Board of Governors approves creation of land trust
University will proceed with plan to leverage land assets as funding source for core academic, research activities.
By MICHAEL BROWN
(Edmonton) The University of Alberta Board of Governors unanimously approved the establishment of a land trust as part of the university’s ongoing effort to identify and implement inventive strategies to enhance revenue streams.
With the creation of a land trust, the university is embarking on a proven strategy for turning institutional land assets into a source of dedicated, permanent funding to support the university’s core academic and research activities, and its mission of attracting and retaining the best students, faculty and staff.
Ralph Young, university chancellor and member of the university’s Land Asset Advisory Task Force, said this was one of the most important decisions this board had to make.
“The land trust gives us an opportunity to deal with the need for this university to have the resources to reach our aspirations,” said Young. “We have to recognize that this decision is to achieve the mission of the university and nothing else.”
Don Hickey, vice-president (facilities and operations), explained that the institution would create the trust and its mandate, but that the trust’s board would operate independently of the university with the sole responsibility of working in the best interest of the beneficiary, the U of A.
He said the main activity of the trust would be to enter into long-term lease agreements with third parties who would develop the land in accordance with the university’s Long Range Development Plan, which outlines the university’s needs 50 years into the future.
“It is important that the mandate of the trust is consistent with the long-range development plans and the principles identified within those plans,” said Hickey, adding there are checks and balances in place to ensure that the will and the reputation of the university will be upheld. “We will select the initial board, set the direction and expectations; it is a separation from the university, but we expect that the trustees will uphold the same values that define the university.”
Other institutions across North America, especially those with large land grants, have embraced a land asset management strategy with excellent results. The University of British Columbia land trust has generated millions of dollars for the institution since it was created in the late ‘80s, with similar concepts being adopted by Guelph University and York University in Eastern Canada, and both the University of Calgary and Keyano College in Alberta.
President Indira Samarasekera, who was on faculty with UBC in the late 1980s when it created a land trust, says the U of A trust will give access to discretionary funding that will allow the university to chart its own destiny.
“Some of our struggles have been that we just don’t have surplus financial capacity to undertake the kinds of initiatives that would drive our vision,” she said, referencing UBC’s ability to undertake a variety of projects that the government wouldn’t normally support. “It gives the university much greater capacity to chart a direction based on the collective vision of where the university needs to go and how it needs to get there.”
Designating which lands will make up the trust is still on the horizon. As next steps, a recommended mandate and governance structure will be brought back to the board in the fall, and an order-in-council for the establishment of a corporate trust would be required by government.
As well, several issues—including academic research needs and municipal planning requirements—will continue to be discussed before the process of designating lands for development begins.
In the meantime, talks between the university and the community at large will continue to ensure all affected are fully aware that the creation of a land trust is simply an implementation strategy, not a change of direction.
“Communications around this initiative actually ramp up with this approval,” said Debra Pozega Osburn, vice-president (university relations). “This is just the start of many discussions we would have within our various communities and with our various stakeholder groups about this initiative.”
In applauding the board’s decision, board chair Doug Goss said that the true strength of the university comes from its ties to the community.
“In no way, shape or form should this decision be viewed as a departure from the long-term development of the university as embraced by our community. Everything we do will continue to embrace our community.”