President cites relationship with Kwantlen First Nation as contributing factor
Kwantlen Polytechnic University has withdrawn from the memorandum of understanding that the institution signed with Trans Mountain in June. The memorandum would have given KPU $300,000 towards student awards and partial operating funds for the university’s Environmental Protection Technical Lab. The financial contribution was contingent on the National Energy Board’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project under Kinder Morgan.
The decision to withdraw follows a meeting on Oct. 2 between KPU president and vice-chancellor, Alan Davis, and the Kwantlen First Nation Council. On Sept. 23, the KFN spoke to KPU’s board of governors about their opposition to the MOU. They were joined by the Kwantlen Student Association, the Kwantlen Public Research Interest Group, anti-pipeline organization PIPE UP, and geography professor Bill Burgess.
“The presentation by the KFN at the board meeting . . . it had an impact on people and I think everyone understood their concern about the MOU,” says Davis. “It’s very clear that it was to our mutual benefit to withdraw.”
Davis noted that this was the first time KPU had been able to meet the leadership of the Kwantlen First Nation face-to-face, and that it didn’t take them long to realize why the issue was so important “not only to them, but to us, too. This MOU could be a problem, and we never intended it, of course, to be a problem.”
Following the presentations, the board had an extensive discussion in-camera on whether or not they should continue with the MOU. They left it up to Davis to make a decision.
Davis met with the KFN and decided to withdraw, citing both the KFN’s involvement in the National Energy Board review process for the pipeline, and KPU’s sharing of the name “Kwantlen” with the KFN.
“We made a commitment to re-energize our relationship [with the KFN],” he says. “I think KPU needs to pay special attention to the Kwantlen First Nation . . . there is a particular relationship with the Kwantlen First Nation that needs a certain approach. I’m going to work with my colleagues to make sure we have that.”
He also explains that Trans Mountain was understanding about KPU’s decision to withdraw, acknowledging that it was a situation unique to KPU because of their shared name.
When the memorandum was originally signed, it was met with opposition from the campus community, largely comprised of a coalition that included KPIRG, the KSA, the KFN, PIPE UP, and members of KPU faculty.
“There was a political and ideological edge to the [discussion] and I wasn’t swayed so much by that, [but] I had a very good discussion about the ethical considerations,” says Davis. “And there is something to explore there.”
“It clearly inspired people to stand up and be counted, both for and against, and got them to think about some of the underlying issues,” he says. “We all learned something from it, and I’m hoping that the decision is seen not as a win or defeat . . . this is how we learn.”
Davis will be working to redirect existing or new scholarships to the environmental studies students, and will be connecting with the vice-president of finance and administration, Jon Harding, to ensure the equipment needs of the Environmental Protection Technical Lab are still met.
“I hope people realize that I actually do listen to them. I don’t agree with everything everybody says, but I’m going to listen to them and try to respond appropriately,” he says.
Those in opposition to the MOU are pleased with KPU’s decision to withdraw.
“We’re happy that KPU’s administration has made the right decision, listening to students and community voices,” says Richard Hosein, administrative and research coordinator for KPIRG.
“As a Kwantlen alumna I am proud of my school for making the right choice, and of all the faculty, students, and community members that stood up for what they believed in,” says Justine Nelson of PIPE UP. “From a PIPE UP perspective, we see this as being a great example to others that are offered similar deals.”
“We are thrilled that KPU has made the decision to rescind the MOU with Kinder Morgan,” Allison Gonzalez, president of the KSA, said in a press release. “We are proud of the university for respecting and listening to the concerns of the KFN.”
Davis notes that it’s his job to do things that are in the best interests of students and programs, and that he strives to do that.
“But there are other considerations,” he explains. “And in the end, the Kwantlen First Nation’s disappointment with the MOU and the position that it put them in, I think was [something] I hadn’t thought through. When I understood it and did think it through, it made every sense to cancel the agreement.”