I am reporting on the final board of governors meeting for the 2018/2019 academic year. This meeting occurred four weeks ago, but, hey, it is summer, I am on sabbatical, and there was nothing urgent to report.

Indigenous Initiatives

The open session began with a 1.5-hour discussion on Indigenous issues, which largely seemed to be used to advocate for one or more new senior management positions for Indigenous affairs. While I will report much more below on this topic, let me begin by saying that I think that one such new senior management position could be useful, but this did not warrant over an hour-and-a-half of the board’s time, especially since the formal request for such a new position was never made.

The first 40-minutes of this discussion was an introduction by the esteemed Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Chief Bellegarde was invited by the board chair. The two of them are apparently friends. Chief Bellegarde began with a 25-minute speech, which was truly inspirational, followed by 15-minutes of answering questions. He discussed AFN’s four priorities: climate change, restorative justice, moving beyond the anachronistic Indian Act, and ongoing fiscal arrangements with the Crown. He discussed how Indigenous peoples in Canada rely on community identification, rather than self-identification, saying things like:

  • “Look out for self declarations.”
  • “But they are not really part of the community.”
  • “Who gets to make that determination?”

It was useful for the board to hear this, especially since most western human rights in Canada relies on self-identification, rather than community-identification. This does separate Indigenous issues from many equity issues.

Unfortunately, Chief Bellegarde then said, “Before coming here, I did my homework.” Those words will wake up any academic. Chief Bellegarde said that he looked up how many members of the Carleton Board of Governors were Indigenous, and found only one such person. Given that he is friends with the board chair, this homework could have and should have been delegated to the university president and/or the head of university communications. Chief Bellegarde then asked, “Where is Peter?” He was referring to Peter Dinsdale, an Indigenous external member of the board, who was absent from this, his final, board meeting. Chief Bellegarde said that only one Indigenous voice at the table is a start, but not enough. Later in the conversation, the provost, who has been in charge of Indigenous initiatives at Carleton for over a decade (the provost’s office has this task, not necessarily the current holder of that office), repeated that it is a pity that there is only one Indigenous member on the board, which places too great of a burden on that one individual to represent Indigenous interests. The problem is that at least one of the undergraduate student board members, Taylor Arnt, is also Indigenous, which is obvious from her biography on the board’s website. She is also from Treaty 4 territory, like Chief Bellegarde. I have no idea whether the other undergraduate board member for 2018/2019, Yvonne Osagie, is Indigenous, but she very well may be. Both undergraduate members of the board this past year were superb advocates that could not have easily been overlooked. Therefore, there was either extreme carelessness in doing homework or simply that student members of the board don’t count.

Chief Bellegarde moved on to discussing two specific actions that Carleton could take to help with reconciliation. His first specific suggestion is that medical researchers at Carleton should stop co-opting traditional ecological knowledge about plants – i.e. stop using Indigenous medicines as western medicines – without giving full credit and full compensation. This is an important ethical and intellectual property issue, which has justifiably given ethnobotany a bad name. The problem is that Carleton does not have a medical school. And, as far as I know, Carleton only has one faculty member looking at Indigenous plant medicines, a chemist in the food science program. Chief Bellegarde’s second specific suggestion for reconciliation at Carleton revolved around primary and secondary education. He emphasized that teaching about truth and reconciliation needs to start in K-12 and that Carleton needs to do a better job training such teachers. The problem is that Carleton does not have a Faculty of Education. Carleton does not do any teacher training. So much for specific recommendations and homework.

While I have raised some specific complaints here, it was still fabulous listening to such a luminary, inspirational, and insightful person as Chief Bellegarde.

Chief Bellegarde was followed by a 50-minute presentation and discussion by two of the three co-chairs of the Carleton University Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee (CUISIC): Kahente Horn-Miller and the provost, Jerry Tomberlin. Their presentation included four discussion questions, but they skipped two of the questions, only lightly touched on one of the other questions (“How can the university ensure there is a systems-wide commitment to raising awareness of Indigenous experiences among those who are part of the Carleton community?”), and largely focused on their last question: “Are there senior administrative positions that need to be created?” Note that this last query refers to possibly multiple such positions. While several board members spoke in favour of this idea, including the board chair and chair of the board’s finance committee, several others questioned the need for these new senior positions. Kahente Horn-Miller claimed that there was a need for at least one individual to be focused on large-scale Indigenous initiatives and that this was too much for an assistant professor, herself, to handle. She was rightfully defensive about this, at which point the provost stepped in. Next, the university president said that he wants consultation before taking any actions, but said that hiring someone senior soon to deal with Indigenous initiatives is a high priority. Although, I will note that it is not such a high priority that a motion was put on the table. Another external board member asked if we have such a hard time hiring Indigenous assistant professors, how will Carleton hire a decent Indigenous senior manager. Kahente Horn-Miller responded that is important home-growing (“capacity building”), possibly by hiring people who are still working on their PhDs at Carleton, i.e. individuals who are ABD (all but dissertation). My hope is that she misunderstood the question and was only talking about hiring assistant professors, rather than hiring senior managers.

Next, a board member asked how Carleton is funding the ten new Indigenous hires. The provost answered that the university is simply diverting/prioritizing existing funds. I had hoped there were special federal monies allocated for these ten new Indigenous hires, but instead we learned from the provost that these ten new faculty positions will simply be allocated out of existing programs and not be net new positions.

Board open sessions usually only last 1.5-hours, but this one was just getting started after the discussion about hiring one or more senior managers for Indigenous initiatives, with still another 1.5-hours to go. At least most board members were not leaving early, with the annual board supper following the meeting and the food and drink not delivered until at least 6 pm.

Senate

The clerk of senate provided an annual report to the board. She started by describing the differences between the board and senate, noting that the board uses a corporate system of governance, whereas the senate uses a parliamentary system of governance. Incidentally, nobody on the board of governors questioned the clerk’s characterization of Senate’s governance being parliamentary. I did not grow up with either a corporate or parliamentary system, but did grow up with fractured fairy tales.

A parliamentary system is formally ruled by the crown, i.e. the head of state, who primarily serves nominal and ceremonial functions, but is actually ruled by a prime minister, the head of government. In Carleton’s Senate, the head of state seems to be the chair of Senate, who is automatically the university president. But the university president seems to serve a very substantive day-to-day role in Senate, not a nominal nor ceremonial role. In a parliamentary system, with permission of the head of state, the prime minister is chosen by whatever party holds the majority of seats in the parliamentary body. Who would that be for Carleton’s Senate? By design, a plurality (but not a majority) of seats in Carleton’s Senate are held by faculty members, but they do not collectively choose anybody. Carleton’s Senate has a clerk, but they are anointed by the Senate Executive Committee and then later nominally acclaimed by the entire Senate. To me, this system does not look any more parliamentary than the late Fidel Castro being prime minister of Cuba. I’m not saying that parliamentary systems are perfect (e.g. Doug Ford and Boris Johnson). But, is there any chance we could actually make Carleton’s Senate parliamentary in any sort of Westminster sense, transforming the current clerk’s fractured fairy tale into reality?

The clerk of senate also very briefly touched on other matters, such as convocation, senate appeals committees, a new senate review committee, quality assurance, and the free speech policy, but never with any particularity nor questions.

Strategic Integrated Plan and Strategic Mandate Agreements

The university’s previous five-year plan has just seen its time expire, so obviously it is time to draft a new one. To that end, the university president has started to form two separate advisory bodies to help draft a new Strategic Integrated Plan (SIP): (1) an SIP task-force of 12-15 members with four co-chairs that have already been appointed, plus an open nomination process for the remaining 8-11 members and (2) an SIP committee that will be solely populated by 35 senior managers. The fact that Carleton can easily find 35 senior managers is itself frightening. The board was not told what the relative roles of these two separate advisory bodies will be. External board members did, however ask two great questions, for which there were no answers. One board member asked if the SIP would cover disruptions, by which they seem to have been referring to labour disruptions, i.e. strikes. The other board member asked how the SIP will be reconciled with the next Strategic Mandate Agreement, SMA-4. All four co-chairs of the SIP task-force were in attendance (Lorraine Dyke, Cindy Taylor, Patrice Smith, Bettina Appel Kuzmarov), but only Lorraine Dyke said a word, which is telling. Lorraine Dyke, the deputy provost, could not even answer how the SIP will be reconciled with the current SMA, SMA-3. The deputy provost also stated that the SIP would eventually be vetted by both the board and senate, but never said whether the SMAs would be vetted by either the board or senate. This was a grand fiasco with SMA-1 and SMA-2, where Carleton’s administration completely short-circuited Senate, with repeated promises to do better next time. Oversight of SMAs are probably Senate’s most important academic role.

Senior Management

The university president boasted that he has hired twenty (20) new senior managers during his first year in office. He at least claimed that this pace will slow down, with seemingly only the need to hire a new dean of public affairs next year.

New Programs?

The university president said he is looking for new programs that require no government funding. Why do so many smart wealthy people still search for the elusive free lunch?

Fund Raising

The university’s advancement officer and a member of the board’s community relations committee reported that this year Carleton contributed $15 million in matching funds, but that there is still $8 million remaining for other possible matches.

Closing remarks

This Carleton University Board of Governors blog reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the board. This post is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary. This blog post is exclusively based on publicly available documents and public meetings. Hope you found some of this informative. As always, I welcome your feedback. Enjoy the rest of summer!

 

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For the past 45 years, I have dreamed of being a restaurant critic. To this day, I relish Jay Rayner’s and Grace Dent’s reviews for the Guardian, delighting to read about places at which I will never eat. I even loved the gusto (pun intended) with which Peter O’Toole voiced the restaurant critique Anton Ego in the movie Ratatouille. Most of the problem with my aspiring to be a restaurant critic is that I cannot cook and cannot write, but part is also feeling like a proverbial fish out of water reading about butchered beasts as a long-time vegetarian. So, instead, I found myself writing about sex and evolution and a modicum of math. That is what I was hired by Carleton to do. I also write about cacti because sometimes it is nice when your topic is as prickly as you are. I also accidentally found myself writing about Carleton University’s Board of Governors, where I also feel like a fish out of water, often trying to convey the board’s keystone cop approach to almost anything having to do with due process. If I can inform people about process – usually considered to be an inherently boring topic – in a novel, illuminating, passionate, and entertaining manner, well, that is something to be proud of, even if I don’t get to review vegetarian restaurants.

With that, thank you very much for reading this latest instalment of what Carleton’s Board of Governors did at its open session on 28 March 2019. As usual, my focus is on due process or lack thereof. Please send me your comments. We are at a university, so should encourage and embrace dissent.

Bylaw and AGU changes

Today, Carleton’s Board of Governors amended sections 9 and 10 of its bylaws to incorporate changes that the university senate approved to the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document in February 2019. The AGU constitutes a joint policy of the senate and board and therefore requires both senate and board approval, which today somehow meant updating the board’s bylaws. There were four huge procedural problems with how these changes were passed at the 28 March 2019 board open session, any of which should nullify the motion that was passed, which reads:

As recommended by the Governance Committee and Carleton University Senate, the Board approve by special resolution the amendments to section 9 and 10 of General Operating By-law No.1 effective immediately.

In summary, the four problems are: (1) at the meeting, handling this matter like an ordinary motion, rather than a special resolution; (2) failure to meet the 21-day notice requirement; (3) failure to provide board members with track-change versions of the bylaws; and (4) failure to explicitly propose a motion to change the AGU.

First, Article 1.01(u) of the board’s bylaws states that amendments to the bylaws must be made via so-called special resolution, which require a two-thirds supermajority for passage. The fact that this change required a two-thirds supermajority was never stated by anybody at the open session of the board on 28 March 2019, neither during introduction of the topic, moving of the motion, debate on the motion, nor calling of the question. This requirement for a two-thirds supermajority was not even stated in the actual written motion. See above, although the written motion did specify that this was a special resolution. The question was simply called by the acting chair of the board to determine whether a majority of members approved of the amendments to the bylaws. Incidentally, the acting chair on 28 March 2019 was Dan Fortin because the regular chair, Nik Nanos, was absent.

Second, Article 3.05 of the board’s bylaws states that changes to the bylaws must be provided to all board members at least 21-days prior to a vote on the special resolution. The open session binder in which the amended bylaws were first presented to all board members was apparently not sent to board members until more recently.

Third, board members never received a track-changes mark-up of the bylaw changes, although they did receive a 4-bullet very short summary of the changes. Lack of track-changes meant that insidious changes could have been snuck into the bylaws without anybody noticing and that board members could not easily fulfill their fiduciary duties because they did not know exactly what they were voting for. The bylaws were provided as a PDF document. Had they been supplied as a word processor document, board members could have easily merged old and new versions to visualize the changes.

Fourth, the full title of the AGU is “Academic Governance of the University – a joint policy of the Board of Governors and the Senate of Carleton University” (link). Yet board members never received a copy of the revised AGU nor did the board ever explicitly approve any changes to the AGU, even though that is part of the board’s mandate. Considering how many lawyers were sitting at the board table during the open session on 28 March 2019, this seems unfathomable.

Do the above four procedural defects nullify the proposed changes to Sections 9 and 10 of the board’s bylaws and the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document? Pardon the following double negative, but when you get to write your own rules (e.g. board bylaws), there is really no excuse for not following them. This is not the first time in recent years that proposed changes to board bylaws have been plagued by such procedural defects, which reflects poorly on governance at Carleton.

I am not complaining about the actual changes to the AGU nor actual changes to the board’s bylaws, despite my belief that neither document was properly amended on 28 March 2019. My cursory glance indicates that the proposed changes were fairly innocuous, although the lack of track-changes makes any changes needlessly opaque. My complaint here is entirely about process.

Auditors and conflicts of interest

Continuing with examples of governance issues, Carleton has been hiring KPMG for many years to provide a full annual audit, which is presented to the board. It turns out that KPMG is not just hired as an independent auditor, but is also hired for various other consulting projects by Carleton. This seems like an enormous conflict of interest because KPMG would have to provide an independent audit of projects on which they consult. One board member suggested that the terms of reference for the board’s Audit & Risk Committee should explicitly preclude such dual roles for auditors. Amazingly to me, nobody else on the board seemed to think this was a problem. The board would not even refer the terms of reference back to the Audit & Risk Committee. Today the board passed the terms of reference without any such conflict of interest provision. Note that the board has known for a few years that KPMG does not have a pristine ethical record, e.g. KPMG has advised numerous wealthy individuals how to hide moneys in offshore banks to avoid taxation by the Canada Revenue Agency. Regardless, kudos to the one external board member who provided meaningful dissent, even if his dissent fell on deaf ears.

At a different point during the open session, a different board member, an internal member, mentioned that Lesley Watson, an architect and external board member, had recently resigned from Carleton’s board of governors. The internal board member thanked Lesley Watson for her dedicated service, especially on the building committee, and for her integrity in recognizing that potential conflicts of interest made serving on the board impossible. The chair of the building committee seemed upset at this disclosure in open session. Kudos to the few board members who clearly are recognizing conflicts of interest and why they should be identified and avoided.

In memoriam

At various times during the open session, the acting board chair and the university president memorialized recent deaths of two people in the Carleton community – a faculty member and an alumnus – both of whom tragically died during the Ethiopian Airlines crash outside of Addis Ababa. Such public statements about recent deaths made by public figures at a Carleton Board of Governors meeting are understandable and laudable. However, nobody mentioned the recent tragic death of one of Carleton University’s librarians. A librarian is a closer member of the Carleton community than any alumnus. Omission of her memoriam from the board meeting was striking. I hope this omission does not reflect that deaths in the airline crash were highly public, whereas the death of the librarian was not in the headlines. We should not be politically posturing when it comes to memorializing members of our community that have tragically and/or unexpectedly passed away.

Regardless of politics, I personally would like to pass along my condolences to family and friends of those three recently deceased members of the Carleton community: Flavia Renon, Pius Adesanmi, and Peter DeMarsh. I can honestly say of the faculty member and librarian who recently passed, you will truly be missed on campus.

Failure of emergency notification system

In open session, the board did not hear a single word about the epic failure of Carleton’s emergency notification system in late January 2019, in which, over the course of about 24 hours, the Carleton community was mistakenly notified of a putative active attacker on campus. 28 March 2019 was the first full board meeting since this epic failure. In terms of reputation and risk, which the board claims to very much care about, this is a huge deal. What makes this omission of information seem even stranger at the board’s open session was that the university has been forthcoming with information about what went wrong. Deans and chairs have openly discussed these problems with their faculty members and staffs, without mentioning that any of the information they were providing was confidential. Even today 28 March 2019, the university was forthcoming about small problems with their re-test of the emergency notification system, yet the board heard nothing about this in open session. I have no idea why this topic could not be discussed in open session. Furthermore, this topic was not listed on today’s closed session agenda.

Ford’s “free speech” policy

On 30 November 2018, Carleton’s senate unanimously passed a “free speech” policy that the Ford government foisted on all colleges and universities, ostensibly to protect right-wing voices. Without such a policy in place by 1 January 2019, the provincial government threatened to withhold university funding. For some reason that is still a mystery to me, the board opted to endorse this senate-approved policy on 28 March 2019, almost three full months after the provincial government deadline. The acting chair of the board said this endorsement was important and necessary, but did not explain why…and nobody asked why. The board’s bylaws do not even mention the word “endorse”. Therefore the vote by the board to endorse the “free speech” policy was meaningless or, at most, ceremonial, not to mention being “a dollar short and a day late”.

A board member asked why there was no common “free speech” policy across all provincial universities, much as there is one common “free speech” policy for all provincial colleges. This member argued that free speech should mean the same thing in Toronto as it does in Ottawa, as opposed to idiosyncratic community standards, as there are for obscenity in the United States. The university president answered that the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which is basically the association of Ontario university presidents, balked at such a common policy because some universities previously had policies that touched on free speech. Curiously, the clerk of senate stated that she and the ad hoc senate committee on the “free speech” policy got most of their advice in drafting Carleton’s policy from COU and Steve Levitt.

Peter Simpson’s advice on collective bargaining

Carleton’s new university president invited Peter Simpson, a long-time labour conciliator, to advise Carleton’s Board of Governors on ways to improve collective bargaining. I’m not entirely sure why the university president extended this invitation for Peter Simpson to advise the board, but at least Peter Simpson said two things of some interest.

First, Peter Simpson was critical of recent governments, calling them hypocrites for saying how great collective bargaining is at promoting middle class people in the public sector, yet cutting funds to that very same public sector. It takes guts (or maybe something else?) for a public servant to criticize the government that hires them.

Second, Peter Simpson advised the board that the key to collective bargaining was to bargain more often, i.e. negotiate shorter collective agreements. His justification for this was that automation changes workplaces over the life of long collective agreements, such as with shipbuilders and postal workers. This time lag as automation is phased-in makes collective agreements functionally antiquated before their expiration. While Peter Simpson may be correct about this, it is not obvious that his argument applies to unionized faculty associations because professors are not particularly affected by automation. Nonetheless, we should anticipate that new mandates from Carleton’s Board of Governors will be for relatively shorter collective agreements, at least if the board’s executive committee heeds Peter Simpson’s advice from today.

New addition to engineering building

The full board approved an $11 million 1,540 square metre extension to the Mackenzie engineering building, ostensibly providing a new engineering student design centre to support engineering capstone courses. Supposedly this construction will be entirely paid out of money that the faculty of engineering and design has saved in their proverbial sock drawer, aka the faculty’s “carry over funds”. Will the faculty of engineering also be responsible for the inevitable cost over-runs? While engineering enrollments have continued to rise over the past decade, they also have acquired a pair of new buildings: the Canal Building and the ARSE [Advanced Research for Smart Environments] Building.

The new addition to the engineering building will be along Library Road, which might pose some traffic headaches on campus. Someone asked if this construction could be delayed until after the O-Train Trillium Line is re-opened and the Hog’s Back bridge re-opened in 2021. The interim dean of engineering replied that this would pose an unacceptable delay, so construction will be begin immediately, with the hopes of opening this new wing by September 2020. New buildings are often key legacy projects for university administrators’ CVs.

The vice president finance told the board that the old portions of the Mackenzie building will receive an additional $3.5 for deferred maintenance. This is out of $14 million per year in deferred maintenance across the university, which seems perilously low, especially in light of continuing asbestos removal, numerous leaky roofs, and now the deferred maintenance nightmare of Dominion-Chalmers church. Incidentally, the board was told that, “the university is moving slower than expected towards [financial] sustainability of the Dominion-Chalmers purchase.”

Report from Building Committee

The chair of the Building Committee reported that animals will finally soon be allowed into the vivarium on the upper floor of the new health building, but nobody would venture how soon. He also reported the following other tidbits.

The ARSE [Advanced Research in Smart Environments] building is currently on schedule, but is over-budget.

The co-generation plant is well behind schedule, but within budget.

The new business building, thus far, is reported to be on schedule and within budget.

I am happy to report that proposed additions to the new parking garage over the O-Train, P-18, which is closest to the Lansdowne stadium, have been deferred indefinitely. This is a change of plans since the board’s previous meeting. Instead, the plan now is to build another surface parking lot at the north end of campus, which is also geographically close to events hosted by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). [As best I can discern, numbering of parking lots at Carleton is done in the same way as numbering of street addresses in Tokyo: chronologically from when first built].

The old multi-story parking garage next to Robertson Hall, P-9, is still crumbling, but there are no plans to replace it. Instead, it will be temporarily closed again this summer for repairs, as seems to have occurred for at least the past dozen consecutive summers.

Ancillary budget

The ancillary budget covers the non-academic parts of the university, such as residences, food services, parking, athletics, photocopying, etc.

Most of this discussion revolved around parking fees, which have gone up by 5% this year and will increases by another 5% next year. The vice president finance said that parking at Carleton is priced under market rates. He also justified this parking fee increase by mentioning that Carleton needs to increase its ancillary capital reserves in order to build more parking garages. Ancillary services are supposed to be self-funding at Carleton, with at least one big exception.

The exception is men’s-only football. Extra money for this exceptional case is not coming out of the ancillary budget, but out of the operating budget that is otherwise supposedly dedicated to academic expenses. When Carleton’s football team was resurrected several years ago, the university president promised that the football program would always be entirely funded externally, which was apparently true for the first few years. But over the past few years, Carleton has been contributing on the order of $1 million per year to this sexist and violent activity. This year’s ancillary budget contains the following gem:

In the fall of 2019, the football team will be entering their seventh year of operations. As a program that is funded largely by external sources, the Football activity is not reflected in the Physical Recreation and Athletics financial summary.

Talk about hiding an academically worthless expense, with yet no estimate for how much this expense will cost the university out of its operating budget next year. Eliminating football would be a good way to save the money being lost due to the provincially mandated 10% tuition cut and the lower enrolments that will undoubtedly follow in the wake of the Ford government’s OSAP cut.

Sexual Violence Policy

Bailey Reid from Equity Services gave a superb, albeit sobering, presentation on sexual violence at Carleton, in part highlighting how disclosures of sexual violence have increased in the past year. She claims, probably correctly, that this reflects increased willingness to report, not necessarily increased incidence of sexual violence.

A board member quoted from the Ottawa Citizen that roughly one out of every five women at universities in Canada experience sexual violence. Extrapolating from that, this board member claimed that there should therefore be roughly 2,600 disclosures of sexual violence at Carleton per year. However, equity services only reported 168 disclosures this past year. Bailey Reid admitted that this order of magnitude discrepancy in disclosures of sexual violence means that we still have a long way to go, even though we are getting better. The discrepancy may very well be two orders of magnitude, i.e. a discrepancy of a factor of circa one-hundred, according to the recent Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey (link) showing that 67% of survey respondents at Carleton reported sexual violence.

The university president extolled Bailey Reid’s 2.5-hour training session on sexual violence, which he had recently sat through. This training is mandatory for only a few people on campus, such as residence managers and varsity athletes. [This was the first time I had heard the term “varsity” since high school 45 years ago.] Someone then asked who on the board has been to the sexual violence training other than the university president. The answer was nobody.

Bailey Reid has been conducting consultations across campus about revising the Sexual Violence Policy. This is fantastic. Those consultations ended on 15 March 2019. The board’s governance committee has cognizance over the Sexual Violence Policy and met to approve a revised draft on 6 March 2019. The problem is that this draft was incomplete insofar as consultations were still ongoing. The governance committee on 6 March approved this interlocutory draft of the Sexual Violence Policy, a draft that the campus community has not seen, with the governance committee knowing that revisions were to be made to the draft policy after their approval. The full board of governors is supposed to approve the new Sexual Violence Policy at their 25 April 2019 open session. An internal board member then asked if the governance committee will get to review the final revised draft of the Sexual Violence Policy before 25 April. At this juncture, the vice president for students and enrolment unequivocally answered “no”. There are two big problems with this. First, the governance committee is abdicating their responsibility to vet the final draft. Second and far more insidious, it was not for a university vice president to answer whether or not a board committee would convene again. This should have strictly been a matter for the board to decide, but they abdicated that responsibility to management. This is a sure sign of regulatory capture, implying that the board itself has no independence and is being reckless with their fiduciary duty to oversee the university’s administration.

The chair of the board’s governance committee complained that the Sexual Violence Policy was not user-friendly. The optics of saying “sexual violence” and “user friendly” in the same sentence was cringe worthy. The chair of the governance committee suggested that an abridged version of the policy be promulgated, which seems like a horrible way to draft policies. He also suggested that the full version of the policy contain an index, which is not a bad idea for the paper version, but seems needless for a searchable electronic version.

More poor optics

Seating is assigned at board meetings, although seating arrangements change from meeting-to-meeting. I’m not sure who chooses these seating arrangements, but they chose to seat the only three women of colour together at the 28 March 2019 board meeting. [These are the only people that I suspect are women of colour on the board. Nobody on the board has ever told me how the self-identify in either sex or race, so admittedly I am making assumptions here, which may be unfounded.]

Board committees

The chair of the governance committee tentatively recommended amalgamation of many of the existing board committees. These would include:

  • Building & Finance committee
  • Governance & Nominating committee
  • Compensation & Executive committee
  • Audit & Risk committee

He said that this amalgamation would reduce workload and make committees more efficient, without any explanation as to why this would be. He did not suggest how to amalgamate the Community Relations & Advancement committee, but the board did learn that this committee is cancelling its relatively new “Talk Exchange” program, which supposedly replaced the annual board open forums. Too bad there was no plan to bring back the annual board open forums.

Tuition and student fee changes

The board decides on next academic year’s tuition and fees at each March open session, but is largely constrained by the provincial government’s funding framework. This has sometimes devolved into protest and name-calling (link, link, link), but not today, in which there was virtual unanimity supporting the tuition and fee changes. Everybody voted in favour of the proposed tuition and fee changes, except one internal board member who abstained. This unanimity was undoubtedly due to Doug Ford’s edict that domestic tuition must be reduced by 10%. This supposedly will result in a $20 million shortfall for Carleton, which is approximately 4% of the operating budget, but will be partially made up for by increases in student fees and increases for international student tuition of approximately 4%. Oddly at this point, the university president justified the increase in student fees at Carleton by stating that Carleton’s fees are very low compared with other universities and that these low fees somehow damage Carleton’s reputation. Nobody asked him how low fees wreck our reputation, but some economists might claim that artificially high fees are a signal of a luxury good.

Closing remarks

This Carleton University Board of Governors blog reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the board. This post is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary. This blog post is exclusively based on publicly available documents and public meetings. Hope you found some of this informative. As always, I welcome your feedback. And maybe next time I will review the charming Sri Lankan Karuna Café, which is an amazingly undiscovered gem in the heart of Ottawa, or NuNu’s on Queen West in Toronto who creates a remarkable Ethiopian onion soup that, for me, doubles as a most exquisite alternative savory desert.

 

The open session of the Carleton University Board of Governors lasted for two-and-a-quarter hours, with several noteworthy details on finances, “free speech”, a wasteful parking garage, opaque governance, and “risky” Indigenous initiatives.

University finances

The Board’s finance committee was on the open session agenda to present its planning framework for the 2019/2020 operating budget. But the chair of the finance committee stated that there were too many uncertainties from the provincial government to present a formal framework or even a motion. The university president stated that there is no tuition framework from the province. The university president stated that he had spoken with Merrilee Fullerton (Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities) and Lisa MacLeod (Minister of Community, Children and Social Services), who he claimed were sending “strong signals about sacrifices, but with no word on timing or levels” of those fiscal sacrifices. However the university president declined to provide any further details in open session, promising more details in the closed session. Nonetheless, as a planning exercise, the administration is asking all resource planning committees (RPCs) to prepare budgets for both a 5% cut and a 10% cut.

The chair of the finance committee stated that Carleton will continue with the Board’s mandate of coming up with a “break-even budget”. As we have seen for many years, this is a sham. Each year, the Board first allocates any surplus funds, and then, immediately thereafter, votes on a balanced operating budget each spring. The finance committee chair stated that virtually all fiscal uncertainty is on the revenue side, not the expenditure side. This undoubtedly reflects that collective bargaining with all large unions on campus has concluded.

The big news on the financial front is that the university budget process is no longer being run under the auspices of the vice president finance, but under auspices of the vice president academic. While this seems to make the vice president finance somewhat subservient to the provost, this was also touted as comprising a current best practice. The financial planning group (FPG) is now replaced by the provost’s budget working group (PBWG). Another change this year is that all RPCs will meet simultaneously with the PBWG. In the past, each RPC would be meet separately with the FPG.

A few times in open session, the university president or board members stated that Carleton and the province are currently at the demographic nadir for graduating high school students. My memory was that these numbers would not bottom out for another two years. Regardless, Carleton is trying to get around the issue of a low number of undergraduate applicants by sending out admission letters early, many even in November this year.

The university president strongly advocated that Carleton institute more forms of Activity Based Budgeting. Currently the only one of these mechanisms we have is ELBA, i.e. Enrollment-Linked Budget Allocation. Can we stop commodifying public education, which should be a public good, and not merely “open for business”? My office is in the Carleton Technology and Training Centre (CTTC) building, which was built to attract high-tech outside industry tenants. The last of those high-tech tenants, Bayer Crop Science, just ended their lease and have moved off campus, which indicates how good Carleton is at such ventures.

“Free speech” policy

The Clerk of Senate and university president discussed the process surrounding the provincially mandated “free speech” policy. The president said that, “this is a deeply academic policy” and that the draft policy, which was not presented to the Board of Governors, met the provincial governments minimum eight requirements. The Clerk stated that the draft policy would be presented to Senate on 30 November 2018, i.e. the next day. The Clerk said that Senate had sent out an e-mail blast to individual students, staff, and faculty to gather feedback from 23 October thru 6 November. The Clerk said that the “task force”, which I assume meant the ad hoc senate subcommittee on “free speech”, obtained great insights from the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which is an organization largely by and for Ontario university presidents.

A student member of the board very insightfully asked how do you protect vulnerable groups and be inclusive with a “free speech” policy? The clerk responded that there is a tension with speaking freely because some groups do not have an opportunity to speak freely. A former CUASA president, who is now an associate dean and on the board, asked what are other universities doing. The clerk answered that an advisor to the board had canvassed other provincial universities and found that they did not have as consultative a process as does Carleton. This may or not be true, but certainly seemed self-serving. He also claimed to have just attended a symposium on this very subject, at which the consensus was to be minimal and meet the 1 January 2019 deadline. This is something that everybody has always presumed.

The Chair of the Board interjected that the policy on “free speech” is up to Senate and that this matter was on the Board’s agenda for information only, but that the policy will (somehow) come back to the Board. But he did not say when this would occur. The next full board meeting is scheduled for 28 March 2019, and the next board executive committee is scheduled for 28 January 2019, both well after the provincial deadline of 1 January 2019. An external board member, Konrad von Finckenstein, then asked, if Senate approves a “free speech” policy, whether the Board of Governors can then reject this if they don’t agree with it. The university president responded that we should take this one step at a time, but that he hopes the Board will endorse the Senate-approved policy. The Chair of the Board then said that the job of the Board of Governors is merely to ‘endorse’ the policy, not to ‘approve’ the policy. The Chair then said that there is “enough time for the Board to digest and deliberate this matter before the next board meeting.”

I have absolutely no idea what the Chair of the Board’s and the university president’s distinction is between ‘endorse’ and ‘approve’. The Board of Governors’ bylaws and procedures do not make such a distinction. I also do not know of any legal distinction between the two. This simply looks like the Board giving themselves discretion to veto what Senate does, although not obligating themselves to ratify Senate’s decision. The lack of Board meetings before 1 January 2019 also makes these assertions about the Board’s possible endorsement of Senate’s “free speech” policy particularly puzzling.

Parking garage

The Board of Governors approved hiring a design team for doubling the height of the parking garage above the O-Train, adding more than 600 parking spaces at the north end of campus. Proposals on the RFP are due 3 December 2018. The vice-chair of the board’s building committee said that a final decision on whether to double the size of the parking garage would largely be based how this addition would look from Bronson Avenue. So it looks like the final decision on whether to add 600+ additional parking spaces by August 2020, largely to accommodate sporting events at the stadium at Lansdowne, will be based on aesthetics. This project is proceeding despite the university president stating that there are grave uncertainties in provincial funding for post-secondary education from the Ford government. The original 617-space parking garage over the O-Train cost $35 million, therefore I suspect that Carleton would be spending at least $25 million out of their unrestricted reserve funds to double that parking garage that the university does not need, but that the professional football team that plays one kilometer away desperately needs. Not only do the demographics predict a nadir in high school graduates, but the Board’s finance committee chair even lamented the decrease in revenues this year because of the decrease in enrollments for 2018/2019, the first such decrease in many decades. This is also at a time that the Board discussed incorporating a green plan. This is also at a time that the Board discussed planning other new shovel-ready projects, just in case the federal government comes up with new infrastructure moneys for university, without mentioning future provincial infrastructure monies because everyone knows those will not be forthcoming from the Ford government. If there ever was time to save money for a rainy day, this is it. So much for education taking precedence over football, parking, and other special interests.

Board operations

Before July 2018, at the end of each Board of Governors open session, the Board Secretary would post the open session meeting binder, which contained most of the powerpoint slides shown in open session, as well as copious supporting material. This provided a fair amount of transparency. Since September 2018, the Board no longer provides the public with this vital information. Instead, the public is merely being provided with a risk assessment for some of the motions brought to the floor during open session. This is a sharp corporate turn for Carleton’s Board of Governors. Furthermore, these risk assessments seem ludicrous. The risk assessment for a motion in which the Board merely endorsed the work of the Carleton University Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee (CUISIC; see below for details) was assigned a moderate amount of strategic risk and reputational risk. At the September 2018 Board of Governors open session, the risk assessment for approving the audited financial statements had far lower risk than endorsement of the work of CUISIC. By contrast, the motion to fund a design team to double the height of the parking garage over the O-Train did not even garner a risk assessment, even though the financial risk seems high. This new Board reporting seems not just like a farce, but a highly opaque farce.

Board committee structures will soon change. The Board’s nomination committee will soon be merged with its governance committee. Nobody said this, but it also seems possible the Board’s audit committee could be re-amalgamated with its finance committee.

Indigenous initiatives

This fall, the university launched a new “Carleton University Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee”, with the dreadful acronym CUISIC, but with three great co-chairs in Kahente Horn Miller, Benny Michaud, and Jerry Tomberlin. According to the provost, the CUISIC will, “support the TRC calls to action”, “energize and reinvigorate Indigenous strategy”, be “an investment in people”, and stated that the number of Indigenous faculty members at Carleton does not reflect the number of Indigenous students. Furthermore, the provost stated that “the 2011 Indigenous Strategy was more like a list of platitudes than a strategy or action plan”, something that CUISIC hopes to remedy. A large portion of the presentation to the Board of Governors was describing what Queen’s University did with their Indigenous Initiatives when Benoit Bacon was provost there. CUISIC will be hiring a project manager soon. Benny Michaud stated that, “At the end, there will be a fundamental shift that will make people uncomfortable.” This statement sounds fine given the current state of affairs and that education should be intellectually disruptive. A board member asked about how one would inject Indigenous knowledge into the Board of Governors. Kahente Horn Miller sagely responded that the Board needs to hear how Indigenous communities see the world; how the Board needs to understand why some terminology, such as ‘Indian’, is offensive; and that Indigenous peoples don’t own the land, but instead live in it. The Board unanimously passed the following motion, albeit seemingly without a seconder or even a call for a seconder: “The Board fully supports and endorses CUISIC efforts towards revitalizing our Indigenous Strategy and our relationship with Indigenous peoples on and off campus.” To me, this seems incredibly valuable and not risky at all.

Closing remarks

This Carleton University Board of Governors blog reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the board. This post is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary. This blog post is exclusively based on publicly available documents and public meetings. Hope you found some of this informative. As always, I welcome your feedback.

 

 

The open session of the final Carleton University Board of Governors meeting of the 2017-2018 academic year was only 35-minutes long, but with fascinating details.

Succession Plan

The outgoing interim president produced a succession plan on 30 April 2018. This was just published as part of the board of governors’ open session binder for 28 June 2018, but I have extracted the succession plan (here), so that you don’t have to search through the 71-page binder to read this four-page ‘must read’ document. Kudos to the board’s executive for making the succession plan public, which is a huge step towards making university governance more transparent. While I have sometimes criticized the current chair of the board, he makes up for a lot of ills by being progressive enough to publicly release this important succession plan.

The final section of the succession plan, titled “Concerns that need to be addressed”, contains only five topics, all of which I quote verbatim:

  1. Pension Plan Management: in the medium-term there is a critical need to develop internal talent to support management of the Pension Plan at Carleton.
  2. Advancement: There are serious structural issues in Advancement.…
  3. Sprott School: There are significant challenges in the Sprott School. The dean search in 2017/18 failed primarily because the University could not offer a competitive salary to individuals interested in the post. It will be a critical issue for the new dean to address middle management level strength as an early priority during her/his tenure.
  4. Director of Communications: The position and roles of communication and structure of the unit need to be reviewed in comparison with other institutions
  5. Comparative salaries at the administrative/management level: There are a number of positions where there are apparent inequities among salaries for similar positions in other institutions. This puts Carleton at risk of losing outstanding individuals who are being tempted away by offers from other institutions….

This is a remarkable statement for many reasons. First, this admits there are problems with management of the Carleton Retirement Plan, something evident to many from the CUPE 2424 strike, FSCO complaints filed against the university for purportedly mismanaging the pension plan, and unresolved pension language in the just ratified CUASA collective agreement. Second, it is unusual to publicly state why a decanal search failed. Third, it had not been previously admitted that there was a need to strengthen middle-level management in the business school, but not other faculties. The board did not hear (at least not in open session) about this management problem before approving an expensive new business building, $65 million, which was especially relevant for a business school with zero growth in undergraduate enrolment since 2010. I feel sorry for my colleagues in the business school, trying to hire a dean who knows the salary offered may be too low, that there are issues with middle management level strength, and with perennially flat undergraduate enrolments. Fourth, it is curious hearing management’s concerns about their own pay inequities, while they remain utterly silent about pay inequities for rank-and-file employees.

The succession plan contains many other insights, so I hope you read the entire four-page document. Here I will just highlight one other interesting passage:

Several challenges became apparent. These included: (1) lack of forethought about staggering re-appointments of senior leaders so that there is continuous gradual turnover of leadership positions rather than several key positions falling vacant at the same time; (2) reliance on single-sourced consultants for external recruitment or belief that search processes can be conducted by internal teams (neither of these is appropriate in the current climate); (3) little active recruitment practised by Carleton; and (4) concerns about focus on leadership from the Indigenous community for Carleton…the University has implemented an affirmative employment program to recruit at least ten Indigenous faculty scholars to the University.

Buildings and Construction

Speaking of the expensive new business building, the vice president finance announced that he has decided to cut $2 million of cost for this building. Based on last month’s board meeting, this means adding bubbles to the concrete so that less concrete needs to be poured. Minutes of the 24 May 2018 open session state, “A bubble form will be used which will put spaces in the concrete. This technique has not been used in the Ottawa area but is routinely used in Toronto.” The board was not told whether this is a sound construction technique in Ottawa, which is more prone to earthquakes than is Toronto.

The board has decided to put out to tender bids for finishing the remaining two floors of the brand new health science building. I do not understand why this could not have been part of the original contract for such a new building, other than this may be a way to hide costs.

The interim university president announced that “Carleton is now the proud owner of a church”, referring to Dominion-Chalmers, the still consecrated church in which the congregation will continue to meet each weekend. This seems to violate section 3 of the Carleton University Act, which states that, “The objects and purposes of the university are…the establishment and maintenance of a non-sectarian college with University powers, having its seat in or about the City of Ottawa.” Owning a functioning consecrated church seems sectarian to me. But then, Carleton University’s Senate blindly approves all degrees earned by students at Dominican University College, which is owned and operated by the catholic church.

The interim president stated he does not want to perturb the new provincial government (Ford government), therefore will NOT be thanking them for all the monies that the province (i.e. the Wynne government) gave to Carleton to purchase Dominion-Chalmers church. Instead, thanks will be delayed at least until the fall. Hence the old adage, “Let sleeping dougs lie.”

Enrolment and Programs

At last month’s board meeting, enrolments were reported as being down by 5%, blaming the CUPE 242 strike for this diminution. According to the interim president, the enrolment decline now stands at only 3.7%, with much of the decline being attributed to Carleton’s BA program. Nobody asked nor offered an estimate of how much revenue this will cost the university, both in terms of lost tuition and a reduced government grant given the new corridor model of funding.

The interim president briefly mentioned in passing unspecified collaborations with the other three universities and colleges in Ottawa, under the umbrella “Education City”. These presumably include University of Ottawa (including Saint Paul College), Carleton University (including Dominican University College), Algonquin College, and la Cité Collégiale. Does Education City have a governance structure? Can Education City impose things on Carleton? This might be worth paying attention to.

The cyclic review of Carleton’s Food Science and Nutrition program contained a remark that might be of broad interest. “The External Reviewers…identify that the ‘program delivery is substantially dependent upon sessional instructors which may bring significant variations in the quality of the course delivery.’” In response, the department running this program (chemistry) recommended hiring three new faculty members to eliminate the highlighted problem. If university management is cutting corners by hiring too many precarious instructors, then cyclic review might provide a way to counteract this trend.

Fundraising

There was an open session discussion about university fundraising, albeit under the euphemism of ‘advancement’. Carleton is nine-years into a ten-year campaign to raise $300 million, and the advancement team is supposedly on target, having now raised $270 million. This success is not surprising insofar as these campaigns typically are not publicly announced until over half the funds have been obtained, giving such campaigns a chance to adjust their targets. The vice-chair of the board, who will be chair as of 1 July 2018, asked the interim university president, “When does the next campaign start?” The interim president answered that, “Carleton is now in perpetual campaign mode” and that “post-campaign is simply about continuity for at least the next five years.” This might have something to do with the statement in the succession plan that, “There are serious structural issues in Advancement.

Governance

The board passed recommended changes to the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document. Article 1 of the AGU, titled “Governance Structure”, is striking insofar as it explicitly states that Senate is subordinate to the Board of Governors and that the board considers itself a corporate entity:

Carleton University is governed by a bicameral system that is established by the Carleton University Act, a statute of the Province of Ontario. The two bodies are the Board of Governors (the senior body) and the Senate. In general terms, the Board of Governors is the corporate head of the university while Senate, subject to Bylaws as may be passed by the Board from time to time, is the academic head.

This is faux bicamerality, with one body (Board of Governors) senior to an inferior body (Senate).

The board’s governance committee minutes of 1 February 2018 stated, “It was reiterated that the primary role of the Executive Committee is to exervise [sic] the powers of the Board between meetings of the Board, including the powers specifically delegated to the Executive Committee by the Board. Where time and circumstances permit, decisions will be deferred to be made or approved at an open or closed session of the Board as appropriate.” This implies that the board’s executive committee is largely abandoning the idea of convening electronic votes of all board members. Overall this looks like a good change, one that encourages and fosters debate.

Marijuana and Mental Health

The written report from the vice president of students and enrolment included something about student mental health. The chair of the board spoke about that, even though nobody else did, blurting out that, “Student mental health will become more problematic as of October 17th.” Federal Bill C-45 takes effect on 17 October 2018, legalizing recreational cannabis use. I was shocked that the chair of a university board, who is a well-regarded physician, linked mental health problems with marijuana use. His comment was insensitive and showed misunderstanding of both marijuana and mental health. His comment seemingly was not meant as joke as he did not even laugh or smirk after saying this. And nobody else laughed or chuckled. His comment seemed like something out of the propaganda film “Reefer Madness”.

Closing Remarks

This post completes my fifth consecutive year blogging about the Carleton University Board of Governors, reflecting my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the board. This post is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary that is written before the meeting begins. This blog post is exclusively based on publicly available documents and public meetings. Hope you found some of this informative. As always, I welcome your feedback.

[Note added 27 July 2018: The board of governors’ open session binder for 28 June 2018 on the Board’s public website still contains the 30 April 2018 succession plan document, indicating that public release of this document was not an inadvertent error.]

 

The most salient discussions at the board’s 24 May 2018 open session were on the new building for the business school and on university governance.

New business school building

With only one dissenting vote, the board approved a $17.1 million cost overrun for the new business building, raising the total building cost from $48 million to $65.1 million. This 36% cost overrun will be paid entirely out of unrestricted internal funds, in this instance from capital reserve funds. The $48 million estimate was part of the January 2018 cost estimator. The chairs of both the board’s finance and building committees tried to explain how one gets such a huge budgetary change in four months, blaming the Trump administration for the increased price of steel and blaming the shortage of trades-people in Ottawa to work on the construction because of ongoing renovations to the Parliament buildings. The problems with these explanations are that the US government did not impose those tariffs on Canada until a week later, on 31 May 2018, and builders and developers have long known about construction on Parliament Hill, especially to Centre Block. Between the contractors and the numerous builders and developers on Carleton’s board, how did nobody see this coming? As with the large cost overruns for other buildings on campus, I suspect this was just a ploy to garner initial approval for buildings and then string the board along to get approval for the real costs, especially when the winning bidder was apparently the same firm that put up our new health building, for which I have previously written about the ever escalating prices that the board approved.

The board was told that the business building cost overrun will result in delay of Unicentre renovations. The chair of the board’s building committee then blamed the failed Unicentre renovation referendum on this delay, but stated that there could be no delay in building the new business building, asserting that the board should not “nickel and dime” the new home of the business school, which ironically will be named for Wes and Mary Nicol. In the same breath, the chair of the building committee also claimed that other units on campus will occupy the new business building, using this as weak justification for approving this exceptionally large cost overrun.

Someone asked why the new business building was being erected in the middle of campus, rather than along Bronson Avenue as originally proposed, as a sort of beacon for the university. Currently, Carleton’s only presence on Bronson Avenue are athletic facilities and parking facilities, making us look like anti-intellectuals compared with our colleagues at University of Ottawa. The chair of the board’s finance committee responded that moving the business building to the centre of campus would free up more space for parking on the edge of campus. He then stated that he wants Carleton to double the height of the latest parking garage and to add a second large parking garage over the train tracks. That would add 1,850 new parking spaces on campus. This is at a time when the provincial government has imposed a corridor model for funding, which penalizes Carleton if there is increased enrollment. At least the business school is doing their part by having no changes in undergraduate enrollment since 2010. This is also at a time when the university president just announced that Carleton would have an overall 5% enrollment decrease this coming year, which he blamed on the CUPE 2424 strike causing a diminution in acceptances from so-called “105” applicants, i.e. those not applying directly from high school. At least the university president had the decency to call this a “strike”. By contrast, the chair of the board’s public relations and advancement committee used the euphemism “labour disruption”. It seems that the only people who will benefit by having increased parking during periods of decreased enrollment are associated with professional sports teams at Lansdowne, who run a free shuttle service for their customers (“fans”) between the Lansdowne stadium and Carleton’s new parking structures on the edge of campus.

The chair of the board’s building committee did, however, propose a possible $2 million cost savings in the new business building by adding bubbles to the concrete. While concrete pouring will be expensive for this building, especially because the plywood forms used to construct curved walls cannot be re-used, adding bubbles will decrease the volume of concrete. An external board member asked if this was safe, especially in a region prone to earthquakes. The building committee chair replied that this would be to code. The obvious retort, which did come, was wondering whether the code had ever been wrong or inadequate.

University governance

The chair of the board’s governance committee described ongoing efforts to modernize Carleton’s governance documents. Earlier that day, he had spoken to the Clerk of Senate about revising the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document because the governance committee chair claimed that the AGU was no longer aligned with existing collective agreements. But he provided no details about this assertion nor the AGU revisions, which supposedly will come to the board for a vote at its June 2018 open session. He further stated that changes to the AGU will make it so that the Board of Governors bylaws finally cover all of Senate. While I believe this is standard practice, it also speaks to the illusion of bicameral university governance, where senates really are inferior to boards of governors.

The chair of the governance committee announced a delay in the request for proposals (RFP) regarding the study on best practices in university governance, claiming that the incoming university president wants to be involved in this process.

Closing Remarks

This blog post reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton University Board of Governors. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary that is written before the meeting begins. As always, I welcome your feedback.

 

Seating

Seating arrangements at the Carleton University Board of Governors were still “us versus them”, with the board chair, vice-chair, university secretary, general counsel, and senior management on one side of the board table and all other board members – up to 28 of them – on the other side of the board table. This is emblematic of hierarchical or autocratic governance, not collegial governance.

University president

Curiously, at this meeting at which a new university president was appointed during closed session, the outgoing university president was not in attendance, but phoned in, and did not even speak until more than one-hour had passed in the open session.

Pensions

The outgoing interim university president said that, “negotiations with CUPE 2424 were sadly challenging because they prevented us from keeping our pension plan healthy.” The vice-president finance then immediately chimed in that we will lose control over our pension plan if the Jointly Sponsored Pension Plan is imposed or if CUPE 2424 gets its way. I am not sure what he meant by ‘gets its way’. The chair of the board’s finance committee said that our “pension plan is being managed responsibly.” He based this assertion on the $129 million balance in the pension reserve fund being almost equal to the payment of 10% of the retirement fund’s balance (~$123 million) if the Provision for Adverse Deviation (PfAD) goes into effect, although he then said that the PfAD regulations may never be brought into force because of the provincial election in six weeks. The one obviously good aspect of PfAD, should it come into force, would be that it will place restrictions on employer pension contribution holidays.

Basketball

Today’s show-and-tell was on basketball. In the past five years, donors have given $1 million to Carleton basketball: 80% of that to the men’s basketball team and 20% to the women’s basketball team. There was no mention that such gross gender disparities were or would be offset by internal funds, probably because nobody thinks this matters, even though the women’s basketball team did far better than the men’s team this year. To summarize, regarding Carleton’s basketball teams, the administration highlighted gross gender inequality…and the Board of Governors literally applauded this.

Indigenous Issues

The president’s written report included the following fascinating passage:

Like many universities and institutions across Canada, Carleton is struggling to come to terms with the meaning of self-identification as it applies to indigenous faculty, staff and students. This is a highly charged issue that is becoming more important to resolve as we move into affirmative action programs to enhance representation from Indigenous peoples on campus. The president will be working with the Indigenous community to develop a way to facilitate discussion on this matter in the next several months.

Equity Officer

There were questions about why Carleton cannot keep an equity officer, having gone through three in the past three years, with latest one saying that they will retire during summer 2018.

Governance

The chair of the board’s governance committee reported hiring a consultant to review best governance practices for university boards of governors, including board activities and composition of the board. The vice-chair of the board corrected him, saying that the study will not look at board composition, but instead will look at recruitment of new members. Composition of the board is stipulated in the Carleton University Act as 32-members comprised of the chancellor, vice-chancellor, and 30 other members. That is why I have advocated that the 30 other members be half internal and half external governors, a change that the board can make via a bylaw change.

The chair of the governance committee implored members to submit annual board surveys, stating that the surveys are anonymous, but that he somehow knows who did not respond to the survey. Is that Orwellian anonymity?

Operating Budget

The official Board of Governors communications from the open session, which were posted on the board’s website and e-mailed to all Carleton e-mail addresses, claimed that the board approved a balanced budget on 30 April. This is a charade that has continued for many years. This year Carleton supposedly had a $10 million surplus, but this surplus was appropriated at the March 2018 board meeting, so that the budget could look balanced in April 2018. I am no expert, but this seems like a peculiar accounting practice. The press release after the meeting mentioned $52 million for a new business building, but failed to mention a report from the chair of the board’s building committee stating that when the project was recently put out for tender that all bids came in way over the $52 million price tag. The bids were sufficiently high that nobody at the board’s open session would say how high nor ask for more money. And $52 million does not even include costs for the future fifth floor fit-up, a floor that the supposedly will remain completely unfinished for a few years. Carleton business school enrolment has NOT changed since 2010 (here), but for some reason the business school needs this brand new expensive space. Using a similar tack, today the board approved an extra $9 million expenditure to finish two floors of the new health building, thereby padding the $52 million price by an additional 17%. I wonder if this is standard accounting and budgeting practice. As Tom Waits once said, “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.”

The vice-president finance said that there is absolutely no indication that the CUE 2424 strike affected enrolments for the upcoming year academic year. The vice-president for students and enrolment sat silently as he said this.

The operating budget this year is $505 million plus a $70 million ancillary budget. The government grant now only counts for 34% of revenue, whereas tuition counts for 61% of revenue. The remaining 5% of revenue comes from things like investments and donations. We are quickly approaching a 1:2 ratio of government grants-to-tuition, whereas just a few years ago the ratio was 2:1. Furthermore, the province has largely stopped paying for new academic buildings, meaning that Ontario universities are acting more and more like for-profit fiefdoms.

The operating budget contained the following capital expenses:

Health building:             $52.0 million (+ $9 million fit-up)

Business building:         $52.0 million (plus eventual cost of fit-up)

ARSE building:              $29.5 million

Energy retrofit:              $20.5 million

Co-generation:              $20.7 million

While not yet approved by the Financial Planning Group (FPG) nor the Board of Governors, the administration supposedly has well-developed plans for the following additional capital projects, with approximate costs provided by the vice president finance:

Gym:                                    $11 million

Unicentre:                            $38 million

Parking over O-Train:          $25 million

Condo-style residence:       TBD

Engineering building           TBD

The vice-president finance stated that window of opportunity for the new 600+ space parking garage, which would be an additional three floors to the existing P7 lot, will be short because it can only be built when the O-Train is out of service, which will occur in the next few years (April 2010 – September 2021). However, the board’s building committee chair stated that a study on parking and transportation (auto, bicycle, pedestrian) at Carleton has not yet begun. This is putting the proverbial cart before the horse or maybe putting parking before cars arrive (see next paragraph). The capital reserve fund currently stands at $121 million.

Soon Carleton will have lots of new buildings, but without any new students. For the 2018/2019 academic year, undergraduate enrolment is projected to remain constant and graduate enrolment to increase by 3%. There is really no need for new parking given that the O-Train will soon be greatly expanded, making access to campus much easier via rail, during a period when the province is imposing a corridor model for enrolment, thereby providing disincentives for enrolment increases.

The above capital expense numbers do not count the purchase of Dominion-Chalmers church and its needed renovations. The board was told that negotiations on this church purchase were now extremely close to being completed, with just minuscule contractual details to be resolved. But the board has been told that at every open session in 2018.

As usual, the board was told how salary (54%) plus pensions (7%) plus other benefits (4%) count for a majority of annual expenditures (67%), which seems totally reasonable in a sector like education. But this is probably an anathema to corporate captains and government gurus.

A board member asked why Carleton’s financial projections are only given as a single point-estimate per year, rather than as a range or at least three point estimates per year, representing conservative, moderate, and liberal projections. The vice-president finance and the chair of the board’s finance committee seemed to agree to this tack for future budgets.

Closing Remarks

This blog post reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton Board of Governors. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary. As always, I welcome your feedback.

 

Teleconference & Process

The Carleton University Board of Governors meeting began oddly. The chair of the board mentioned that the open session was being held completely via teleconference because the CUPE 2424 strike made traveling onto campus too difficult. However, the chair of the board and the chair of the board’s finance committee both claimed to be dialing-in from the university president’s suite in 503 Tory, not from the Board of Governors boardroom.

The board chair announced that there would be no closed session today. This announcement makes sense because issues with collective bargaining are handled exclusively by the board’s executive committee. I wonder whether an emergency meeting of the executive committee was convened via teleconference immediately after the open session adjourned.

Because the open session was held via teleconference, I was forced to listen to the meeting from the remote live-stream site in Southam Hall. Surprisingly, a special constable was guarding this room. Teleconferencing supposedly caused the board chair to conduct the meeting in a way that defied the board’s usual rules. The chair stated during many votes that he “assumed that everyone was in favour of the motion” and therefore only called for votes in opposition or abstentions for every motion.

CUPE 2424 strike

Item 5 on the open session agenda was a “report on negotiations”. The head of human resources was delegated to speak. He said that Carleton reached out to an external mediator, which the union agreed to. The head of human resources said that he was hoping that this would bring the strike to an end/resolution. He spoke for less than 20 seconds! This was immediately followed by the chair of the board stating that no specific questions would be allowed in open session and that questions about mandates were exclusively the purview of the board’s executive committee, which technically is true. That was it for item 5, all done in less than a minute, with no questions.

The only other item in open session explicitly about the CUPE 2424 strike occurred during the president’s report. The university interim president said that he had submitted a written report (pages 95-96 of the open session meeting binder) and therefore would not submit a verbal report, but would field questions. An internal member of the board then asked why there was nothing in the president’s report – either written or verbal – about the CUPE 2424 strike. The university interim president said this matter was for the bargaining table and for the head of human resources’ 20-second verbal utterance earlier in the meeting.

Later, the chair of the board’s finance committee apologized to the board for the finance committee meeting scheduled for 14 March 2018 being disrupted, which I assume meant disrupted by the strike. The chair of the board’s public relations and advancement committee said that she had cancelled the latest “talk exchange” because of disruptions, which I again assume meant cancelled by the strike.

Budgets

Carleton’s administration has lots of money in reserve funds. According to the vice president finance, these include $126 million in capital reserve funds, $120 million in pension solvency reserves, and $70 million in carry-forward appropriations. The vice president finance said that, “the first two of these reserve funds will largely be used for their designated purposes.” External auditors had flagged the need for a policy on how to spend such reserve funds, which resulted in a policy being approved at the board today. However, this new policy on moving monies from reserve funds vests complete authority in “the Financial Planning Group (FPG) [which] is an advisory committee to the president” (here), hence provides little if any real oversight or insight by the board.

The chair of the finance committee and the vice president finance announced that Carleton was once again running a substantial surplus this year, supposedly of $10.1 million. The chair of the finance committee started by saying that the surplus was “largely due to increased enrolments and holding down expenses.” He said the surplus was lower this year than in previous years because of increasing expenses. The chair of the board then mused that last year’s surplus was only $12-13 million. However 2017 board open session documents show that the previous year’s claimed surplus was three times that amount, at $38 million.

There were several motions proffered regarding budgets, all of which were moved by the chair of the board’s finance committee and seconded by the university interim president. While this is proper, it seemed peculiar for the interim president to second motions when virtually anybody else on the board could have done that.

Parking and Driving

The board passed a $68 million ancillary budget. This includes $14 million for the gym, as well as monies for parking, residences, health & counseling services, etc., all of which are supposed to be self-funding entities. The vice president finance mentioned adding three additional floors to the parking garage over the O-Train, to be installed for $25 million when the O-Train is closed for upgrades in 2020-2021. But the vice president finance and board chair said that no planning nor formal requests for funding will be brought to the full board until 2019. An internal board member asked if there was a parking shortage that necessitated this doubling of the O-Train parking garage. The vice president finance replied that there is only a parking shortage “in the most preferred places and times.” The parking garage over the O-Train is not a preferred place for people on campus. The only way that this parking garage is at a preferred time and place is if you are walking to football or hockey games at Lansdowne.

Internal board members mentioned that it is nigh impossible exiting from the adjacent dirt and pothole-laden parking lot on the northeast end of campus, especially in the evenings.

The vice president finance mentioned two possible new roadway entrances/exits from campus, in addition to the two currently existing ones on Bronson at Sunnyside and at the south end of Colonel By. He mentioned a new bus-only entrance/exit on Bronson, which I assume will be at the east end of Raven Road at southbound Bronson. He mentioned consulting with the NCC for a new entrance/exit on the northwest end of campus off of northbound Colonel By, probably near the O-Train parking garage. This would certainly help diffuse picketing during any future strikes.

A board member suggested making the main road loop through campus one-way for all vehicles, something currently only done for busses, a suggestion that fell flat.

Health Building

The new health building, which is gradually becoming operational after long delays, is now slated to have its 4th and 6th floors finished. They were inexplicably not part of the original construction budget, which was one way to keep the building within budget. The board approved an extra $9 million to finish those two floors, although this does not include any costs for equipment. The board was told that equipment will be paid from ELBA funds (enrollment-linked budget allocations) that have already been approved by the interim dean of science. I sincerely hope that this does not use up all of science’s ELBA funds for the year.

The first four ‘finished’ floors of the health building (1, 2, 3, 5) are supposedly 99% complete. The 7th floor animal care facility is supposedly 95% complete. This is despite the fact that there were supposedly 300 change orders once work was ostensibly completed. A board member opined that neither the finance committee nor building committee had full discussions of this ongoing construction debacle. The chair of the building committee then admitted that his committee was indeed too rushed in approving the heath building construction. Compounding this lack of oversight, a governor said that the entire board on 8 February 2018 received questions, but no answers, about the new health building.

The interim university president ‘publicly’ apologized for the lack of consultation with the departments of neuroscience and health with respect to the move to this new building. I put ‘publicly’ in quotes because the open session was not really open to the public other than from the police-guarded live-stream room.

ARSE Building

Contrary to what was reported at the 8 February 2018 open session, the chair of the building committee said that the university had applied to the province for a funding extension for the ARSE (Advanced Research in Smart Environments) building, which is currently only 40-45% complete.

Dominion-Chalmers church

An advisor to the board was tasked with providing an update on the purchase of Dominion-Chalmers church. This seemed odd given that this portfolio had previously been the purview of the interim president, who at the previous open session had promised a major announcement on the purchase on or around 2 March 2018 unless the deal was floundering. No announcement has been made yet. The advisor to the board said he hopes a final purchase agreement will be executed in a few weeks, but that negotiations are still confidential.

Selection/election of new board members

The board chair mentioned that 166 individuals had applied for upcoming vacancies as at-large governors. He also reported that all newly elected student governors were female. He did not report on upcoming elections for academic staff and non-academic staff governors, one of each who must be elected this spring, but nominations and elections have not yet been announced.

Closing Remarks

This blog posting reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton Board of Governors. No closed session occurred this evening. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary that is drafted prior to the meeting (here). As always, I welcome your feedback.