The chairman of Northwest Community College’s governing board isn’t worried the institution’s new president is leaving her last job in less than ideal circumstances.
Rhoda Witherly says Denise Henning is the best choice for the job despite her former employer, the University College of the North in northern Manitoba, refusing to renew her contract there last fall.
The university college’s refusal only became known late last year; Henning’s appointment was released by the NWCC on January 10.
Henning had indicated late last year she wanted to renew her five-year contract which expires July 1.
Reports last week from Manitoba indicated Henning and the University College of the North disagreed on her hiring of two non-aboriginals to top management positions and her opposing a move to make a two-day aboriginal awareness course mandatory for college employees.
Ironically those same reports note Henning is herself aboriginal.
Witherly would not say exactly when Henning applied for the Northwest Community College job but did say she was thoroughly vetted.
“We did a very extensive background check – what you would call in the search parlance a 360,” said Witherly.
“We talked to her governing council, the people that work her and we checked the references she provided. She got very good references.”
“We were aware [the University College of the North] was not going to renew her contact at the end of the term. It’s not too unusual to have differences of opinion,” said Witherly.
“[Henning] clearly was an excellent choice and we have every confidence in her and we’re pleased she’s coming here.”
Witherly said she could not comment on the specifics of disagreements between Henning and the University College of the North.
“At the risk of being flip, they have their processes and we have ours,” she added.
Witherly said Northwest Community College has adopted a policy that recognizes that aboriginal people make up a substantial portion of the region’s population.
“We need to ensure aboriginal people feel comfortable with the college and feel part of the college,” she said.
A Winnipeg Free Press story of January 13 quoted unnamed people saying Henning disagreed with a University College of the North elder-in-residence – defined as a person who provides guidance – who opposed the hiring of two non-aboriginal administrators.
The same story quoted the same unnamed person saying there were complaints about a ‘traditions and change’ course being mandatory to fulfill graduation requirements and that it was “pushing white guilt.”
Henning opposed the course being mandatory and backed the position of academics at the University College of the North that the course be optional.