“The Highest Level of Transparency?” – Start with the Lukaszuk Letter

Posted by on Sep 11, 2013 in Blog

During September 6th’s campus forum on the UofA’s budget mess the Acting Provost, Dr. Martin Ferguson-Pell, reportedly received some criticism about administration’s lack of transparency – the administration’s refusal to disclose the percentage cuts it was imposing on individual faculties this year. His audience was assured that transparency would improve. The UofA’s media scribes wrote: “He did note, however, that President Indira Samarasekera has heard the concerns and committed to the highest level of transparency.” Sounds good.

But, if the President is committed to the highest level of transparency, why is her administration refusing to honour its words and release publicly the “Lukaszuk letter?”

This letter apparently outlined the Minister’s concerns about the President’s plans for dealing with cuts in provincial government support for the UofA. Mr. Goss, the Chair of the UofA’s Board of Governors who received the letter, wrote: “After I have the opportunity to discuss the letter with the board (of governors) in the coming days, I will share the letter from the deputy premier with you.” He met the Board on August 26th. The letter is still under wraps.

On August 28th concerns about what the Minister actually said in the letter were raised at a UofA Chairs’ Council meeting. Dr. Ferguson-Pell told the Chairs he would release the letter later that day or the next day. Nay, nay…no letter

Why does releasing the letter matter? Well, there’s the matter of honouring what you say you’ll do. That aside, this letter is being used to justify the draconian cuts – $56 million of them – slated for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Cuts of that magnitude will have a dramatic effect on students’ lives in the classroom.

What did the Minister say in his letter that led Mr. Goss to conclude that it was directing the UofA to balance its budget in 2014-15? If, according to Mr. Goss, a definite deadline for balancing the budget wasn’t demanded by the government what did the Minister write that would lead President Samarasekera to say: “This is what we were asked to do by the government of Alberta and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Lukaszuk letter seems crucial to understanding why President Samarasekera’s administration so abruptly ditched its plans to deal with the government cuts over three years. If she really is committed to the “highest level of transparency” all of us who care about the future of the University of Alberta deserve to see the Minister’s letter.