While the open session of Carleton University’s Board of Governors on 28 June 2016 was still authoritarian sensu Bob Altemeyer, as it has been for over a year now, at least one thing drastically improved, for which I thank the university president and outgoing board chair. The multiple security checkpoints in the building near the boardroom were gone. The barricade on the street by the Gandhi statue was gone. The boardroom blinds were half open. There was just a single special constable seated by the boardroom door, who was not even checking names [correction posted on 7 July 2016: the special constable did have a list of those invited and was checking names of guests on 28 June 2016]. I genuinely hope this means that open sessions of the board will be freely open to the public in the future, without the onerous requirement for preclearance of observers. Kudos.
Master Plan and Buildings
The university’s new master plan shows some interesting things. The parking garages over the O-Train are only scheduled to quadruple in size, which is a bit better than being sextuple the size of the existing garage at that locale, as previously planned. There are also plans for replacing the existing at-grade parking lot P3 between the hockey rink, CTTC, and NWRC with a stacked garage. In concert with a new P3 parking garage, the master plan shows Carleton re-opening Raven Road to Bronson Avenue to encourage car culture, especially rapid escapes from the university. The master plan shows a future pedestrian bridge over the Rideau River between Carleton and Vincent Massey Park. But this may only go in when the O-Train bridge is rebuilt. Given that rail bridge repairs were done there just a few years ago, I don’t expect a pedestrian bridge anytime soon. The master plan shows Patterson Hall being torn down. Therefore I asked what will happen to the Aboriginal Student Centre, Ojigkwanong, designed by Douglas Cardinal. The director of facilities maintenance said that the building will be taken down and then rebuilt in stages, leaving Ojigkwanong intact. Therefore, this lovely and valuable space will be preserved, albeit possibly not accessible for a year or two. The board seems to have decided that the new business building that we are self-financing will go just north of the new health building. The north part of campus, north of Sunnyside/University Avenue, is planned to be developed into a new academic quad, but 25-50 years from now. Someone asked about how climate change would affect storm water drainage on campus. There really was no answer. I suspect that was because we have no idea about projected precipitation. The incoming vice chair of the board asked how do we prioritize the pipe dreams on the master plan, to which the answer was “nothing is prescriptive”.
Universities are all waiting to hear about new infrastructure monies from the government. Carleton put in a bid to rebuild our existing Life Sciences Building. I asked why, given that most of the residents of that building are slated to move into the brand new health building in a year. Apparently one floor of the rebuilt Life Science building will be for “clean tech”, another floor for an industrial partnership with Ericsson on 5G networks, and another floor for human-based health and neuroscience that do not need to be in the new health building.
The board approved the name change of the School of Canadian Studies to the School of Canadian and Indigenous Studies. This is an important change.
The provost put on one of his long-winded dog-and-pony shows, but at least eventually deferred to two of his more succinct deans to highlight some programs. The dean of arts and social sciences said some nice things about the undergraduate program in “global and international studies”, which must rank as one of the most redundant names of any program at Carleton. The dean of science spoke about our highly commodified new data science program and about our new health science program. I truly appreciated his candour about the latter, stating that, “Health sciences is finally getting traction in its third year”, i.e. starting to come close to its enrollment targets, but lamenting how still everyone signs up for the pre-med concentration of biomedical health, whereas nobody signs up for community health or environmental health. Why is the board’s time wasted hearing good news about boutique programs? Why doesn’t the board hear about typical programs or maybe hear nothing at all about academic programs? Aren’t deep dives into academic programs the purview of senate, not the board?
The university president stated that there have been no complaints about the giant posters with portraits of disembodied heads of people associated with Carleton. Allow me to remedy that. These posters, some of which are enormous, with people’s faces blown up to about 6 foot across, are the antithesis of what makes universities great. Universities are about dialogue and interaction. Yet these giant two-dimensional faces just stare blankly into space, looking down from the skies like gods, conveying no information, imparting no knowledge, and giving nothing back but propaganda. While this may be appropriate for the current state of Carleton governance and leadership, I personally want much more and our students and faculty deserve much more. While Carleton is supposed to be non-religious, despite our affiliation with Dominican College, at least this campaign with overhead disembodied god-like heads looks like we are espousing polytheism. Why have we eschewed substance for style; intellectual verve for Madison Avenue? Carleton’s Campus now looks like Tom Tomorrow’s cartoons in Sheldon and Rampton’s classic “Toxic Sludge is Good for You” or the streets of Pyongyang with Kim Jong-un’s face plastered on every wall.
At question period, I asked, “Will this board continue contracting KPMG for audit services after recent controversies regarding its tax avoidance schemes (offshore and divorce related) and gag orders against witnesses testifying before the House of Commons?” The university president tersely replied that, “KPMG is reputable, so we will continue to hire them.” The term ‘reputable’ means having a good reputation and being honourable. It is hard to have confidence in someone that publicly implies that defrauding the Canada Revenue Agency and silencing speech counts as being honourable, with a good reputation.
I requested the following items be added to the open session agenda at the 28 June 2016 board meeting: (1) my eligibility to serve a second term as a governor, (2) discussion of a sexual violence policy, and (3) the no confidence resolutions from early April 2016. The board chair denied all three requests, but promised they would be covered in closed session later in the evening. I requested that this promise be included in the open session minutes, which the chair agreed to. But I still do not understand why these matters could not be discussed in open session, other than that inaction on the latter two matters might embarrass the university and board.
The governance committee chair reported that the governance committee recently met, but decided not to push anything forward for now because they had accomplished enough with the new code of conduct and bylaws. My suspicion is that the board is hoping to once again push through a bylaw change to exclude union officers from serving as internal board members.
At question period, I asked, “During the first half of 2016, ‘Candidate Selection Handbooks’ and ‘Expression of Interest’ forms were created for academic staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students for elections to the board of governors. Who created and approved these handbooks and forms, and on what dates were they approved?” These documents did not exist when I ran for a board seat three years ago. The university secretary answered that the handbooks had been updated several years ago and that no approval of them was needed. Neither the university secretary nor anyone else answered about the Expression of Interest forms. The Expression of Interest forms made many requirements of potential governors that were not mandated and some that were mandated by the new bylaws that did not apply to the recent elections. This again indicates lack of due process and lack of accountability, when rules for campaigning and election can be created by fiat, especially when nobody is willing to answer when and by whom the pernicious Expression of Interest form was approved.
The board would not allow me to run for a second three-year term because I would not sign the heinous code of conduct that contravenes my collective agreement. This is ironic in that the governance committee chair that unapologetically referred to Carleton students as “Brownshirts and Maoists” was not only appointed to another term on the board, but was promoted to vice chair of the board, to be elevated to chair of the board on 1 July 2018. I guess that is the way to garner recognition and prove leadership prowess at Carleton
My ineligibility for another term as governor representing faculty, instructors, and librarians means that this is my final reporting of Carleton University’s Board of Governors’ open sessions as a board member. It has been a fascinating three years, albeit time to move forward. While this blog may or may not continue, I hope to continue serving the Carleton community as the incoming communications officer for the Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA). So, while the venue for communication may change, I will do my best to keep you informed of all the good and bad – progress and regress – of this university. Thank you for your support and feedback!