New board chairs appointed at Athabasca University and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

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PHOTOS: Ray Martin at the side of NDP Leader Rachel Notley, back in the days before she was premier. He once sat in the Legislature with Premier Notley’s father, Grant Notley. Mr. Martin has been appointed chair of the board of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Below, Edmonton architect Vivian Manasc, who has been appointed chair of the board of Athabasca University, plus an indoor shot of Mr. Martin.

The announcements seem to come without much fanfare these days, buried in the weekly Orders-in-Council announcements from the Government of Alberta, but things do seem to be changing on the governance side of post-secondary education in this province.

The day before yesterday, one such quiet notification revealed that Edmonton architect Vivian Manasc has been appointed chair of the board of Athabasca University, replacing Margaret Mrazek, who held the job as the request of the previous government and had continued after the end of her term in an interim role. Ms. Manasc’s term will run until March 13, 2020.

Actually, the little note on the government website attributed to Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt didn’t even say that much – I had to fill in the bit about Ms. Manasc being an architect. A news release, which showed signs of being touched by the provincial government’s PR people, appeared on the AU website later in the day, clarifying matters for the uninitiated.

Beats me why the NDP hides its light under a bushel like this. Ms. Manasc seems like an excellent choice, who is bound to do good for a distance-learning institution that has had its share of troubles lately.

She’s a founder and principal of Edmonton’s Manasc Isaac architectural partnership, well known for her work on environmentally friendly structures. She’s a former member of the board of the Edmonton Economic Development Commission. Perhaps more important, she’s an outgoing schmoozer who enjoys meeting and dealing with people – in other words, just what you need in a university board chair.

“Such a smart, capable, creative person,” observed Peter Baily, director of the St. Albert Public Library, who has worked with Ms. Manasc on initial planning for a new library facility in the community. “When problems and dead ends appear on a project Vivian always has a fresh idea of how to approach the problem: ‘What if we tried this?’ I think Vivian may have some original ideas that could help Athabasca past some of its many difficulties.”

It is to be profoundly hoped the acceptance of this position by this accomplished woman indicates the NDP government’s commitment to AU is the real thing, and the institution can begin to get back on track.

Meanwhile, the previous week’s raft of Order-in-Council notifications from the same minister included the name of Ray Martin, veteran New Democrat and long-time educator, as the new chair of the board of Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. NAIT is a major post-secondary institution in this province. Mr. Martin’s term will expire on March 6, 2020.

Mr. Martin was a teacher and school administrator in his career, so a role on an educational board should feel natural to him. But he is also what is technically known in the political world as “an old party warhorse” – that is to say, he has devoted much of his life to serving the NDP in various public roles, including 15 lean years for the party in the Legislature.

He was first elected in 1982 where he served as one member of the two-member NDP caucus. The other NDP MLA was Grant Notley, father of Alberta’s current premier. Mr. Notley died in an airplane crash in 1984 and Mr. Martin became the sole member of the caucus, the party leader, and in 1985 the leader of the Opposition. He lost his seat in the Legislature in the election of 1994.

Mr. Martin, who is 75, ran for the Legislature a couple of times after that, unsuccessfully, and three times without success for the House of Commons, always as a New Democrat and usually with a respectable showing. He was elected as an Edmonton Public School Board trustee in 2013.

I would say Mr. Martin comes pretty close to being beloved in NDP circles, and is universally respected on the other side of the aisle.

NAIT hasn’t had the crisis of confidence or cash faced in recent years by AU, but Mr. Martin’s steady influence will nevertheless be useful to its board.

Categories Alberta Politics