UNB Town Hall Review – Part II
Warning: What follows is the second in a (brief) series of UNB-centric postings, this time on governance.
The Commissioners discussed a range of topics under the general heading of governance in their report, but it is their recommendation that UNB’s Board of Governors appoint a “Community Liaison Council” for the Saint John campus (and only the SJ campus) that was a focus of particular concern at the SJ Town Hall. The idea is to have a Council made of Board members plus the President and VP (Saint John) with an equal number of “community leaders” from local government, business, and the not-for-profit sector (“to be selected on the basis of their knowledge, influence and independence of mind”), which would “focus on ways to enhance the development of the University’s campus in Saint John and to advise on campus development and on ways that the community of Saint John can best assist” (p. 55), and also to “advise on the development of a new mandate for the Saint John campus” (p. 72).
Two questioners raised the concern at the Town Hall that the recommendation had the potential to undermine the important role of the UNBSJ Senate in university governance and thus the academic integrity of the institution. The Commissioners assured that this is not the intent of their recommendation; rather it is simply to provide a mechanism to enhance communication between UNB and the Saint John community.
This is no doubt a worthy intention. Questions were raised by some SJ community members during last year’s discussions surrounding the L’Écuyer/Miner Commission on Post-Secondary Education about the role of universities in society, implying that universities need to be harnessed more directly to serve local economic needs. In response, many students (past and present), faculty members, and concerned citizens felt compelled to write commentaries highlighting the social good that universities provide as places for critical intellectual exchange and research, for engaging with history, for contemplating future possibilities, for cultural expression, for nurturing the “educated imagination” – a good that underwrites the democratic nature of our society. It may well be useful to engage in further public dialog on these issues. However, it strikes me that (a) a recommendation for improved communication between UNB and the Saint John community, particularly as it pertains to UNBSJ’s university mandate, that articulates no role for the UNBSJ community (its students, faculty and Senate) is likely to prove problematic if implemented, and (b) enhancing communication between UNB and the communities it serves should be pursued as a matter of community relations rather than university governance.