- University Leadership and Public Policy in the Twenty-First Century: A President’s Perspective by Peter MacKinnon
Peter MacKinnon, former law dean (1988–98) and president (1999–2012) of the University of Saskatchewan, states that he wrote this book to illuminate features of the present condition of Canadian universities and to point to ways of improving them. He has done this.
He states that his book is “about policy” and is “neither memoir nor local history, though it contains elements of both” (p. viii). Unfortunately, insofar as the book is memoir and history (and a significant part is) it suffers from being written by a lawyer since the author provides only the evidence that supports his case.
In the interest of objectivity I should note that I was a faculty member of the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) from 1966 to 2001 and have followed its ups and downs since. I have known Peter MacKinnon from the time he arrived in Saskatoon in 1975. We have discussed and agreed on many things, especially before 2002, and have disagreed on others, especially after that date.
The first two chapters are basically a history of the recent past of the U of S seen through the eyes of an author who favours change that attempts to alter a path, rather than incremental adjustment. The six chapters that follow discuss policies that he believes are of interest to everyone concerned with Canadian universities.
In the first two chapters MacKinnon advocates strongly that the U of S should commit to meeting the highest standards of medical-doctoral universities and concentrate on selected areas in which it could become pre-eminent, while affirming its “sense of place.” In fact, during his presidency he pushed the university to become research intensive, to attract international students and to emphasize graduate education.
In the process of advocacy MacKinnon tends to denigrate those who disagreed with his vision of what the U of S should become, while often misrepresenting their ideas. He also ignores how his operating policies differed from those he advocated while campaigning for the presidency.
In the six policy chapters MacKinnon occasionally engages in lawyerlike selection of evidence, for example by ignoring the role academic administrators have played in creating conditions that led to faculty unionization from the U of S twenty-five years ago to Simon Fraser University this year.
The policies he chooses to discuss are central to the life of any university. These include tuition levels, relations with governments, academic [End Page 610] freedom, university autonomy, philanthropy, university-industry partnerships, corporatization of universities, the tensions created by methods of labour relations, university governance and collegial management, the role of universities in advancing Canada’s scientific capacity, the changing nature of Canadian university presidency and the effects of the global search for talent.
The chapter on tuition policy is nuanced and should be read with attention. The same is true of the chapter on relations between governments and universities and the reciprocal duties of each that segues into a thoughtful discussion of university autonomy, academic freedom, the importance of undergraduate education, and the need for Canadian universities to work collaboratively.
Chapter five deals with university relations with donors and corporations and the creation of partnerships with outside entities. The section on donors and corporations is straightforward and not controversial. Partnerships are varied and some create problems. MacKinnon presents his views on this topic forcefully, in opposition to those of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (caut).
The author’s differences with caut are emphasized in chapter six where he discusses university governance, collegial management and collective bargaining. His views on these matters were first documented in his 1991 article in the Dalhousie Law Journal and are connected with his experiences at the U of S from 1986 through 1988, which culminated in a faculty strike. MacKinnon’s position is clear: limited faculty participation in university governance (which should be largely top down) is good, but...