When Brock University’s board of trustees sought community input about qualities in a new president, Niagara’s regional chair was blunt.
“I was part of that process in giving feedback from a regional perspective as to what we’re hoping to see,” Niagara Region Chair Al Caslin said of that 30-minute interview. “It was pretty extensive.
“So we spoke about the need for community involvement and connections and relationships we’ve built between us,” he said.
“And I thought that Wendy Cukier suited that criteria.”
On Monday, however, Brock’s board of trustees said it and Cukier mutually agreed to part ways before her appointment that was slated to begin Thursday.
Requested specific comments about the reason for the decision have not been forthcoming from either Brock or Cukier.
Cukier had recently completed a term as vice-president of research and innovation at Ryerson University in Toronto. She was to replace former president Jack Lightstone, who retired at the end of June.
Ryerson confirmed this week Cukier will return to the Toronto university’s Ted Rogers School of Management.
Brock’s interim acting president, Brian Hutchings, remains in place as students begin their academic year next week.
Caslin said “moving forward, I just hope that the next person they pick also meets that same criteria (as Cukier did).”
Caslin said he did not know why the mutual decision was made not to proceed with the appointment.
Canadian Press has reported Brock board of trustees vice-chair Gary Comerford said he could not elaborate on Cukier’s departure for confidentiality reasons, calling it a “personnel issue.”
“It is an unfortunate situation. I don’t think anyone really wanted to find ourselves in this situation,” he said.
“We want to be sure we have the absolute correct candidate,” Comerford later added.
“I think we did it very well last time, quite frankly. All the stakeholders were involved in the decision. We’re going to step back and look at if the process is going to be improved.”
With neither Brock nor Cukier talking specifics, it’s impossible to “judge the situation with no facts and only draw on speculation,” said Mishka Balsom, CEO of Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.
“I have every confidence on Brock’s board of trustees … that this was a mutual decision that was right for all parties,” Balsom said. “While at the same time I recognize that it was probably a very difficult decision.
She said Brock and Niagara College are “instrumental to Niagara’s economic success and when you look at Dr. Lightstone, we’ve seen the number of undergraduates and graduates grow tremendously, programs being expanded.”
Balsom said the chamber was also fortunate to have had Lightstone on its board of directors “as a very valued member.”
“I think Brock is set up on the path of continued success and I think it’s in very capable hands with the interim arrangement,” she said. “And I think we’ll move forward.”
Brock University Faculty Association’s head said she received many responses from its members, who “continue to be frustrated and disappointed with the selection process and its outcome.”
“For example, our members are asking whether the board understands the importance of having an academic in the acting president’s position,” said Linda Rose-Krasnor.
“There are questions about whether there was a payout to Dr. Cukier and other related costs and, if so, how much,” she said. “We are also being asked whether gender played a factor in the decision.
“It is hard to know where we go from here, when there are so many unanswered questions.”
Patrick Foster, president of Brock University’s students union, said the Cukier situation has resulted in much uncertainty.
“A lot of people keep asking me, ‘Are you concerned about having an interim president for this long?’”
Foster said in that regard, the students union has been “extremely comforted by the work Brian Hutchings has done as interim president and I’m confident with him as interim president.”
He said he believes “things will continue to go smoothly, until we find Lightstone’s successor.”
St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik emphasized the importance of Brock as an “important community partner that I’ve built a strong relationship with as mayor and previously in my work with the chamber (as CEO).”
“I am looking forward to working with the president, whomever he or she is,” Sendzik said.
“We recognize the importance of Brock to the community and I am sure it wasn’t an easy decision on the part of the board of Dr. Cukier, when you look at the timing.
“But I do have confidence the board will take the necessary steps to continue doing what they’re doing — and build on Brock’s strong reputation and leadership under the next president,” he said.
On Thursday, John Suk, Brock board’s chair, said the board has been consulting with university senate and other stakeholders across campus about the issue.
“In the coming days the board will carefully consider that input as we make decisions about the interim presidency and the presidential search process,” Suk said in an e-mailed statement.
Comerford also commented to The Standard, in a Thursday statement.
“My sense is the search, or at least the conversation about it, will happen fairly quickly,” Comerford said.
“We have a number of important decisions to make in the next few days about the appointment of an interim president. Once that’s done, the next logical step is to begin the presidential search process.”
Brock also responded to e-mailed concerns relayed to it Thursday from Rose-Krasnor about any potential payout to Cukier and the issue of gender as a factor in the decision made.
“The decision not to proceed with the appointment as president and vice-chancellor of Brock University was a mutual decision by both parties,” said Suk in an e-mail.
– with files from The Canadian Press