On Friday, January 27th, Quest’s Board of Governors held three meetings with staff, faculty, and students.
By the time we entered the MPR at 5:30, the board was just finishing its meeting with faculty. People were milling about, picking up their things, and everyone seemed visibly tired; this was to be the third meeting in three hours. The five members present, including university President Peter Englert sat down and introduced themselves before opening up questions to the 15 or so of us in attendance.
The first question was, unsurprisingly, about finances.
Englert responded first, saying that the university was getting closer to some kind of financial stability. Ian Worland outlined the inevitable challenges of maintaining a private university in Canada: “Tuition is incredibly high… and startups are like that… Quest isn’t necessarily a startup, but it’s got the same problem–it’s gotta balance the books.”
Self-sustainability became the central term in the conversation around university finances. Students pressed the board to elaborate. Stuart Louie, Worland, and Englert agreed sustainability meant Quest would start being able to pay for its annual costs using the revenue from student tuition. Without this first level of stability the board said Quest cannot yet attract donors willing to make six figure investments.
Worland brought up the strategy of increasing student size: “The more students you have, the more revenue you have… and having fewer or no empty beds means we’re better off financially.”
The board, however, disagreed on what the actual cap for the student body should be. When asked, Englert said 1200. Mary Jo Larson, the current chair, seemed surprised: “I have 800 in my mind because I have a concern about getting bigger than that, and making sure we don’t break down into disciplines.”
Though discussing the eventual size of the university is not currently on the table, two members seemed convinced Quest still needs to grow. Larson said they would welcome student input on the issue.
When asked about endowments, Worland said all of those funds were in land and buildings. Students wondered about years past when they were asked to donate to Quest. Worland said he was unsure what happened with the campaign, but added, “It’s premature to be thinking that the student body can produce an endowment. . . When I want you to donate money is thirty years from now”. Larson, however, disagreed: “[students] should think about supporting Quest from day one . . . The point is, the people who love Quest are who will keep it thriving and surviving.”
The board did not speak to any long-term plans beyond stabilizing Quest’s finances. They have ideas from the recent Forward Planning meetings, but have not yet set anything in stone.
Currently, the board is working on completing the new mission statement, which will build off the vision and values statements that came under development this past fall. The board also recently approved Quest’s new Diversity & Equity Statement.
While communication between the board, faculty, staff and students may not have been a focus in the past, the meetings on January 27th indicates a renewed commitment to transparency. This was the first time the board has spoken directly with students. The meeting came as part of a broader push from Quest’s Executive Team to increase transparency on, and promote discussion around, Quest’s evolving identity and direction. If students see the school heading in a direction they are unhappy with, the board made it very clear that they’re receptive to student feedback.
Until Quest resolves its financial issues, however, it seems unlikely the board will make any major institutional changes. While they have the final say on both long and short-term decisions, each member stressed their commitment to the school’s core academic principles.
Feel free to contact Mary Jo Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Quest’s Board of Governors oversees the management and direction of the university. Priorities include establishing large-scale policy decisions, balancing university finance, and appointing new faculty members. Board meetings take place quarterly in B.C., supplemented by phone conference calls. This meeting was, notably, the first time Quest has paid for their plane tickets.
Members are appointed by other members, and a British Columbia statute mandates that every university in the province must have a functioning board. While there are six members currently, Quest’s board only requires three at minimum. The board chooses its own members based on availability and skillset, and they govern themselves through regulations that have existed in bylaws unchanged since 2002.
Dan Birch is the current Chancellor of the board. Previously, he worked as a provost at UBC. Birch recounted frequent meetings he had with former president David Strangway where they discussed the educational limits of large research universities. He joined the board 3 years ago; this will be his last year. After his introduction, Mary Jo Larsen, Chair of the board, mentioned that Birch’s connections in academia “paved the way” for Canadian graduate programs accepting Quest degrees.
Stuart Louie, the youngest member of the board, currently works as a strategic growth manager for the London Drugs group, his family’s company. During the meeting, Louie described an affinity for Quest’s curriculum, saying that he would certainly hire Quest students for leadership positions. Like Birch, Louie joined the board 3 years ago.
Mary Jo Larsen is a partner at the law firm Warner Norcross & Judd LLP in Detroit, Michigan, and the mother of Jordan Larson, a former Quest student. She said she decided to volunteer for the board after visiting with her son and being “blown away by the experience”. Larsen has been on the board for 4 years and will continue to serve as chair for the next year and a half.
Ian Worland, a personal and corporate tax attorney from Toronto, was invited to join the board in 2008. He mentioned that he joined “primarily because there weren’t a lot of people left.” Worland considers Quest an “incredibly neat place”, and has visited and watched Keystone presentations numerous times. He will serve on the board until September 2018.
The newest member, Chief Dale Harry (Pekultn Siyam) of the Squamish Nation, could not attend, but Peter Englert gave his introduction. He has been on the Squamish Nation Council for fourteen years, and served on numerous other boards and organizations in the Squamish area. Currently Chief Harry works as a consultant for Aboriginal Economic Solutions Inc. He joined the board on September 4th, 2016.