Orwellian doublespeak of closing open sessions of the board to the public and press (22 June 2015)

The previous board chair repeatedly told me that one of the most important things board members can do is enhance the reputation of the university, not besmirch it. Yet, the board’s executive committee has seriously harmed Carleton’s reputation by preemptively closing off their open sessions to the public and press. This is the antithesis of transparent, open, and participatory governance. As with the 28 April 2015 open session of the board, at the 25 June 2015 open session, the board will NOT allow anybody but board members into the boardroom for the open sessions, except for special guests of the university president. This tactic is heavy-handed and totalitarian.

The announcement of the 25 June 2015 open session on the board’s website (link here) states the following, in which I have transcribed verbatim bolding and capitalization:

Please note that the OPEN session of the June 25, 2015 Board meeting will be streamed live to room 617 Southam Hall from 4pm until the end of the open session (approximately 5pm), for members of the Carleton community who wish to attend.

Closing of so-called open sessions of this or any other board meeting is Orwellian doublespeak. In April 2015, Michael Wernick, chair of the board’s governance committee and deputy clerk of the privy council, unapologetically referred to student protestors as “Brownshirts and Maoists”. This is ironic and hypocritical given that decision-making bodies (parliament, politburo, etc.) were closed to public scrutiny in both Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Mao Zedong’s China.

There is no need to keep the public and press out of open sessions of Carleton University’s Board of Governors. There are already sufficient procedures in place to deal with protests shutting down open sessions, as was demonstrated earlier this year. Student protests at the 30 March 2015 open session precluded regular business, some of which was important, such as approval of the ancillary budget. The board’s executive committee is tasked with dealing with such important matters if the full board cannot fulfill its duties in a timely manner, which is exactly what happened and without any complaint.

I have spent more of my life in the United States than in Canada and have proudly attended many open sessions of Congress, including their committee meetings, as well as Supreme Court oral arguments. Openness makes those institutions robust. So it is deeply embarrassing that Carleton University, which really should have nothing to hide, skulks around like a mortified wrongdoer by closing open sessions of its board.

I suspect that the board’s executive and university president have taken the totalitarian and Orwellian approach of closing open sessions of the board because they despise the optics of admitting that protestors actually exist and, even more so, truly abhor the optics of police removing protestors, as happens at many public meetings. If the board’s executive and Carleton’s upper administration is really that weak, then they should consider resigning from their respective posts. Running a university requires fortitude, courage, and willingness to keep an open mind, including listening to those with divergent opinions, especially listening to relatively powerless individuals. I am genuinely embarrassed by the board’s feckless attempt to silence protest by not allowing the pubic and press to attend so-called open sessions.

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2 comments
  1. Another reason that they may be shutting down access to these meetings is that some of the information presented at the BoG has been very misleading. Specifically, they increased tuition for some grad students by more than the provincially mandated maximum of 5% and did not start rolling back these increases until the GSA and CUPE 4600 protested. This does not look good on the administration and their preference right now appears to be to avoid, evade, and accuse others of doing wrong.

  2. Further to my comment above, in my position as chief steward for CUPE 4600 (unit 1), we received complaints that some grad students were seeing increases of almost 6% and promptly passed these complaints on the GSA because the amount of tuition is not under part of our collective agreement.

    Apparently, the university agrees with us that these increases were too high as they have now credited some people’s student accounts with some money to bring those increases down to less than 5%. This indicates that the amount of tuition charged to some students was a ‘mistake’.

    However, they have not notified anyone that they are doing this nor have they explained whether these are some sort of ‘rebate’ that will not effect the tuition rate that is charged other grad students. There may now be different tuition fees for different people in the same program and same year. This potentially creates an unmanageable tuition system that will be prone to constant mistakes and resultant (completely justified) grievances and protests from both the GSA and CUPE 4600.

    I don’t know if any of this will be brought up at the BoG and, of course, if much of their work is increasingly hidden from sight, we may never know what happened. This secrecy could become a costly problem both for members of the Carleton community who are paid or have funds disbursed by the university and for the university itself that must spend a considerable amount of time and money hiding and fixing these problems of their own making.

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