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Next U of C president shouldn’t continue Cannon’s legacy

February 1, 2018 —

The sky above the University of Calgary is shining brighter than it has in over seven years. Elizabeth Cannon’s presidential term is finally coming to an end. Cannon announced her resignation on Jan. 29 in a YouTube video, meaning that 2018 holds more hope for the wider campus community than the years that preceded it.

A letter from Gordon Ritchie, the chair of the Board of Governors, said that “the extensive accomplishments during Cannon’s time as president mark an extraordinary period of growth and success in the university’s 50-year history.” We couldn’t disagree more.

To say that Cannon’s term at the U of C has been controversial would be an understatement. In 2013, the U of C executive team came under fire for spending $8.1 million renovating their offices despite major budget cuts to Albertan post-secondaries and increased tuition rates. The glass staircase to Cannon’s office has become an infamous symbol of her careless spending of public funds. The U of C instigated an ongoing lawsuit regarding the ownership of MacHall, the school’s student-run hub, by refusing to negotiate for a new agreement in late 2015. In 2016, Cannon also took home $480,000 from her base salary and $116,000 from other cash benefits, as well as another $301,000 from non-cash benefits, which the Ministry of Advanced Education called “out of line.” According to the Edmonton Sun, the average yearly salary of the presidents of Simon Fraser University, Dalhousie University and the University of British Columbia was $445,109 during the same time span.

Furthermore, the U of C dropped from 196th to 217th on the QS World University Rankings in July 2017. It also fell to sixth place in the ranking of Canadian research universities, though the goal of the first iteration of Eyes High was to be at least fifth. In October, a new report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers found that Cannon’s seat on the board of the energy company Enbridge, and their subsequent donations to the Schulich School of Engineering, compromised academic integrity. U of C professors and faculty members also reported that intimidation and a “culture of fear” that emerged under Cannon prevented them from speaking out.

According to the U of C’s policies, a search committee will be formed in the event of a presidential resignation that is composed of public officials, academic staff, members appointed by the U of C Faculty Association, the Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Association, U of C Alumni Association, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees – Local 52 and the Management and Professional Staff Executive Committee, and the U of C chancellor.

The committee will search for, evaluate and recommend a candidate to the Board of Governors for approval. The committee includes representatives from all of the groups who cited concerns with the U of C’s shift to a university known for buzzwords and scandals under Cannon’s watch. Cannon’s resignation, along with the upcoming SU elections, show there is hope for major changes at the U of C.

The 2018–19 SU president should advocate for students’ wishes in this search process. The provincial government must also implement a salary cap for university executives and everyone should demand a president that, at the very least, won’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a staircase despite extreme budget cuts. The bar is very low.

Unfortunately, that bar isn’t being met by current SU president Branden Cave. In an interview with the Herald, he said the school’s next president should continue Cannon’s legacy.

“The job of the next president is going to be to capitalize on a lot of the groundwork that Dr. Cannon has laid with regard to the Eyes High vision and the commitment to entrepreneurial thinking,” Cave said.

It’s hard to find another university president in the country mired in as much controversy as Cannon. To advocate for a continuation of the culture fostered by her leadership is a failure by our student leaders. The SU, and therefore undergraduate students, will get one voice on the presidential search committee. After nearly a decade of Cannon, her replacement is going to ring in a new era at the U of C. Ensure your student leaders demand someone better.

Students must pay attention to the presidential search. Once in power, a president can be hard to get rid of, as shown by the few consequences Cannon faced for her countless missteps. As time goes on, there will be more reflections on Cannon’s term. But for now, the U of C should lift its eyes high and imagine a brighter future. And to those on the search committee, we hope you’ve been paying attention.

Gauntlet Editorial Board

Correction: A previous version of this editorial erroneously stated that Cannon made $626,000 from her salary alone in 2016. In fact, this is what she made between her salary and other non-cash benefits in 2015. In 2016, she made $596,000 between her salary and other cash benefits.  We also compared Cannon’s salary in 2015 to other prof’s salaries in 2015. We’ve changed those comparisons to prof’s salaries in 2016. The Gauntlet apologizes to its readers for these mistakes.

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