The NORTEP/NORPAC stakeholders meeting held last Thursday. Photo courtesy Facebook, posted by Deborah Gibson-Dingwall.

A NORTEP/NORPAC instructor is concerned that the province’s pledge to take advisement from NORTEP Council on how to consolidate the school’s programming is a hollow one.

NORTEP Council consists of an elected board of five people, and acting NORTEP/NORPAC President Jennifer Malmsten and Vice-President Academic Morris Cook are said to be involved as well.

A Ministry of Advanced Education news release issued on Monday stated the Ministry had reached an agreement with NORTEP Council, related to consultations the Council is holding with NORTEP/NORPAC stakeholders and students. The province says it will consider those recommendations as it plans to transition NORTEP and NORPAC’s programs to an already-existing institution.

April Chiefcalf is a 15-year faculty member who is on an internal NORTEP/NORPAC committee that has formed since the province announced plans to redirect NORTEP’s $3.4 million operating grant to other post-secondary institutions. She said the government is trying to control who makes recommendations by excluding faculty from the selection process, and it is a tough pill to swallow.

“Often people who sit on a board or council or even in the government, in management, they don’t always have that sort of intimate connection with the organization where they can really see what’s going on the inside, and really what is it that the students need,” Chiefcalf said.

Chiefcalf said she respects the democratic power of the NORTEP Council, but wants consultation to take place as well.

In the province’s news release, it says it will make a “student-focused” decision.

“Even though there’s some positive potential, we don’t feel that in the end we’re actually going to have a say in this. If they’re [the province is] determining who can be on the selection committee they’re going to determine who the final partner is. And I don’t think that they’re approaching this with the best interests of the students or the program in mind, I think that they’re simply trying to save money,” Chiefcalf said.

Chiefcalf was present last Thursday when Minister of Advanced Education Bronwyn Eyre spoke at a NORTEP stakeholders meeting in La Ronge.

At that time, Eyre said she wanted to clarify previous letters sent out to NORTEP Council that had laid out the ministry’s internal criteria for “choosing a potential new service provider for university training.” She said the evaluation for how to proceed with NORTEP/NORPAC’s programming will consider government priorities as well as NORTEP Council’s priorities.

“These are the ministry’s ideas and my ideas about what we consider important to weigh but also included are what NORTEP weighs. So they’re two opinions but they’re out in the open,” she said.

“It’s important that you understand, government will be making – I’ll be making – the final decision in early 2017 and the decision will of course take into account NORTEP Council’s report.”

Those Thurday comments, which Eyre said were made in the interest of transparency, were notably absent in the Monday news release.

In Chiefcalf’s view, the way the province is going about looking at the potential partnerships with six other institutions is stripping northerners of agency in these decisions.

“Each of those institutions offer things that could be very beneficial for us but I think the point is we’re being forced into this. It’s not our vision,” she said.

She pointed to a 2011 offer by NORTEP to merge with Northlands College, which was rejected by the province.

“The fact that now they’re forcing it on us and trying to portray it to the public that it’s all about agreements and self-determination, it’s really, really frustrating and really concerning.”

This comment is echoed in a news release from NORTEP/NORPAC that was issued last week, which says the school wishes to remain autonomous and is only participating in the process of consolidation “at the direction of the government.”

Chiefcalf’s skepticism is fueled by the fact that the province sent its letters announcing the plan to redirect NORTEP/NORPAC’s funding around the time that senior management of the institution was changing.

Eyre has acknowledged the tension between northerners and her ministry on the NORTEP/NORPAC situation several times in the past week.