“Without this freedom of inquiry and speech, the duties of your professors would be irksome and humiliating; they would be dishonored in their own eyes and in the estimation of the public.” Those are the words of Sir William Lawrence (1819), from almost two centuries ago, who might as well have been speaking of this blog. Lawrence was threatened with prosecution for blasphemy for his book in which those words appeared. He therefore self-censored, removing his book from publication soon after its first printing (Peter Mudford 1968; J. Hist. Ideas), a fate that I hope does not befall this blog.
While I only blog about open sessions of the Board of Governors, questions remain as to what ‘open’ means, especially for the board of a public institution like Carleton University. Carleton’s Board of Governors is not a corporate board that only has to answer to share holders. The Carleton University Board of Governors is also not like a government cabinet, whose members are sworn to secrecy. Canada has borrowed verbatim the insidious secrecy oath of the British Privy Council, a custom that probably should have been abandoned with the 1982 repatriation of the constitution. The Carleton Board of Governors does have something akin to the cabinet and Privy Council, namely the board’s executive committee. Even then, Neil Macdonald of CBC assiduously noted that the Canadian cabinet is needlessly secretive, something that urgently needs to change. Macdonald extensively quotes former Clerk of the Privy Council Alex Himelfarb, who believes much ministerial secrecy needs to be eschewed, especially in the face of social media and blogging. The full Board of Governors at Carleton University are more akin to Parliament with duly elected members, than its cabinet. Can you imagine opposition MPs being muzzled into secrecy, not being allowed to publicly dissent, including when campaigning? That would be an epic Charter violation. The word ‘open’ in open sessions should be ascribed its most democratic of meanings, especially when applied to a public university like Carleton, that was founded by and for the community.
I blog to improve the university. These blog posts are not meant as a fight against an enemy, but as constructive criticisms of allies. “To some, I am a blessing; to others, I’m a curse. I’m a writer, not a fighter. I’m a person, not a purse.” (Dave Mason 1974*).
This short post also honours Taiaiake Alfred, who was the distinguished speaker at Carleton University on 12 November 2015, who gave a brilliant talk emphasizing the importance of accountability with any responsible governance. The following words from his 1999 book are worth remembering: “Active and fractious disagreement is a sign of health in a traditional system: it means that people are engaging their leaders and challenging them to prove the righteousness of their position. It means they are making them accountable…. In any culture deeply respectful of rationale thought, the only real political power consists of the ability to persuade.”
* It is ironic quoting Dave Mason because I canoe to work and thereby avoid ‘Traffic’.