A thousand people have so far signed a nascent petition calling on the minister of tertiary education to preserve democratic staff, student and community representation on university councils.
The minister, Mr Joyce, last week said he wants to reform university councils, and that they currently are large and unwieldy.
In 2009 the government pushed through similar changes for polytechnic councils. Those changes reduced councils down to eight members, four of whom are directly appointed by the minister and the first four choose the remaining four. The minister appoints the chairperson and gives her or him the casting vote. Council members may also sit on multiple councils. Staff representatives, student representatives, union representatives and iwi representatives all lost their seats on the new councils.
TEU’s petition argues that imposing similar rules on universities would threaten their independence and academic freedom as it has done in the ITP sector.
TEU national president Sandra Grey says it is a myth that good business leaders make good leaders of public institutions such as universities and polytechnics:
“And it is even more of a myth that just because someone is a business leader they are good at governing – we need look no further than the global financial crisis to see what a good job publicly governed democratic and representative university councils have been doing compared to so called entrepreneurial and streamlined business directors.”
“Universities have a legal duty to challenge received wisdom and be the critic and conscience of society – including challenging government. How can they do that when the majority of their council owe their seats to the minister who appointed them?” asked Dr Grey.