Employee groups representing staff at Athabasca University are welcoming a show of support from Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt for keeping the AU headquartered in Athabasca.

“It’s very promising to get something in writing that affirms the minister’s commitment to working to keep Athabasca University where it belongs,” said Mike Dempsey, Vice-President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents support staff at AU.

“It is encouraging that the Minister recognizes the importance of AU and that he has directed the Board to prepare serious options for the future of the university,” said Dr. Lawton Shaw, President of the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA).

Minister Schmidt recently issued a memo to staff and students stating, “I want you to know that keeping Athabasca University in Athabasca is very important to me and the Alberta government.”

He adds: “I have directed the (university’s governing) board to begin developing, examining and assessing options that could be implemented to bring stability to the institution… The options should further our government’s intention to do everything possible to keep AU in Athabasca.”

“This is a big step in the right direction,” said Dr. Dougal McDonald, Co-Chair of Local 3911 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents AU’s tutors. “We have been seeking assurances like this from the government since the university’s future was thrown into doubt nearly a year ago. We’ll be watching closely as the board follows this directive.”

Last June, interim AU president Peter MacKinnon submitted a report on the university’s financial viability to the board of governors. It seemed to urge shutting down the school and moving its functions to other institutions.

The three employee groups – CUPE Local 3911, AUFA and AUPE – called on the government to disregard MacKinnon’s report and commit to the institution’s long-term stability.

“As a distance learning institution, Athabasca University allows people in remote areas and challenging situations to get the skills they need to succeed,” said Dempsey. “It’s also a major economic driver in the north-central region of Alberta and Athabasca’s largest employer.”

AU is headquartered in Athabasca, 145 kilometres north of Edmonton. It is a world leader in distance education, with staff and students across Canada coming together online. Of its 1,100 employees, one third live in the town of Athabasca, making it the area’s largest employer.


For more information, contact:

Lawton Shaw: AUFA president: (780) 399-1601
Dr. Dougal MacDonald: CUPE Local 3911 co-chair: (780) 668-7810
Mike Dempsey, AUPE Vice-President: (780) 404-5678
Tyler Bedford, AUPE senior communications coordinator: (780) 298-7626