Manitoba

Red River College criticized for 'inexplicable and regrettable' decision not to renew president's contract

Red River College's board of governors voted against renewing president Paul Vogt's contract when his term ends in 2020 — a decision made public by the current leader and CEO last Friday. The board has yet to fully explain its decision, leaving some members of the public wondering what happened.

Winnipeg college says it's going 'in a different direction' and won't renew Paul Vogt's contract

Paul Vogt took over as president of Red River College in 2015. He says he's disappointed by the college board's decision not to renew his contract. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Red River College president Paul Vogt says he's shocked and disappointed by the Winnipeg college's decision not to renew his contract when his term ends next year — a decision questioned by others in the education community.

"I had expressed my eagerness to continue as president, so I can't hide my disappointment over the decision," Vogt said in an email sent to all staff last Friday. "Or my surprise — it doesn't align with the feedback I have received in my time here."

In the July 26 email, Vogt said the college's board informed him last week of their decision not to renew his contract, which ends in 2020.

"My part of the bargain, as I've seen it, is to honour the efforts I see all around me by dedicating myself … to the success of our institution, and to be as honest and straightforward as I can about where we are and where we are headed," the college president said in his note to staff.

Vogt could not be reached for an interview.

'Wait and see'

RRC board chair Loren Cisyk confirmed the board's decision not to renew the contract for Vogt, who took over as the college's president in 2015.

"There's not really a whole bunch to tell," the chair said in an interview with CBC on Sunday. "The board has decided that we would like to go in a different direction."

Cisyk declined to elaborate on the direction the board wants to take.

"You'll see what kind of person we hire. That will show the direction we're headed in."

Red River College board chair Loren Cisyk wouldn't elaborate on the 'different direction' the college intends to take. 'You'll see when that posting comes out all the characteristics we'll be looking for in the next president,' he said. (CBC)

CBC News attempted to reach other members of the college's board, but only the chair agreed to discuss the decision.

The board still needs to identify what characteristics it will be looking for in the next president, and will then put out a new posting, he said.

Cisyk did not provide any negative performance indicators, or mention any criticisms of Vogt or conflicts between the current president and board members.

In a tweet Friday, education consultant Alex Usher called the board's move the "worst personnel decision at a Canadian college, maybe ever."

Usher is president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, an independent consulting firm that conducted a 2017 review of Manitoba's colleges for the provincial government.

"Can only surmise it's a political call by the Tory government," Usher said in his tweet.

Before joining the college, Vogt headed up Manitoba's civil service as clerk of the province's executive council from 2005 to 2013, under the former NDP government. From 1999 to 2005, he was a policy secretary to cabinet.

Cisyk denied allegations that the board was given any directive from Manitoba cabinet ministers. He said the provincial Progressive Conservative government did not interfere with the board's decision.

'Weak and unpersuasive explanation'

University of Manitoba professor emeritus Paul Thomas is a friend and former colleague of the current college president.

"I still find this decision by the Red River College board inexplicable and regrettable by reason of his academic credentials, his background experience, his talent and his intelligence," Thomas said in an interview.

Political scientist Paul Thomas is perplexed by the board's decision. Vogt 'was proving to be a very excellent president of Red River College,' he says. (CBC)

Thomas did not question the integrity of the board's decision, although he noted examples of other board issues under Premier Brian Pallister's leadership, including the mass resignation of the entire Manitoba Hydro board — with the exception of MLA Cliff Graydon, who was later ousted from the PC caucus for unrelated reasons.

He also noted accusations the province has lobbied on behalf of Manitoba Public Insurance agents, which prompted the Crown corporation's board to seek legal opinion about its rights.

"Mr. Vogt was proving to be a very excellent president of Red River College, bringing it out of a scandal involving the previous president and embarking on some innovations that were widely praised throughout the community and across Canada," Thomas said.

Vogt replaced Stephanie Forsyth, who resigned as RRC president in 2014 following allegations of spending improprieties.

"So to offer the explanation that the board wanted to go in a different direction is a weak and unpersuasive explanation," Thomas said.

The 2017 Higher Education Strategy Associates college review described past turmoil at RRC, including what it described as "a crisis of leadership," but noted "positive changes" under Vogt's leadership, saying "stakeholders were generally positive about current management."

The Manitoba government declined to comment on the board's decision, but a spokesperson said in an email it played no role.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen's mandate letter indicates his department is responsible for responding to the recommendations of the province's college education review to "improve student outcomes" and "better align college education with labour market needs and our universities."

Vogt did not indicate in his note to staff what he plans to do following the end of his term as president, but said "I believe that what is most needed at times like these is that everyone, myself included, puts their personal feelings aside and rededicates themselves to the work at hand."

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