This blog reflects my impressions from the Carleton University Board of Governors meetings. These notes are exclusively from the OPEN SESSIONS of board meetings and are simply meant as my synopsis and analysis of matters that are already public. My focus is and will be on due process, but I will also discuss substantive matters, especially as related to my constituency (faculty members and librarians kindly elected me to a three-year term on the board).
My motivation for starting this blog are that (1) the highlights of a two-hour meeting should only take two-minutes for you to read and (2) the board meetings are held in a place that only has room for the board members, members of the university’s senior administration, and seats for at most six visitors. I want to start a dialogue about these important open meetings of the Carleton University Board of Governors and therefore encourage your comments and feedback.
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Tuesday 8 October 2013 was the first time I attended a Carleton University Board of Governors meeting. My general impression is that there are many board members who are very insightful and deeply care about the university.
About one-third of the way through the open portion of the board meeting, the university president noticed that representatives from the student newspaper, the “Charlatan” had an open microphone. The president next consulted sotto voce with the board chair and general counsel. The university president and board chair then admonished the student reporters for recording the open session without the students first advising everyone that they were doing this and asking for permission to record the open session. However, the university president and board chair did not explicitly demand that recording cease. The general counsel then advised the student reporters that the official minutes of the board meeting provide a full and complete record, which are all that the Charlatan or anybody else would need. To me, this paternalistic attitude makes a mockery of the meeting being ‘open’. I hope that the board reviews these matters and establishes an ‘open’ policy. However, if the Charlatan reporters are not allowed to record the open portions of future board meeting, I will kindly volunteer to record those open sessions on the Charlatan’s behalf.
The senior advisor to the provost described the “dashboard” that university administration will use to show-off their progress at achieving goals elucidated in the university’s new strategic plan. This was just a demo of a new widget, much like showing off new-fangled fuel gauge on your car. This seemed to me like frivolity, with no substance. But then, I agree with Ben Ginzberg’s assertion in “The Fall of the Faculty” that the only real value of publicly promulgated strategic plans are as entries on administrators’ CVs, which are then only useful when those administrators are looking for employment elsewhere.
I asked the university’s associate vice president for students & enrolment for an official projection of how many students from the new health science major would be siphoned off from existing Carleton programs. The university’s official projections are that 40% of these students would be siphoned off from existing programs and that a whopping 60% of these students would constitute a net gain over top of what we have been accepting in existing programs. That projection translates into roughly a doubling or tripling of students in Carleton’s various life science programs, which I suspect is some of the most wishful thinking possible. Instead, I suspect that the new health science program, with its litany of pre-med ‘wannabes’, will be 80-90% composed of students who would otherwise have gone to Carleton’s existing programs. This means only a small net gain in new enrolment for the university and a possibly gross redistribution of funds amongst university departments and faculties due to Carleton’s internal funding allocation system known as ELBA.
There were four questions at question period. The board chair took the unusual tack of paraphrasing all four questions. In those instances in which I was privy to the actual questions, the board chair did a good job of capturing the substance, but it is not altogether obvious whether paraphrasing is a wise procedure. The board chair also granted anonymity to the people who asked the questions, which also seems counter-productive. Below, I will discuss what I thought were the two most interesting of the four questions.
Earlier this academic year, a Carleton student was arrested and subsequently the university opted to ban that student from campus. The question was (and now I am paraphrasing): Should the university be able to ban a student who is accused but not convicted of a crime? The university president responded that proper procedures were followed in rendering this decision, but she declined to give the board any hints as to what those processes and procedures were. That to me was a vacuous non-answer, yet the board seemed content.
Earlier this year, a former member of the board of governors intimated that another member of the board may have had a conflict of interest in one of the new buildings being erected on campus. The question was (and again I am paraphrasing): Has the board investigated this accusation? The chair of the board answered that the board has a “conflict of interest policy”, which seems like a vacuous response. The chair then accused the former board member of a “fiduciary breach”, while the university president accused the former board member of a “confidentiality breach”. While both accusations of breach may be true, they mainly serve to squelch discussion, not to answer the question.
For both matters from question period, the chair of the board and the university president hinted that there were privacy or legal reasons for not answering the questions. But this just seems like good reason to answer the questions in a closed session, rather than not to answer them at all. The university president also suggested that these questions were a waste of valuable time at a board meeting. But I can think of few things more valuable than discussions of academic freedom, safety, and expenditures of millions of dollars.
The university is currently constructing three buildings: library, parking garage, and new wing on the science building. The library and parking garage will end up costing about $25 million each. I understand why a library would cost that much and think this is great way for the province and university to spend monies. But, to my naïve eyes, $25 million seems like a lot for a parking garage. Hopefully the garage will have the same level of amenities as the federal government’s new $1.2 billion CSEC headquarters. If Carleton is really trying to encourage sustainability – as it claims – one of the worst things it can do is build parking spaces. Carleton should be reducing the number of parking spaces on campus and instead putting their money into sustainability initiatives, such as building a pedestrian bridge over the Rideau River to connect campus to the river’s pedestrian trail and Vincent Massey Park. Another sustainability initiative might be for Carleton to facilitate construction of restaurants and hotels close to campus, such as near Brewer Park, so that students and out-of-town visitors don’t always have to drive to and from campus.
The above text constitutes my reporting of what transpired at the 8 October 2013 open session of the meeting of the Carleton University Board of Governors. Any opinions are solely mine and are based on publicly available information. I encourage others to provide their reporting of events and to read the official minutes of the meeting once they are released.