Oct 282011

MacKinnon comment a conflict: prof 

By David Hutton, The StarPhoenix October 28, 2011   

University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon delivers an address to grads at fall convocation, October 22.

Photograph by: Greg Pender, The StarPhoenix

A University of Saskatchewan professor says president Peter MacKinnon’s endorsement of Saskatchewan Party candidate Rob Norris in a campaign brochure is unprecedented and constitutes an “abuse of power.”

But the U of S president said the comment came at a public funding announcement and it is not uncommon for university officials to offer praise for politicians at such events. Len Findlay, a professor of English and the director of the U of S humanities research unit, said a personal endorsement by MacKinnon in a Norris brochure is in conflict with the role of the university president to stay neutral. MacKinnon is quoted as saying: “Rob Norris is the finest minister responsible for post-secondary education that I have been privileged to work with in my (13) years as (president) – .”

“It’s a publicly funded institution and it’s a provincial responsibility,” Findlay said. “Provincial governments change and the interests of the institution and the public interest is best served by the university not being seen to align itself with one party or one candidate or another.”

In an interview Thursday, MacKinnon said the comment was made at a plaque unveiling ceremony for the Academic Health Sciences Centre on campus in early September, well before the writ was dropped. The comment was a matter of public record and Norris “was entitled to use it,” he said. Norris’s office asked for permission and MacKinnon said he did not object.

“During election campaigns and other times you’re very careful, but at the same time in the work that I do, you have to know how to say thank you and the opportunities to say thank you are typically public occasions,” MacKinnon said. “Appreciation is very important and I was expressing appreciation well before the election campaign.”

Findlay said the comment is critical in a back-handed way of those who held the post before Norris. In September, the set election date made it widely known a campaign was forthcoming, Findlay said. University officials typically offer general appreciation and not personal praise at such funding announcements, he said.

“To single out a particular minister at a particularly sensitive time and to praise that minister in terms that seem to cast aspersions on his predecessors and cast him in a role of unmatched ability is something that I haven’t encountered,” Findlay said.

The comment was meant as a thank you to Norris for improving post-secondary education, MacKinnon said, and not as a jab at previous ministers of post-secondary education.

“How it’s interpreted is one thing. What I intended is another,” he said.

The comment could make it difficult for the U of S to deal with future governments, Findlay said.

“I think that universities have to live with the paymaster, whoever is in residence in Regina,” he said. “The distance from government and the distance from donors and from pressure groups in society is critical – and means that the university’s independence is not compromised.”

Norris, the Sask. Party candidate in Saskatoon Greystone, said Thursday he thought the comments were “generous in nature” and saw no issue quoting them in campaign material.

“(Endorsements are) appreciated as they arrive,” he said.

Saskatoon Greystone NDP candidate Peter Prebble declined to comment, but said he was aware of the endorsement and the concern of some on campus.



© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix 

 COMMENTS (as at 1:12 pm 2011-10-28)

12:58 PM on 10/28/2011

“Since taking over as president in 1999, he has not only transformed the University of Saskatchewan into a leading Canadian postsecondary institution, engaged aboriginal Canadians, overseen construction and operation of the largest science project in Canada, restored our historic College Building (with original cornerstone laid by Sir Wilfrid Laurier), served with wide national respect as chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, been short-listed for the Supreme Court of Canada and many other accomplishments, he has offered Canadians — by model and mentorship within our community and country — a notion of an engaged and mature Saskatchewan within a confident and dynamic Canada.”

With these words, Norris nominated MacKinnon as a “Nation Builder” in the Globe and Mail in 2006.

The next year, Norris became Minister of Post-Secondary Education, much to the delight of both I expect.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –  – –

 10:58 AM on 10/28/2011

Premier Wall has attended numerous events and made many funding announcements, but has not been on the campus of the University of Regina once during his time as premier, and Mr. Norris’ track record isn’t all that much better. The U of S has received a disproportionate share of capital funding, receives more $ per student from the government, and is able to pay its faculty member significant more than that made by those doing the same work at the University of Regina. No wonder President Mackinnon wants to say thank-you and keep the money flowing.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –  – –

10:57 AM on 10/28/2011

This is just further evidence of the cozy relationship between the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Party that has only been furthered by the unethical conflict of interest inherent in having Rob Norris as the minister responsible for post-secondary education. Mr. Norris was a University of Saskatchewan employee, and his wife is currently employed there and the U of S is deriving benefits from this fact, at the expense of other institutions (most notably SIAST and the University of Regina).

– – – – – – – – – – – – –  – –

 10:38 AM on 10/28/2011

Half the senior admin at the UofS are also in over their heads. I’ll give P-Mac his due–he’s good at what he does and a smooth player. Unfortunately, I don’t agree at all with his vision of our university’s role (see his op-ed in today’s SP) and wish he weren’t so good at pimping our public facilities out to special interests.

Norris is a good example of how untalented people get ahead in this province: connections. Please the right people and don’t offend the wrong ones, and you can go far on luck and hot air. Heck, that describes the SaskParty itself.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –  – –

9:16 AM on 10/28/2011

The real irony here is that Rob Norris is completely incompetent as a Minister. From a low level administrative position at the U of S to a head role in the government. He’s in way over his head.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>