Occasionally, even when you have grey hair, things don’t play out the way you expect.
I am on the board of Laurentian University in Greater Sudbury and generally the most exciting part of the board meeting is to try to find parking. This is no slight to the board, but rather recognition that the real work is done at the committee level. Infrequently, something will be deferred or changed, but generally the board trusts its committees to do their work. The board meeting is a time for questions, information sharing and granting final authority for the corporation to act.
Last week something else happened.
A group of activist students at Laurentian arrived to protest tuition fee increases in Ontario and at Laurentian in particular. The Board of Governor meetings at Laurentian are open to the public. Arriving late, I missed the opportunity to be denied access to the elevator downstairs and settled for being admonished upstairs for being a suit and partaking of the board buffet, which the picketers claimed to be paying for. It occurred to me to invite them in to review the spread and request an upgrade in exchange for my labour, but I demurred. I reached for the potato salad and carrot cake and took my place.
As the meeting was called to order up to 40 students filed into the board room to take up their observation posts. I thought it was good planning on their part. Nothing like having a P. O’d student sitting right behind you as you contemplate future spending.
When the moment arrived for Nick Farkouh the chair of the finance committee to present the financial committees recommendation for the budget which included the afore mentioned tuition increase the cat calls ( SHAME, SHAME) began as anticipated.
What happened next however was not. Luke Norton the student representative to the board asked to speak. He talked about how difficult it was to afford his own schooling. He talked about Laurentian’s determination to pride itself as an important access point for Northern students to attend university. He talked about his sister who started out at university but couldn’t afford it and was now carrying a gun in Afghanistan. He talked about the $12,000 dollars he already owed after two years of university, and that it would be $25,000 before he was finished. Now I happen to know Luke is not exaggerating. I had to wait for him to get to a meeting with me last year because he missed the bus, which cost us an hour and half.
I also remember I wasn’t able to pay my own student loan back until I was 32.
Luke is no slouch. He knows Laurentian needs every penny it can get. It is not a rich institution. He also knows Laurentian is one of the top universities in the province to support students who need it. What he did was make a motion to support the fee increase at Laurentian in exchange for the university supporting the student’s petition to Queen’s Park.
What Luke presented was a win/win proposition to the board.
He won the support of the board. In fact, he won it even after the students embarked on a strategy to close down the meeting, which included endless chanting and some yahoo marching up and down on the boardroom table.
It was odd. The board supported what the students had come to promote and they either by mistake or calculated strategy tried to destroy the good will Luke had sought to build.
One hopes cooler heads will prevail. The student concerns are legitimate. To be useful to the society at large the university requires the revenue from wherever it comes.
What I saw last week was a young man rise to the occasion brilliantly, and the Board of Directors standing tall by turning the other cheek on a Friday afternoon to keep the focus on what is important. The esprit de corps of an institution is on the rebound and has an important roll to play in leading Northern Ontario out of the wilderness.
We’ll see if we make it through the inevitable upcoming provocations, but it was a pretty good start.
Laurentian Media Group
Michael Atkins is president of Northern Ontario Business and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org