News | Firing deals another blow to First Nations University

Censure on FNU makes collaboration with Canadian professors impossible

First Nations University of Canada (FNU) students are calling the unexplained January 7 firing of their Vice President of Academics the last straw in the institution’s troubled administrative history.

“[VP Academics] Dr. Shauneen Pete’s firing is basically the last we can take,” said Thomas Roussin, the FNU Students’ Association’s (FNSA) VP Communications.

“It seems like we’re firing the most visible leader at our university. The students feel alone now. We don’t know what to do; we lost our beacon of hope,” he said.

Roussin says Pete wrote her PhD – the only one held by FNU’s senior administration – in aboriginal higher education policy, making her a role model for students.

No official reason has been given for Pete’s dismissal, and Roussin says he can’t speculate publicly on the issue. While FNU’s communications department did not reply to the Carillon’s interview requests, university sources have previously declined to discuss the firing, calling it a matter of privacy.

Pete herself, who has since stopped speaking to media, told CBC News on January 9 that her dismissal was unsurprising given the high degree of tension between her and the FNU administration during her 18-month tenure.

“I came in, I sat down. [FNU President Charles Pratt] said: ‘This isn’t working. You are terminated without cause,’” she told CBC News.

Pete’s firing is the latest in a long line of controversial departures of FNU staff and faculty. According to information gathered by the University of Regina Women’s Studies Department, over one-third of the school’s faculty, and roughly half of the its support and administrative staff – including one president, two vice presidents, and two deans – have resigned, retired, or been dismissed since 2005.

Staffing problems are not the only difficulty the university has faced recently. On December 1, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) censured FNU because of its “ongoing failure to resolve the serious problems with the governance of the university,” according to a CAUT press release.

“In most cases, university and college administrations…look for ways to resolve problems before censure is imposed,” said CAUT Executive Director James Turk.

“Unfortunately, while the FNU administration and board were given every opportunity, they refused to show any serious willingness to address the concerns.”

The censure – the first imposed since 1979 – means that academic staff, especially CAUT’s 60,000 plus members, will be asked not to accept jobs or speaking engagements at FNU, or to attend conferences that it hosts.