Athabasca University’s board of governors suddenly saw a significant change in its membership, the latest development in an ongoing dispute about where staff of the online university should live.
Wednesday afternoon, the Ministry of Advanced Education announced it had removed four public members from the board via an order in council.
Seven new public members were also added to the board, one of whom will succeed a sitting board member.
Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says the change is to help the university move forward with a plan to move senior executives and administrators to the town of Athabasca, Alta. The government previously demanded 500 staff members relocate to the town.
“We haven’t to date received detailed strategies or concrete commitments that work is being undertaken to achieve those goals,” he told Global News.
“And so we are electing to place some more individuals on the board who have strong, really deep connections to the town and the region to be able to offer more insight to help the executive team deliver on the government’s directives.”
Nicolaides said the school missed a June 30 deadline to submit a plan for the relocations.
“We didn’t get what we were hoping for,” the minister said. “I provided more time and some options. Those options that I provided didn’t yield any results.
“So I’m hoping that a refreshed team and a new set of eyes will be able to come up with creative solutions.”
Nicolaides has previously threatened to withhold the school’s $3.4-million monthly grant if it fails to comply.
Sharon Anderson, Sir John Daniel, Andrew Ko and McDonald Madamombe are out.
Leo de Bever, Don Gnatiuk, Dan Leckelt, Terry Lovelace, Lori Van Rooijen, Wilfred Willier and Mike Lovsin were added with a one-year term. Lovsin will succeed Bryan Berg.
And Ilario “Larry” Spagnolo was reappointed. Spagnolo and Berg were appointed to the board in September 2019.
Spagnolo was a UCP constituency association president who served on the UCP leadership election committee this year.
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Ko, CEO of a Virginia-based advisory organization focusing on improving education with technology, was originally appointed to the board in September 2021.
Madamombe, an accounting and finance professional who previously served on the university’s research ethics board, first joined the board in September 2016.
And Daniel is known for his international expertise in online and distance learning.
Athabasca University denied an interview request, but said in a statement said it has developed “a comprehensive and balanced plan that achieves the objectives of the university and the priorities identified by the minister while ensuring AU’s team members and its learners remain our top priority.
“AU looks forward to sharing this plan with it new board members and to further discussions with the government under the leadership of its new premier.”
The university thanked its former public board members for their “outstanding service and guidance during their tenure, which in some cases spanned several years.
“Their contributions have significantly helped guide AU’s team and establish a strong future path for the university. While AU will miss these exceptional education experts, community leaders, industry professionals, and distinguished international voices, we look forward to welcoming the new board members to our community.”
Nicolaides said despite the changes to the board, the university’s mandate of open online learning hasn’t changed.
“At its inception, the university was tasked with providing university-level education to Albertans and beyond the distance delivery models, and of course, they’ve excelled in the online space. That should not change. That should continue,” the advanced education minister said.
“But in addition to their successful online model, we hope to see additional jobs be based in the town.”
According to the latest version of the Athabasca University Regulation, board members’ terms are three years and can be reappointed for subsequent terms.
–with files from The Canadian Press