Part 4. Everything else (25 June 2015)

While no less authentic and accurate than the previous three parts of this blog post, Part 4 should seem more normal, being more of a recap of the many sorts of reports that arise from a roughly semi-monthly so-called ‘open session’ of a board of people that truly care about Carleton University.

New health building

A representative from the vice president finance’s office presented architectural plans for the new health building. The first floor will mostly be comprised of a 350-seat lecture hall. The second floor will be comprised of teaching laboratories for the two resident departments in that building, neuroscience and health, plus office space for those two departments along the windows. The third and fourth floors will be comprised of research labs for the two resident departments, again with office space for those two departments along the windows. The fifth and sixth floors will be flexible space for teaching wet labs. The representative from the vice president finance’s office claimed that it has not yet been designated who will use space on the fifth and sixth floors. However, he specifically mentioned that this space could be used for handling chemistry and/or biology labs. He then said that earlier in the day the dean of science had signed off on the final design for the new building. Finally, the seventh floor will be for the vivarium, which I assume is largely located on the top floor for security reasons, i.e. to thwart animal-rights protestors, without being too disruptive to other people in the building.

Someone asked if financing for this building had changed. The vice president finance responded that financing has not changed because Carleton is still self-funding this building. For those who wonder where lots of our surplus revenues are going, this is a huge fiscal sink, along with reserve funds to deal with pension solvency. This constitutes the university gambling $52 million or more of its own money. I leave it to others to decide whether this was a good gamble, especially with the ever-increasing price tag for this new health building.

Someone asked about how much parking the new building would displace. The representative from the vice president finance’s office said that only one-third of lot P2 would remain, which would be the already separate portion of that lot adjacent to the architecture building. When asked what would compensate for the loss of parking spaces, they responded that Carleton had recently built 615 new parking spaces over the O-Train tracks, which (to me) was a poor investment at $34 million. But the representative from the vice president finance’s office then said something that surprised me: that the university is still considering doubling the size of that new parking garage by building upwards. I had hoped that Carleton would be out of the business of building new parking garages to ostensibly support large events at Landsdowne ‘Park’. This rekindled thoughts of (and newspaper columns about) perceived fiduciary conflicts of interest with a former Carleton University Board of Governor member who had and probably still has vested interest in promoting football in Ottawa.

More on proposed bylaw changes

An advisor to the Board mentioned a few other noteworthy things about the proposed Board bylaw changes that are worth reporting on. For example, in Part 3 of this blog post, I highlighted the hypocrisy of fiduciary conflicts of interest only applying to students, staff, and faculty, but not to at-large Board members. This somewhat makes sense in a perverted way because only at-large Board members are allowed to serve on the Board’s executive committee. Someone at the 25 June 2015 meeting raised the important issue that the proposed bylaw changes also exempted alumni representatives on the Board from having to resign if they had a fiduciary conflict of interest.

Regarding the two proposed bylaw changes to prohibit employee union officers and student union officers from serving on the Board of Governors, the aforementioned advisor to the Board explicitly stated that Carleton has absolutely no intention of changing the number nor proportion of faculty, staff, and student representatives on the Board. While I am not sure I believe this, it may be of use to record this unambiguous assertion for future reference.

I am also concerned that the university will try to fill any future senate and staff vacancies on the Board with individuals who are not union members, such as exempt staff members and associate deans. For example, in the two years that I have been on the Board, exempt staff members only spoke about or acted on the most inane matters, such as seconding motions. Honestly, I cannot blame them for being scared because they could lose their day jobs by speaking up on the Board.

In April 2015 (see details here), the required six Board members properly called for a special session of the Board. The Board’s executive refused to convene that special session, violating its own bylaws. As apparent retribution, the Board’s executive now proposes that the bylaws be changed so that nine Board members are required to call a special session. The timing seems blatantly punitive. Furthermore, the proposed bylaw would vest crafting and disseminating the agenda for such a special session with the Board’s executive, not with those who called the special session.

As the Board chair was successfully foreclosing all further discussion of proposed bylaw changes on 25 June 2015 – even though many members were still clamouring to say more – one of the student members of the Board asked to propose an amendment to one of the four existing motions. The Board chair responded, “Is this a meaningful amendment?” The student member then proposed deleting an entire paragraph from one of the proposed new bylaws, which was indeed meaningful. The Board chair and the aforementioned advisor to the Board then ruled that this proposed amendment was out of order because the Board had already voted to hold the vote electronically on a subsequent day. This ruling was based on the fact that amendments cannot be raised once a vote is called. However, a vote was not officially called until 24 hours later via an e-mail from the university secretary. Several Board members objected to this ruling from the chair, but to no avail. This was yet another apparent example of the Board’s executive trampling or ignoring the rule of law and parliamentary procedure. And dare I remind readers that this Board chair has been known to ask for re-votes.

Executive committee action substituting for disrupted Board meeting

The 30 March 2015 open session of the Board was interrupted by a peaceful student protest. This not only resulted in the Board’s extreme overreaction of closing open sessions, but also meant that the university’s ancillary budget was not voted upon at a regular full session. Therefore, properly in my eyes, the Board’s executive committee voted on the ancillary budget at their next meeting. The problem was that specific open session agenda item got shunted into minutes of the executive committee, which are confidential documents reviewed in closed sessions of the full Board. I therefore asked (see here) that those portions of the executive committee minutes be bifurcated and moved over to an open document. At the 25 June 2015 ‘open session’, the Board’s executive agreed to that process for the recent ancillary budget. However, they said that, if this happens again in the future, that the executive committee minutes on such a topic would instead be summarized by the chair and only that summary would be placed in open publicly-available documents. In principle, I am okay with that decision, at least if sufficient detail is provided, because minutes themselves are just a summary.

Closing remarks

It has been a productive but frustrating two years for me on the Carleton University Board of Governors. While board members all seem to really care about the university, several of them would seemingly like to completely eliminate due process and debate. While this would shorten meeting times, in the long-run this tack seems counter-productive. I sincerely hope you have gotten some useful information from these blog posts, which solely reflect my opinions, observations, and insights of the non-confidential portions of Board business. Please continue sending your feedback, both offline and possibly online via the ‘comments’ section. Thanks.

Note added 14 August 2015: I would like to retract the statements that appeared in my blog post on 25 June 2015 regarding Carleton University’s general counsel, Steven Levitt. The statements were not made with any malicious intent to lie or defame Steven Levitt or any other member of the Board of Governors. I completely retract the false information and apologize for the mistake.

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