Following the provincial government’s appointment of former Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine to the University of Saskatchewan’s Board of Governors, concerns of partisanship and financial ineptitude have been brought up by the general public.
Let’s break down what this means and why it matters for students.
The Board of Governors at the U of S is the body that oversees all of the financial, administrative and managerial matters of the university. The board uses a voting system to pass decisions and is comprised of 11 members, with each member entitled to one vote. One of the major decisions that the board makes is approving tuition rates.
The board is comprised of different representatives, with seats reserved for the university president, the university chancellor, the U of S Students’ Union president, a faculty member, members of the university senate and five officials appointed by the lieutenant-governor of the provincial government.
The lieutenant-governor appoints the five officials on the advice of the cabinet, particularly the minister of advanced education. Minister Bronwyn Eyre, who is responsible for the university’s funding cuts, is also responsible for appointing Grant Devine. But who is Grant Devine?
Grant Devine is a former professor in the College of Agriculture and also the former premier of Saskatchewan, who is notorious for ballooning the provincial deficit. Additionally, a number of his MLAs were charged with fraud under his leadership. When Devine placed his bid for the federal Conservative Party in 2004, he was denied entry due to his poor record as premier.
Considering the Board of Governors is responsible for the finances of the university, and knowing Devine’s track record, how can the minister of advanced education justify this appointment? While Minister Eyre has responded to criticisms by insisting that Devine is qualified by virtue of his experience in academics and teaching, according to popular opinion, there are many layers of partisanship within his appointment.
It is important to note that the university chancellor is another former Saskatchewan premier. Roy Romanow was appointed as chancellor in November 2016 and was premier in 1991, following Grant Devine. Now, they will sit on the Board of Governors together.
Given that Romanow was the leader of the NDP Party, while Devine was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, speculations indicate that the Saskatchewan Party’s appointment of Devine was for political purposes, perhaps as a mechanism to spite the NDP or as a way to even the score within the board.
While Devine was still the premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall was an assistant to members of Devine’s cabinet. Today, rumours persist that Devine acts as an advisor and mentor to Wall and continues to keep close ties to the Saskatchewan Party as a donor and supporter. The relationship between Wall and Devine points to cronyism, or the act of making an appointment that is favourable to the Saskatchewan Party’s interests.
The provincial government made an unprecedented move by ending the terms of two governors earlier than expected and installing Devine as one of the replacements. Historically, board members hold three-year terms that can be renewed twice. However, two of the former board members had their renewals denied. The only other time this has happened in recent memory was during the TransformUS initiative, a plan to examine and prioritize academic programs that was scrapped in 2013.
Failure to renew the term of a board member is akin to firing them. Additionally, it is incredibly rare for two board members not to be reappointed. Due to the whimsical nature of this move, the underlying motives are questionable.
With all of these ulterior motives in mind, it becomes clear that Devine’s appointment occurred for all of the wrong reasons. The university is an institution of learning, and the Board of Governors exists to steer the university’s strategic direction. If the provincial government is using the board as an avenue for political partisanship and threatening the university’s autonomy, are student interests really at the forefront?
Graphic: Lesia Karalash/Graphics Editor