Who elects Board members? Who do Governors represent? (28 December 2015)

The executive of Carleton University’s Board of Governors has publicly proffered the following claims that contradict the Board’s own bylaws:

  • “The Board members are not elected representatives of a constituency nor do they report to a constituency.”
  • Board members are “legally mandated to act in the best interests of the university as a whole and not as a representative of any group, stakeholder or particular interest.”

Article 2.2 of the bylaws states “The Board shall consist of the following as Governors, serving either ex officio or nominated by the constituencies set forth below”. The phrase ‘nominated by the constituencies’ is memorialized in the Board’s bylaws.

My constituents, Carleton University’s academic staff, elected me to the Board of Governors. The following e-mail dated 28 March 2013, sent to the academic staff, quoted in its entirety, with my annotations in square brackets, is from the Secretary of the Board of Governors and was copied to Carleton’s general counsel. Note how the Board officially described this as an election, which was by constituents.

The slate of candidates for the Faculty/Librarian position on the Board of Governors has been set. We have two exceptional candidates:

  • [Name and Department Redacted]
  • Root Gorelick (Department of Biology)

Biographical material on the candidates is posted on the following website: http://www6.carleton.ca/boardofgovernors/electionsnominations/academic-and-library-representatives/ [information at this link has been overwritten by subsequent elections]

The election will be done online on April 2nd, 3rd and 4th. You will receive an invitation by email to vote on the morning of April 2nd, and then reminders on the 3rd and 4th.

Please take part in this important election to select your nominee to the Board.

The election by my constituents was akin to a primary election in the U.S., with final approval of nominees to the Board supposedly to be approved by the full Board of Governors per bylaw Article 2.4. Final approval by the full Board has either been pro forma or, for the most recently installed Governors, did not occur at all (see here). There also exists “Board of Governors Candidate’s Handbooks” for non-academic and academic staff (here and here), providing rules regarding campaigning and voting. That should dispel further specious arguments that staff, senate, student, and alumni members of the Board are not elected by their constituents. But that still leaves the issue of who members of the Board that are nominated by their constituents are supposed to represent while sitting on Carleton’s Board of Governors.

There exists a term-of-art for those who represent the entire universe of stakeholders, namely “at-large”. Carleton University should be familiar with that terminology insofar as its Board of Governors has eighteen “at-large” members chosen from “the community”, which apparently means anybody except current university staff or students. The at-large members are not elected by any constituencies, but rather are selected by existing members, per bylaw Article 2.2.(xi), and therefore primarily owe allegiance to each other. These eighteen at-large Governors do not necessarily view community interests through academic eyes and therefore do not necessarily understand the importance of academic freedom. The other twelve members of the Board of Governors (in addition to the ex officio chancellor and vice-chancellor) are nominated by their constituents and are not at-large members of the Board. Given that these twelve elected Governors are explicitly not at-large members, it is absurd to assume that they represent anybody but the constituencies that elected them – be it students, senate, academic staff, non-academic staff, or alumni.

That said, I do my best to represent the best interests of the entire university community. To that end, I do not report on open sessions of the Board of Governors exclusively to the academic staff, but instead report to the entire community via this blog. And I do so while abiding by the Board’s bylaws and by only discussing information from open sessions and open documents. My blogging is meant to “act in the best interests of the university as a whole”, which means I sometimes report on issues affecting students, non-academic staff and alumni, not just on issues affecting academic staff. This is also why I report on the Board of Governors seemingly violating its own bylaws. While I may not be representing the executive of the Board of Governors nor the university president’s office in this blog, I am doing by best to look after the entire Carleton community at-large.

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