College president must be forced to live in Fort Smith, town says


The Town of Fort Smith says it will do everything in its power to make the new president of Aurora College move to the community.

Glenda Vardy Dell, who became president earlier this year, was reported by the CBC to have chosen to live in Yellowknife because an immediate family member has a serious health concern.

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos was quoted by the broadcaster as saying: “This is a Fort Smith position, and she’s got to be told she’s got to come here.”

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On Friday, the Town of Fort Smith backed up that position in a series of tweets.

“The mayor and council of the Town of Fort Smith stand in solidarity with the community leadership … in opposition to Aurora College allowing the college president to reside in any community other than Fort Smith,” the town tweeted, referring to what it said were the views of Martselos, the chiefs of the Smith’s Landing and Salt River First Nations and the Fort Smith Métis Council’s president.

“The mayor and council are disappointed that Aurora College would take into consideration the idea that staff members can dictate where senior positions reside within the NWT.

“The mayor and council will use all resources available to withstand any actions made by Aurora College that jeopardize the economic stability of our community or the vibrancy of the Thebacha campus.”

In a stern statement, the territory’s education minister said Aurora College must not be “subject to direct political interference and it is important that staff are free from harassment and bullying.”

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The college’s president has traditionally lived in Fort Smith, where the college has its present headquarters.

For years, some Fort Smith residents have feared that Aurora College’s transformation into a polytechnic university – due to be complete by 2025 – will involve a shift toward Yellowknife as a hub for the institution.

While the NWT government has repeatedly insisted there will simply be no such hub – and Fort Smith will remain, in ministers’ careful phrasing, the “administrative headquarters” of the university – the recent announcement of a major new facility in Yellowknife has triggered fresh concern.

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Asked if the president was able to speak on the matter, an Aurora College spokesperson did not directly answer but stated by email: “As per the Aurora College Act, the board of governors is responsible for the appointment and supervision of the president of Aurora College. However, Aurora College is unable to comment on human resource matters, as they are personal and confidential.”

Education minister responds

Approached for comment, education minister RJ Simpson said through communications staff he was not available for interview.

He did, however, issue a statement that made plain his opinion.

“Aurora College must be supported and allowed to develop into a more independent and sustainable institution for the benefit of current and future students, and for the benefit of the territory as a whole,” Simpson wrote.

“For too long, political interference hindered the independence and growth of Aurora College. It is critical that the college and its decisions are not subject to direct political interference and it is important that staff are free from harassment and bullying and we ensure discussions around the college are based on factual information.”

Simpson stated there is no legislative requirement for the college’s leaders and employees to live in any particular community.

“When I appointed the president, my primary concerns were ensuring a smooth transition and maintaining the momentum of the work associated with transforming Aurora College into a polytechnic university. To support this work, I made the choice not to locate the position in a particular community so that the college would have the flexibility to determine how to best organize itself based on operational needs,” Simpson wrote.

“With the recent amendments to the Aurora College Act now in force, Aurora College now operates at arm’s length from government and the Aurora College board of governors is responsible for appointing and supervising the president.

“I have discussed this issue with the administrator, who is performing the duties of the board until it is reinstated, and I have full confidence that he is performing his duties in the best interests of Aurora College as required by the act.”