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Proposed UNB Act revisions challenge public role of university

Last week, I tried to bring to light how changes to the UNB Act will negatively impact students. This week, I am going to try for something a little bit more difficult, more elusive. At the heart of the changes to the UNB Act is taking much of what is in the current Act and shifting it to by-laws. Not only will this make it easier to change, at will, how our university is run, but will ultimately remove the university from being a public institution.

Is there a problem with the university being overhauled so that government oversight is relegated to a nicety? With by-laws, there’s no need to have government oversight in changing them. The chair of the Act Revisions Committee, Roxanne Fairweather, contends that such a change would make it easier to change how the university is managed. And yes, I can almost agree with her. If we can easily change how the university is managed, perhaps then we can become a more adaptable institution.

Honestly, though, I don’t want this institution to easily adapt. Currently, the grimy claws of zeitgeist seem to point towards creating institutions that make money and away from institutions that make citizens. Currently, to adapt seems synonymous with to make money. To modernize is to accrue profit.

I feel like I’ve said this before: I really like making money. I love when a paycheque is larger than I anticipated it to be. I pine for the day when I have a stable and profitable career. I value fiscal responsibility and restraint.

That said, I will never choose money over well-being.

The proposed changes want to remove the public and insert the corporate. The university’s connection to the government and its oversight is what has kept it an institution for the citizens of New Brunswick. With the new revisions, the fissure between our school and the government will grow dramatically. This is the first step in making UNB Eddy’s school (or whatever administrator is in power) and not New Brunswick’s university.

Of course, this won’t happen right away. If these changes do make their way through, nothing may change for years. The problem is that the revisions arouse a whole slew of “what ifs.” At UNB, both of our campuses have a Senate. The Senates are the governing bodies that look over academic matters. That means everything from admission guidelines, to scholarships, to honorary degrees. The Senates are, generally, responsible for giving place to academic and collegial priorities at the university.

In Eddy’s revisions, the power to absolve the Senates lies with the Board of Governors. The revisions read like this: “providing for the establishment or discontinuance of a Senate of the University and prescribing the jurisdiction of a Senate and its, rights, duties and obligations” (11.n).

The wording is tricky here: the Board can establish or discontinue Senates. If the Senate is making decisions the Board is unhappy with, what happens? And I very much doubt that when the Board is happy with the Senate they will make five more.

In part, this is what makes criticising the revisions so difficult. It’s going from an act that has powers and concretely outlines how our university is run to a flimsy suggestion. With the revised Act, the document moves away from being a firm outline of our university to a document that can be changed and utilized at the will of passing administrators.

The reality is that we’ve no idea who will come after Eddy, Tony Secco, and other high-level administrators. Long after Eddy is gone, this province will still be sending its high school grads to UNB. This province will still be looking to UNB as the front of innovation, knowledge, and advancement. However, the revisions are subjecting our university to the passing whims of powerful administrators. The beauty of the 1968 Act is its staying power. It insisted that whoever the president was, whoever was on the Board, that the University would belong to New Brunswick.

If we make the suggested changes to our Act, we become that much closer to being customers. UNB will not introduce you to the world as an educated individual who spent four years developing themselves at an institution that cared about knowledge, community, and a better society. Instead, you’ll leave these doors the same way you do Walmart.

Sure, our university fails. Even on its best days, there are still students it has screwed over and mistreated. UNB doesn’t always live up to the goals it purports to have. I’m not trying to blindly praise our university. But that’s exactly it: I want UNB to remain our university. This school does not belong to administrators. It does not belong to the Board or the Chancellor. It belongs to us, to our province; start realizing that, begin finding out what that means, and then we can move forward to make UNB what it should be — not what Eddy wants it to be.

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