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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Prison-like security

Once again, anybody attending the board meeting had to run a gauntlet of security officers. Special constables were stationed in the parking garage, at the first floor elevator, first floor stairway, second floor stairway where the boardroom is, outside of the boardroom door, and possibly on other floors further up. The elevator and doors to the stairway were locked, with special constables unlocking the doors only for allowed board members and guests of the university president. I had to pass through three police ‘checkpoints’ to enter the boardroom. Shades on the boardroom windows were fully drawn so that nobody could look in from the outdoor Gandhi statue into the boardroom. Police barricades, yellow sawhorses, were set up at the side of the road by the boardroom window. This is an utterly unwarranted and embarrassing level of security for a supposedly open session of Carleton’s board of governors.

The open session began with an announcement that minutes of the 21 March 2016 open session would not be voted on because the board’s executive wants to add unspecified new items. The acting chair provided no further details. The 21 March 2016 minutes were sent to all board members on 18 April 2016, supposedly ready for approval. This timing seems odd insofar as the board’s executive committee met on 14 April 2016. Regardless, I shall eventually compare old and revised versions of the 21 March 2016 open session minutes to analyze what changed. As with the extreme security, this secrecy over open session minutes seemed like a suspicious and dubious way to start an open session.

Appendix A and B of the new board bylaws

Today’s open session was dominated by passage of Appendices A and B to the new bylaws, bylaws that were passed with dissent on 21 March 2016. Appendix A stipulates which materials and topics are to be open versus closed. Appendix A is a reasonably good document. Appendix B contains “Rules of Procedure at Meetings”, is poorly written, and further centralizes power in the board chair and now completely imposes tyranny of the majority. Appendix B is an embarrassing document.

Before delving into details regarding the two appendices, I need to discuss what these appendices are procedurally. The advisor to the board and vice chair of the governance committee (the chair of the governance committee was absent) pitched these appendices as not being bylaws themselves, but instead being standalone guidelines akin to the Code of Conduct. Such assertions are either false or misleading. I suspect that these assertions were in response to my 22 March 2016 point of order asking that the new bylaws be repealed because, before 21 March 2016, the board had not yet seen Appendix A and B, which are integral parts of the new bylaws, mentioned explicitly therein. Even more curiously, after the chair of the board rejected my point of order via e-mail by citing Robert’s Rules of Order, I appealed the ruling of the chair via e-mail on 11 April 2016, but the chair never called a vote on my appeal. Yes, once again the board’s executive disregarded its own rules and bylaws. But there are other major problems to considering Appendix A and B to be separate from the new bylaws. First, the appendices are both labeled as being parts of the new bylaw. Second, the motion passed today refers to “Appendices A and B of the General Operating By-law”. Third, if the appendices were genuinely separate from the bylaws and akin to the Code of Conduct, then only a simple majority would have been required for passage. Instead, the board insisted on a two-thirds supermajority for passage. Thus, Appendix A and B are integral parts of the new bylaw, rendering null and void passage of the bylaws on 21 March 2016 because they lacked the requisite five-day notice of the two appendices.

Appendix A does a reasonable job of delineating what should be in open versus closed sessions of the board. In part, Appendix A stipulates that:

The University may allow that a matter be considered in a closed session of a meeting for the sake of frank and open discussion, but any record generated as a result of that discussion is available to the public unless the record is otherwise exempt from disclosure.

This is not only a good tenet, but one that effectively compels the board to release minutes of executive committee minutes to the public as open session documents, at least if the board adheres to Appendix A. Kudos to the board for being so open and open-minded.

Appendix B not only imposes tyranny of the majority, but is self-contradictory and contradicts the bylaws that it supposedly is part of.

In general, rules of order or procedure exist to establish rights for members of a group. Rights are not there to protect the majority, who can always ride roughshod on the minority. This was apparent in late June 2015 when the board violated its own bylaws in trying to change the bylaws. My lone dissent was eventually honoured and the bylaw vote cancelled mid-vote because the board’s executive had not followed its own rules. All this has now changed with the newly passed Appendix B. The new Appendix B and the opinions of the vice chair of the governance committee and advisor to the board all say that the new rules vest virtually all power to rule on procedural matters in the hands of the board chair. The only appeal of that is for a member of the board to call an appeal of the chair’s ruling, which only requires a simple majority vote. Furthermore Appendix B only applies to meetings of the board, hence excludes things like electronic voting. Thus, if there are procedural defects in electronic voting, no points of order are allowed. This flies in the face of Robert’s Rules (Article IV; Section 21), which allows for points of order and appeals at any time if a motion contravenes existing laws, bylaws, constitutions, or basic parliamentary procedure.

I therefore proposed a motion to amend Appendix B to fall back on Robert’s Rules of Order if something is not covered by the new “Rules of Procedure at Meetings” or if some of those rules contradict one another, which they clearly do. This would at least maintain some minority rights. My motion was defeated, but did garner support from both internal and external board members.

Rule 17 of the new Appendix B states that, “Approval by a majority of those members voting or by consent without objection shall be necessary to carry a motion”. This contravenes both the new and old bylaws, which require a two-thirds supermajority for passage of special resolutions. I therefore moved to alter this rule, but my amendment was oddly (and reflexively?) defeated.

Rule 4 (“When every member who wishes to speak has done so, the Chair shall call for a vote”) conflicts with Rule 2 (“The chair in his discretion may impose time limits”). Allowing everybody to speak is inconsistent with time limits. Rule 4 also conflicts with Rule 1 (“only one member should speak at a time, and only after being recognized by the Chair”), at least if the chair is unwilling to recognize members, which has occasionally happened with the current chair. Therefore I moved to delete Rule 1 and delete the quoted part of Rule 2 in Appendix B, but my amendment was defeated.

The new Rule 9 makes no sense (“An amending motion which would nullify the main motion is not an amendment and cannot be introduced”), but I also was unsuccessful in getting it modified. How will you enforce people from introducing such motions? You could rule such motions out of order, but you cannot preclude their introduction.

The above problems with Rules 1, 2, 4, 9, and 17 would largely be obviated if Carleton’s Board of Governors relied on professionally written rules of order, such as Robert’s Rules or Sturgis’s Rules. Yet, instead, our board has chosen to abandon well-written rules in lieu of a set of home-made procedures that do little more than vest all power in the board chair, while revoking any semblance of minority rights.

Commemorative Naming Policy

The board spent a long time discussing a motion brought by the university president to no longer require board approval to name things, such as rooms, building, park benches, gardens, etc. The new policy, which passed, states that board approval will only be required for naming associated with single gifts over one million dollars. The old policy was that the board had to approve all naming, even if there was no associated gift. The rationale given for this change was that the board wastes too much time approving names. However, in my almost three years on the board, there have been no requests to approve commemorative names. Someone who has been on the board for at least seven years said that they had only seen one request to approve a name. Therefore I am highly suspicious of this new change, especially if donors can segment their gifts into parcels under one million dollars in order to escape scrutiny. I expect that portions of our gym will soon be named for sponsors of our men’s-only football team. Furthermore, a motion to amend the dollar limit for board approval from one million dollars to one-tenth that amount was defeated. Just when many universities are seeing huge protests over commemorative naming – see for example the racist legacies of Woodrow Wilson at Princeton and John Calhoun at Yale – Carleton’s board abdicated their responsibility to monitor the university’s reputation and took this action at the behest of our university president.

Operating Budget

The operating budget contained some noteworthy items, which I shall discuss in random order.

The library received a $600,000 increase for acquisitions. This was supposedly to make up for how poorly the loonie has done against foreign currencies, which seems sensible.

On paper, Carleton operates with a balanced budget, but in reality currently runs with a surplus that is set aside in various reserve funds. Some of this probably constitutes sound policy. For example, for 2015-2016, Carleton had set aside $19 million in base funds and $91 million in operating funds for pension reserve payments. On 31 March 2016, Carleton made a $30 million special payment to maintain a solvency ratio above 85%. Above this ratio, we file a solvency valuation every third year. Below this ratio, we must file a valuation every year.

More problematic for me are the reserve funds that get set aside for erecting new academic buildings. In the past, we relied on the province for 100% of the funding for academic buildings. For the first time, we recently broke that fiscally conservative and reasonable practice by self-funding the new health building. Now we are doing the same for a new business building. Last year, the board approved almost $4 million for this new business building. This week the board approved an additional $8 million for this building. And this is on top of private donations. This removes incentives for the province to pay for academic buildings. And nobody at the board discusses alternative uses for these multi-million dollar surpluses, such as to offset tuition.

The new operating budget only includes funding for six new faculty members and six new non-academic staff members. Maybe this makes sense with expected enrolment declines of 1% for the coming year. None of the new faculty lines are in science, which has been leading the way on increasing enrollments (supposedly undergraduate engineering applications are quite ‘soft’ for the coming year). One of the six new staff positions is for a new labour relations manager in human resources. I am not exactly sure what such a person would do, but that title seems ominous for anybody in bargaining units.

Graduate students strongly disagreed with the 21 March 2016 board presentation on tuition increases, claiming that upper-year graduate students would incur tuition increases despite contrary claims by the administration. One board member suggested we alter the presentation in the operating budget to better reflect these tuition increases, which otherwise did seem somewhat misleading. The vice-president finance agreed to do this, albeit with details to be agreed upon after the board meeting. Another board member than excoriated the graduate students for publicly critiquing the administration and wanted the board to formally and publicly take a stand on this. But the acting chair of the board (i.e. the vice-chair; the board chair was absent) very wisely said that the promised changes to presentation of the operating budget would help quell this, ending discussion of tuition for the 26 April 2016 board meeting.

Closing Remarks

As always, this post only reflects my opinions and reporting of what occurred at a so-called open session of the board. This blog is not meant as a surrogate for the open session minutes, which conspicuously were never brought forward for approval from the previous meeting. I do not report on anything gleaned from closed session nor from confidential documents. And, truly as always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

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Tuition Increases

As seems to be an annual tradition, the board’s executive and the president’s office expected huge protests when approving tuition increases for next year. While there were no protests at or outside the boardroom, there were a large number of special constables protecting the governors. There were special constables in the stairwell, in the underground parking lot (where there were student protesters), and at the elevators. The boardroom door was protected by the director of the Department of University Security and one the department’s supervisors. As always, these peace officers were remarkably professional. Furthermore, all the blinds in the boardroom were drawn, just in case.

The vice-president finance gave essentially the same pitch as last year to justify an overall 3% increase in tuition. This made sense insofar as we are at the last of three years of the provincial funding formula. Basically, the university will pass along the maximum tuition increase allowed by the province. What makes this harder to swallow is that inflation has only been around 1.3%.

There are two groups of students who supposedly will not be saddled with any tuition increases, namely upper-year graduate students and international PhD students. The reasons for these reportedly are that collective agreement with teaching assistants freezes tuition, while we are supposedly already charging all the market can bear for international doctoral students. But there have also been questions raised by the Graduate Student Association (GSA) regarding whether these lack of increases are real (here).

The vice-president finance stated that we cannot make up for a tuition increase by shifting enrolments between various faculties, which helped us last year. He said that engineering and architecture currently are enrolled at full capacity. He also predicted that enrolments in arts and social sciences would continue to shrink, and was not corrected by the vice-president for students and enrolment when making this claim.

The vice-chair of the board then gave a short speech defending the proposed tuition increases by stating the following:

The Board of Governors is in a difficult situation with respect to tuition…something that the provincial government could do something about.

The Ontario government is tying our hands. But there are no other alternatives to a 3% tuition increase for the long-term viability of the university.

We still need to be competitive in this market, which means putting up new buildings and deferred maintenance.

While he may have been right on the first two comments, I have a difficult time justifying the $55 million expense for putting up a new health science building, in lieu of waiting for the province to fund it, as the province has done for all of our other academic buildings. That $55 million would have nicely offset tuition costs.

The board chair made a seemingly gratuitous comment that tuition needs to be raised in order to pay for salary increases agreed to in collective agreements. Scapegoating salaries is always a convenient ploy.

New building for the Business School

The dean of our business school justified a new building solely on its benefits to the university’s budgetary bottom-line. He probably made a wise decision regarding this justification in light of the rampant corporatization of Carleton’s board, but that still seemed sobering to someone like me who stays involved with a university because of its intellectual verve and (increasing limited) academic freedom.

Plans for the new building are to use up to $2.2 million from the Nichols donation to have something that is shovel-ready. The remaining cost of the building, at least as advertised today, is to wait for provincial infrastructure funding. Thus there will supposedly be no self-funding, like we had for the health science building. The board directed the advisor to the board to make sure that this $2.2 million expenditure is allowed per the Nichols donation. The board also asked that there be a condition added to terminate the expenditures or to put things in abeyance if no provincial infrastructure funds become available.

Pension

The vice-president finance stated that Carleton is looking into filing an interim pension valuation on 31 December 2016. The decision to do with will be made around August. He thinks this interim valuation will reduce Carleton’s upcoming special payment from $37 million to $25 million per year. My understanding is that this will reduce our annual special payments, but not reduce the principle owed, i.e. this will defer some of the payments until bond markets improve.

For 2015/2016, Carleton’s pension payments were roughly as follows:

$16 million normal payment

$ 9 million special payment

$ 9 million reserve fund [saved to make future payments doable]

The vice-president finance claimed that if Carleton has to participate in the planned new provincial pension program, then part-time employees could get pensions. My spin on this is that, from an equity perspective, this might also be a good thing. So, in the long-run, maybe I am in favour of the provincial pension plan.

Miscellaneous

Someone asked why the ancillary budget has not changed over the past few years for health services (clinic, counseling services, etc. – to be distinguished from health science), even though this governor perceives that there is an increasing demand for mental health services. The vice-president for students and enrolment responded that we are getting better at triaging, now with very short wait-times for psychological counseling. But she concedes that we are far from perfect. This vice-president gives beautiful “nuanced” answers.

The vice-president finance said that he believes that newly renegotiated Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) will not have to be filed with the province for about another year, well after the new funding formula is announced by the province this fall. This is a much longer timeline for draft SMAs than mentioned by the university president at Senate one business day earlier (here). This should affect the amount of input senate gets to provide on SMAs.

Closing remarks

As always, my latest blog posts only reflect my opinions and observations from the so-called ‘open session’ of Carleton’s Board of Governors. For a more official story, please see the official minutes of the meeting once they are approved. These postings do not include any material from the so-called closed session nor from any material from confidential sources. As always, I truly welcome your comments.