Andrew Weaver Introduces Measure to Protect University Independence

Municipal and provincial politicians gathered in Vancouver for the annual UBCM convention. Green party leader Andrew Weaver addresses the UBCM convention.

KPU President Alan Davis doesn’t believe the bill is necessary, but is interested in hearing the debate

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver reintroduced a bill on Oct. 25 that intends to limit the provincial government’s ‘interference’ in university governance. (flickr/NDP BC)

Last month, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver reintroduced a private member’s bill to the B.C. legislature that is intended to “halt the creeping government interference in university governance.”

First introduced in February, Bill M204 would amend the University Act to prohibit B.C. government appointees to university boards from being able to unilaterally set the direction of the board. It would also stop boards from being able to unilaterally appoint university chancellors.

“The current composition of the Senate in special purpose teaching universities can potentially give the administration of these universities the majority vote,” reads the release on Weaver’s website. “This harms the ability of the Senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government.”

Weaver argues that there is currently potential for political interference in the way that the province’s post-secondary institutions are run, and hopes that the government “takes action on this issue immediately to preserve the independence of our academic institutions.”

Kwantlen Polytechnic University President Alan Davis has responded to Weaver’s initiative with skepticism. He believes the legislation to be unnecessary for KPU, but is interested to hear further debate on the topic.

“It’s an interesting proposition and it’s going to be interesting watching the discussion unfold,” says Davis. “I have to say—and I say this cautiously—[government interference] hasn’t been an issue here.”

He explains that KPU regularly conducts board and senate effectiveness surveys that judge their practices and decision-making abilities, while making sure that everyone on these bodies understands their role. The surveys, he believes, show that the board and senate have been performing well.

“I think people on the senate really do come with the best interest of KPU in mind—and that’s how they vote, that’s how they engage,” says Davis. “And I hope we can preserve that.”

At KPU, most of the academic decisions go through faculty councils and committees before being presented to the university’s senate, which is comprised of a mix of students, faculty, and administrators. On the senate, decisions made are generally made by faculty and almost never rejected, according to Davis.

On the board, Davis says that members “have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that KPU is a healthy organisation and is implementing the mandate that’s been given by the government.”

“We elect governments and we expect them to govern, and through their appointments to the board they’re fulfilling their duty as an elected government,” says Davis. “I’ve never felt any undue pressure one way or another.”

The bill was introduced for its first reading in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 25, and while it hasn’t received much attention from other members, Weaver’s experience as a professor at the University of Victoria makes him particularly suited to champion this cause.

“Maybe we’ll find out more about the issue that [Weaver] is trying to solve, but at KPU—and that’s all I know—we feel pretty good about the quality of engagement and the quality of decision-making that comes out of senate,” says Davis.