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Significant changes proposed to Aurora College governance

Aurora College's Thebacha campus is seen in a photo taken by Taylor Architecture Group
Aurora College's Thebacha campus is seen in a photo taken by Taylor Architecture Group.

Big changes could be coming to Aurora College’s governance model as the school transitions to a polytechnic university, according to a discussion paper released Wednesday.

One of the primary calls to action in the paper from the NWT Department of Education, Culture, and Employment, is ensuring the school operates “at arm’s length” from the territorial government. That would lead to more academic freedom and independent decision-making within the institution.

“Working together to create a robust governance model is an essential step towards ensuring that Aurora College and the polytechnic university have the tools necessary to operate successfully at arm’s length from government,” Education Minister R.J. Simpson was quoted as saying in a press release.

The proposed transformation to Aurora College is based on the “bicameral governance” model, common in other post-secondary institutions across Canada.

That would see two branches within the polytechnic university’s governance – a board of governors comprised of instructors, students, and members of the wider public; and an academic senate consisting of high-ranking officials within the school itself.

Currently, Aurora College does not have a board since the previous one was dissolved in 2017. That was replaced with a single administrator appointed by the education minister.

Denny Rodgers has held that position since the board was first dissolved.

Within the new model, the paper says, the board would consist of the college president, one instructor and one student – each elected by their respective peers – and eight people appointed from outside communities. Five of those people must be NWT residents, three of which must identify as Indigenous.

This board will be bigger than the previous college board, with the addition of a chancellor position. It’s expected to be in charge of finances and operations, as well as legal duties to the organization.

This would be the only school body directly held responsible by the territorial government.

The decision to transform Aurora College into a polytechnic university became official in 2018, after a foundational review of the college.

That document said providing polytechnic education in the NWT would help recuperate financial losses from students leaving the territory to pursue university degrees. A polytechnic university will focus on practical skills and trades-based degrees, opposed to the inclusion of theory-based degrees at other universities.

Timelines for the proposed governance transformations aren’t yet known but will be outlined in a forthcoming Implementation plan set for release in the fall of 2020.

Residents can give feedback on the proposed changes online before 5pm on Sept. 14.