; it is providing context, and the administration acknowledges, clearly, its role in allowing the present situation to emerge as the Report states: “In making these observations we are not seeking to attribute blame. It takes two to reach agreement, and the administration bears particular responsibility to ensure collective bargaining is compatible with the university’s mission and circumstance.”

Lastly, one organization, AUFA, has made much on social media of the Report’s acknowledgement that the university’s location in Athabasca makes recruiting difficult. I will note that of 550 academics and tutors currently working at AU, only 10 have chosen to live in Athabasca. I suggest that if AUFA feels more AU employees should relocate to the town, it ought to start with its own membership.

Finally, I have to say I’m disappointed with the timing of this release, coming as it did on the first day of Convocation 2015. Convocation is the most important event in the university’s year, and the focus is upon celebrating the many achievement of our students, some of whom have overcome incredible obstacles to walk across the stage and receive their degrees. It is unfortunate that the unions chose to divert the spotlight away from our students on the very day set aside to mark their success.

Peter MacKinnon, Interim President