Alberta Government names five new members to Athabasca University Board of Governors

Posted on September 17, 2016, 1:29 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Treaty 7 Grand Chief Charles Weasel Head, newly appointed to the board of Athabasca University, with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Below: New AU board members McDonald Madamombe, Debby Kronewitt-Martin, Lynn Hamilton and Cheryl Hunter-Loewen; and AU’s next president, Neil Fassina.

The Alberta government has moved quietly but dramatically to begin the difficult work of fixing the serious problems at Athabasca University, appointing five new members to the financially troubled distance-education institution’s board of governors.

madamombeThere has been no news release and no official announcement – other than the bare-bones mention of the five appointments in the government’s Orders in Council, published Wednesday.

The five new members are:

  • Charles Weasel Head, Treaty 7 Grand Chief
  • McDonald Madamombe, Chartered Accountant and resident of the Town of Athabasca
  • Debby Kronewitt-Martin, business management consultant
  • Cheryl Hunter-Loewen, government lawyer
  • Lynn A. Hamilton, lawyer and corporate president

More detailed biographies are included at the bottom of this post.

kronewitt-martinAs significant as the appointments themselves is their timing – coming as they do less than three weeks after the appointment of a new president by the old, 14-member board with many Tory appointments, and being for a relatively short duration, all expiring on March 13, 2018.

While for optical and practical reasons it might have been better for the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley to have endorsed the board that chose the new president, under the legal powers given to the duly-appointed board there was little the government could do but accept the old board’s decision gracefully if it decided to plunge ahead.

That is what the board did, and it is what the government and Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt have done.

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Provost and Vice-President Academic Neil Fassina is scheduled to take office on Oct. 11. Before taking up his present duties at NAIT, Dr. Fassina was dean of the Edmonton technical institution’s School of Business and its School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts.

lynnhamiltonAs for the 18-month term of the new appointments, clearly that gives the government the opportunity to remove within a manageable time frame any new member who is not contributing to the necessary effort to make Athabasca U’s operations truly sustainable.

All current public members of the board, appointed by the government, are due to have their terms expire before that date, so there is a strong possibility the government can have in place a board fully in tune with its sustainability goals and prepared to do the work required to make them reality.

After a long period of conflict, drift in the face of technological change that has impacted the university’s distance-education mandate, and, some would say, mismanagement, several important steps remain for the government to make this project a success.

First, the government must find a replacement for retired board chair Margaret Mrazek. The government has now taken that search out of the hands of the University Secretary and given it to an executive recruitment firm. It may or may not have been a factor that the current University Secretary is a former president of the Athabasca-Redwater Progressive Conservative Riding Association.

hunter-loewenAs the previous factoid suggests, undoubtedly there remains a considerable amount of internal housecleaning to be done at AU – good work for a new president.

While AU insiders view the previous board’s financial projections with a degree of skepticism, clearly the university is experiencing funding issues that the government is going to have to address – not easy in a period when the resource revenues on which past and present governments unwisely rely too heavily have all but imploded.

As previously reported, the university projects a deficit of $3.3 million in the current fiscal year. Yet, while the previous administration pushed staff layoffs to address such shortfalls, there seems to have been no consideration to increasing faculty teaching loads as a temporary measure, as was implemented by AU to deal with a financial crisis in the mid-1990s.

One could reasonably conclude the options already presented by the board gave the government the little choice but a major funding increase or a financial catastrophe. Given the province’s current revenue predicament, the NDP may want to explore more options before deciding how to proceed. That, presumably, will be a big part of the new board members’ job.

New AU Board of Governors members’ biographies

Charles Weasel Head, Standoff

  • Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe) Chief and, since 2005, Treaty 7 (Blackfoot) Grand Chief
  • Leader of Canada’s largest First Nations Reserve
  • Former member or chair of many boards, including the Aboriginal Healing Foundation Board of Directors, the Alberta First Nation’s Information Governance Centre’s Chiefs’ Senate, and the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre
  • Health Care Administration Diploma from the University of Saskatchewan

fassinaMcDonald Madamombe, Athabasca

  • Chartered Professional Accountant, Certified Information Systems Auditor, Certified Internal Auditor, certification in Risk Management Assurance
  • Finance and Compliance Business Unit Leader, Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc.
  • Member, Athabasca University Research Ethics Board and Institute of Internal Auditors, Edmonton Chapter, Board
  • Master of Global Business Administration degree from the University of Manchester and a Bachelor of Accounting Science degree from the University of South Africa

Debby Kronewitt-Martin, Edmonton

  • Managing partner of Element Business Consulting Inc. specializing in strategic management, project management, and organizational change management
  • 25 years with the City of Edmonton managing land development, community revitalization, and information technology projects
  • Volunteer with numerous community boards and professional associations, including the Project Management Institute and the Alberta Chapter of the Association of Change Management Professionals
  • Diploma in Urban and Regional Planning from NAIT

Cheryl Hunter-Loewen, Edmonton

  • Legal officer for Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
  • More than 20 years a senior manager and consultant in the energy and technology sectors
  • Former counsel for the Alberta Law Reform Institute and volunteer lawyer for the Edmonton Community Legal Clinic
  • Law degree and bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta

Lynn A. Hamilton, Edmonton

  • Practicing lawyer since 1992
  • President and owner of Hamilton Investments Inc., which owns companies involved in wildfire suppression, aircraft maintenance, health care, and commercial properties
  • Board Chair of the Alberta Diabetes Foundation and member of the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame Board
  • Recipient, 2014 Global Woman of Vision Award
  • Master of Law, London School of Economics, and Master of Business, Law degree and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta

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9 Comments to: Alberta Government names five new members to Athabasca University Board of Governors

  1. Liam C

    September 17th, 2016

    This will be a start to turning the corner at Athabasca University. We need new hope and a good direction, as the blinkered thinking of the current leadership is not helping morale.

  2. Athabascan

    September 17th, 2016

    Sorry not to be impressed so far.

    No doubt some of these appointees have extensive educational credentials, but I see no hint that any one of them has any experience in post-secondary education or for that matter an appreciation for the uniqueness of Athabasca University.

    I am most concerned with where the political/social ideologies of new Board members lie. To me they would be ideal candidates for Board membership in the corporate sector, and not a struggling distance Ed. institution.
    That means their tool bag likely relies heavily on business-centric solutions, instead of a public good approach.

    There is no cause to celebrate these appointments at least from a staff perspective. We are still at the wait and see stage regarding the survival of AU and its employees.

    • anon

      September 17th, 2016

      Athab: you are correct in so many areas, not just education. Until the NDP starts acting on the fact business is almost always in opposition to the public good (as Adam Smith correctly noted) things will continue to fall apart.

      No evidence the NDP has the backbone to do so yet, although it is nice to see some faces that are not good ole’ white boys and their wimmin.

  3. Alvin Finkel

    September 17th, 2016

    The NDP provincial government’s first appointments to the Athabasca University Board of Governors demonstrate, as do their appointments generally, a desire to create greater gender and ethnic balance. The new members, along with the remnants of the existing Tory-appointed board, face a daunting challenge: the government wants them to create sustainability for the university without increasing its budget. They can probably succeed partially by reducing the management component of the university. It’s oversized because the last two presidents, encouraged by their Tory boards, created new management positions and departments that mimic the larger universities. The “risk management” group should be eliminated. The university did very well without any such corporate group before 2007. It also increased enrolments at a dizzy pace before it created a large student recruiting bureaucracy while enrolments seemed to go flat after resources were transferred from teaching and services to that goal. But, in the end, the government will almost certainly have to increase the base operating budget for Athabasca University so that government expenditures per enrolment are similar to those of the other Alberta universities (universities get no money for students without an Alberta address, and over 60 percent of AU’s students are from out of province; they provide economies of scale for the university). The market value of such an increase would be demonstrated if Alberta ended the arcane practice of separating monies for universities on the basis of operating costs, on the one hand, and capital costs on the other. Athabasca’s costs per Alberta enrolment may have looked high to the Klein government which decided that it would end the Lougheed government’s practice of viewing AU as a national university and something of a gift to all Canadians. But Alberta’s capital costs are negligible relative to other universities. There are only two buildings to maintain in Athabasca along with dinky campus grounds (there is also a president’s house which should be sold off). The other campuses have tons of buildings, equipment, and grounds to maintain and so the real costs per student are simply hidden when capital and operating costs are separated.

    • Athabascan

      September 17th, 2016

      Yeah, OK let’s reduce the management components of the university. Like that will ever happen!

      How about being more realistic and try to reduce or eliminate some of the most obvious wasteful projects being promoted by the administration and their sycophants. Alvin knows exactly what I am referring to. Too bad the government and their new appointees don’t know where to look.

      • BKK

        September 19th, 2016

        Athabascan… the time for playing hide and seek is over. If there is something the new board and government should know than they should be told. It is ridiculous to say “they don’t know where to look” and not tell them where and what to look for.

        • Athabascan

          September 19th, 2016

          BKK is that your real name?

          How would anyone know if in fact you are a member of AU’s administration?

          • BKK

            September 20th, 2016

            You wouldn’t know just as I have no idea where you come from but I can assure you that I am not a member of AU’s administration and I hope that you did not take my comment to be supportive of what has gone on at AU. We have become administrative heavy with less and less emphasis on education. Running a university like a widget factory is not conducive to education. At a time when other on-line universities are advertising with an emphasis on more and more access to academics, AU is putting a barrier between the academics and the students.

  4. BKK

    September 19th, 2016

    It would be great to see someone with knowledge of AU become Chair so they can help to guide this Board and the university to where it needs to go.


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