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Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly

PO Box 1320  |  Yellowknife, NT  X1A 2L9

  • Rylund Johnson

The Rise and Fall of Tom Weegar

Updated: Mar 15

Many constituents have asked me to speak out about the current issue of Aurora College's former president, Dr. Tom Weegar.

I've therefore decided to share my take on the situation in the form of a timeline of events as I see them.

1. Dr. Tom Weegar is hired after the GNWT does much head hunting and costs us all a significant amount of money. His firing means we have had three Aurora College Presidents in two years in addition to the removal of the board.

2. Dr. Weegar gets to work right away transforming Aurora College to a university, his management style angers many people and he is not given the resources or flexibility to make the project happen (see his CBC interview). I don’t think he ever realized the amount of political interference that he would receive in doing what he was hired to do. Due to the recommendation in the Aurora College Foundational Review that the headquarters be relocated to Yellowknife this issue has become extremely politicized. University best practices require that Universities are arms length from government so that issues like this don’t arise and consume University operations .

3. Resistance builds as Dr. Weegar tries to change things without getting buy in from both the political and college side. Then the 2019 election happens.

4. Dr. Weegar’s former Minister Caroline Cochrane, is elected Premier. Prior to getting elected I had previously questioned her commitment to this project, although admittedly the whole issue was caught up in the politics of the day.

5. RJ Simpson becomes Minister of Education and barely gets enough time with the portfolio before it becomes clear that there is resistance to change in the department and the college. Dr. Weegar has isolated himself by not being prepared to enact change in an institution that has a history of being controlled by government.

6. The Premier fires Dr. Weegar. I think in hindsight Minister Simpson should have also signed his termination letter given his dual role as an ADM and President of the college. However I would also note we seem to be operating outside of the Aurora College Act in the first place which legislates the college have a board. I am not convinced this issue is the legal scandal many are painting it to be.

7. Dr. Weegar in a very odd break from the protocol of a recent high paid professional being fired conducts multiple interviews about his being fired. I’m in fact happy he did them and think it brought much of the political interference to light.

8. The interviews contradict the fact that when you fire high level personnel you usually frame it as them retiring (See the Premier’s responses in the house). This is in fact how the firing is framed in the email sent by Dr. Weegar to Aurora College staff. Minister Simpson tabled this email in the house and this was why he was framing it as Dr. Weegar leaving voluntarily leaving as opposed to being fired.

9. The Premier, Minister Simpson their Communications teams do a terrible job at controlling the narrative and getting their stories straight, probably because they never expected Dr. Weegar to go to the media. Various political factions and the usual suspects pour gasoline on the fire. What is best for the is transformation and the students gets lost in the conversation.

10. The media eat it all up as is there job and we get multiple stories bouncing parts of the full picture around.

11. What should have been a very straightforward firing of a person that was a one day news story is still an ongoing story due to a lack of transparency and terrible communication.

12. In damage control mode a senior manager in the Department of ECE is appointed to Dr. Weegar’s former role. It is clear, and fortunately seems to be agreed by all parties, that an arm’s length president, board and senate is all needed sooner rather than later to make this project a reality.

13. This whole issue has harmed students and faculty and distracted from the great work Aurora College is doing presently. This whole issue also shows why universities must be free from political interference.

14. The point has been missed that this project has the ability to fundamentally transform the NWT economy. Go to any university town in the world and it is clear that Universities can create thousands of great jobs and build a knowledge economy which softens the blow from our the boom and bust cycle of our current resource extraction based economy.

15. The federal government is very willing to invest millions of dollars into this project to make this amazing project a reality.

16. We should all be very excited about this project and realize that this type of fighting in the media only harms all of us.

17. Hopefully this the end of this chapter and the beginning of transforming Aurora College.