Athabasca University's HQ - deep in the boreal forest of Alberta

Following the termination of four senior executives last week, Athabasca University’s President, Frits Pannekoek, announced on Monday in an e-mail to staff that at his request ‘last fall’, the Board will start a search for a new President, but before that can happen, there had to be ‘a discussion of the provostial model, to determine whether the university should be recruiting a president and provost or a president and vice-president academic.‘ When the Board has made that decision, a search committee for a new president and vice-president will be struck, and when the new president has been appointed, Dr. Pannekoek will retire.


That of course does not explain why the existing VPAcademic/Provost was fired before any decision on the nature of the position had been made, nor even more curiously, why the other three senior executives were terminated at the same time.

For an open institution funded by the public, it is being very closed about this significant development. Some explanation for the firings, and some statement about the future direction of the university, are needed, and urgently, for confidence in the institution to be restored. This latter statement needs to come from the government, which in effect accredits the university, as well as mainly funding it.

In the meantime, 40,000 students must be getting increasingly concerned about their future at AU.

I very much want a strong, relevant, and up-to-date open post-secondary institution in Alberta which serves the whole country. In my view, Athabasca University does need to modernize and adapt, but is this the motivation for these changes? If so, it’s the wrong way to go about it. If an urgent need for change is not the reason for the firings, then an explanation is needed anyway.

Declaration of interest

I have an honorary degree from Athabasca University, not to mention several close colleagues and good friends working there. However, I’m getting all my information from public sources.


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