By Charles Menzies
Dear Premier-designate John Horgan,
I write as a dedicated public servant charged with educating our youth and doing my bit to advance our collective understanding of our world. I am a faculty member at UBC and a proud BCer honoured to be able to work in my home province. Our universities, however, have become less like universities and more like private companies. This process has accelerated over the last 16 years. I write to you to ask that your party show the courage of your convictions and take back control for the public good of our public universities and colleges from the small business cartels that have been placed at their helm these past few years.
The right has learned that in the context of regime change one must act decisively. Hit hard, hit fast, and make it comprehensive. With the exception of some early 20th-century transitions the left has often tried to placate its enemies or opponents by going slow. But history has shown that the shock treatment the right has perfected is the best path for change. Decisive actions are called for.
Over the course of the past 16 years appointments to university and college boards of governance have become more and more a system of rewarding Liberal party supporters. From failed candidates to campaign managers to funding bagmen, the key criteria to be appoint to a post-secondary board by the provincial government seems to have been how much time, energy, and money one gave to the Liberal party. While it is a government's prerogative to appoint whomever it wants, the Christy Clark Liberals seem to have taken that prerogative to new heights.
If your government is to act in accord with your principles you will act quickly and change over the appointed members on B.C.'s postsecondary boards of governors within a few short weeks of being sworn in. This is a critical action. The postsecondary sector is an important economic, political, and social force in the province. We educate the majority of our youth, provide opportunities for lifelong learning, and are major economic drivers in the regions of the province. Leaving the Liberal party in control of these important public institutions has the potential to be a fatal tactical error.
The time is now to bring forward a broad, diverse, and accomplished new group of community members to drive our public postsecondary institutions forward. We need to bring onboard community organizers who have worked to solve homelessness and affordable housing issues. We need to have the voices of organized labour sitting at the governance table. We need neighbourhood organizers who have been involved in their communities. Corporate lawyers, realtors, and CEOs should not dominate the governance of our public postsecondary system. We need appointed governors who actually fulfill the terms of provincial legislation, represent a broad spectrum of society, and place the public interest ahead of private profits.
Those currently invested in their appointed positions on B.C.'s postsecondary boards of governors may not go quietly into the night. I very much assume they too are wondering what the plans are. Well-placed governors are likely putting out feelers to your government-in-waiting. Some, with clear and explicit Liberal ties, may realize they are likely on the way out. A few may even preemptively resign to make the transition easier. But there may well be those who have much personal prestige and capital who may not wish to leave and may consider using their social and political networks to try and hold on.
I urge you not to be swayed by worries about continuity on boards of governors; do not be beguiled by friendly corporate CEOs who advise going slow. The expertise and capacity is already on our boards in the form of elected student, staff, and faculty governors. Do not be held back! Replace the B.C. Liberal appointees on postsecondary boards of governors immediately. To leave things as they are will be to retreat from a critical social and economic arena of struggle and to allow the Liberals to govern the province from the wings.
Our public postsecondary system is a great one. With your direction we can exit the cul du sac of profits-first governance and bring back community-centric universities and colleges.