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Monthly Archives: July 2017

Dominion-Chalmers church

The board devoted over a half-hour of time in both open and closed session to Carleton’s potential purchase of Dominion-Chalmers church in downtown Ottawa. Carleton’s outgoing president proposed that the church would mostly be used as an event centre, but also partly used for teaching. During the daytime, the church will be used for various Carleton academic programs, mainly music, architecture, and Indigenous studies, the latter of which is ironic given that this is a church with ‘dominion’ in its name.

I wonder whether this is weak surrogate for the 1,200-seat state-of-the-art concert hall that our outgoing president has been proposing, but which never got built. Dominion-Chalmers church seats approximately 800 people and has previously hosted the likes of Jane Goodall and David Suzuki. There was talk at the board today about removing the church organ to create space for a symphony orchestra on stage.

The outgoing university president and chair of the board noted that the administration and several members of the board’s executive committee have been extensively discussing this church purchase for over one year. Such discussion must have been kept quite secret insofar as some members of the board mentioned today in open session that they were hearing about this purchase for the first time. That implies that this church purchase had not been broached in closed sessions of the full board before 29 June 2017 and that this purchase had not been mentioned in minutes of the board’s executive committee. This would be a huge and expensive purchase, with effectively very little oversight. So much for openness and transparency.

According to discussions in open session today, the owners of this church first approached Carleton’s administration in May or June of 2016 about this sale. Carleton’s administration, in conjunction with the secret subset of the board’s executive committee, then apparently conducted a price point analysis of this church. In March 2017, the province of Ontario committed some funds for Carleton’s purchase of the church, with that commitment expiring in March 2018. According to the outgoing university president, Carleton has apparently secured an additional donation of $2 million for this purchase, although that commitment expires in August 2017 unless Carleton goes through with the purchase. The university communications office mass e-mail that was sent the morning after the board meeting mentioned that Carleton needs to close this deal within 90 days (oddly, not the 60 days, of late August). At open session, the outgoing president also hinted at other (smaller?) donations, but was not explicit. Carleton has obtained letters of support from the city. The president also mentioned one letter of support from an individual, that of John Ruddy, who was a former member of Carleton’s board, current co-owner of the professional football team in town, and biggest financial athletic supporter of Carleton’s men’s-only football team. Regardless, Carleton’s full Board of Governors was pressured today into rendering a huge financial decision before the next board meeting could occur in October 2017, ostensibly because the full board had been kept in the dark for so long. But, reading between the lines from the aforementioned en masse e-mail from university communications, the Board neither approved nor rejected the church purchase in closed session today: “No final decision was made on the project at the meeting. The administration will do further due diligence, including engaging stakeholders, during the next 90 days.” Usually these university communiqués are issued within minutes of the end of board meetings, but this one was not issued until 17 hours later, a sign that full board balked at the pressure to buy a church. So much for openness and transparency.

A reporter from CBC audio recorded the entire open session board debate about purchasing this church, as well as taking many still photographs. The board’s executive allowed this recording. Ironically, board bylaws and code of conduct prohibit board members from making such audio recordings or taking photos. So much for openness and transparency.

Dominion-Chalmers church is apparently a heritage conservation site, which thus must be conserved and preserved. Would sale to Carleton be a way to offload those conservation and restoration costs onto the university?

The outgoing university president said that Carleton has secured sufficient funds to both purchase and renovate this church in full. Nonetheless, the board chair reserved all discussions of finances to the closed session, so it is not altogether obvious how much of the purchase price will be coming from things like Carleton’s unrestricted reserve funds. It was also not obvious how much renovations will cost. It was not obvious how much projected revenue Carleton plans on making by renting out this church. The outgoing president stated that she expects that the church would be used for events 159 nights per year, i.e. on average, about three nights per week (and yes, she reported this number with three significant digits). That seems to imply an unrealistic revenue stream.

Strategic Mandate Agreements

The outgoing university president reported that Carleton has completed negotiations with the province on the latest round of Strategic Mandate Agreements. She said that all that remains are dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s, which should be finalized in the next two to four weeks. She reported that the Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) was drafted by a committee of deans and associate vice-presidents. The outgoing president then said, “The SMA does not require senate or board approval.” I quoted this verbatim. However, at an open meeting of Senate on 28 March 2016, this same president promised to do better by letting Senate ratify this round of Strategic Mandate Agreements before drafts were sent to the province in 2017. Clearly that never happened, but was an empty promise to assuage criticism and stifle debate at Senate.

I wrote the following just four days before the 29 June 2017 board meeting:

For years, I complained that Carleton’s Senate is foreclosed by the president’s office from having any meaningful role in drafting Strategic Mandate Agreements with the province of Ontario (e.g. see here). Instead, in 2014, the university president only provided Senate with the final approved version of the Strategic Mandate Agreement, without Senate consultation. Then, insidiously, the president proposed a motion that Senate acknowledge receipt of this document. At the Senate meeting of 28 March 2016, the university president promised to do better by letting Senate ratify the next round of Strategic Mandate Agreements before drafts were sent to the province in 2017. Yet the president and provost reneged on that promise in early 2017, at which time they completely avoided consultation with Senate.

 Strategic Mandate Agreements are the most important academic documents that exist for universities in Ontario. They stipulate how much existing academic programs will be allowed to grow and stipulate which new academic programs can be created. Strategic Mandate Agreements are much more important than strategic plans, which some have argued are just line items on CVs of provosts to help them gain employment elsewhere. Senate is supposed to be the ultimate body for deciding all academic matters at Carleton. So why does Carleton’s Senate only get to approve receipt of Strategic Mandate Agreement documents once sent to the province? Does circumvention of Senate in drafting Strategic Mandate Agreements contravene the Carleton University Act?

 Unfortunately, the aforementioned problems are not unique to Carleton. The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, OCUFA, recently reported that Strategic Mandate Agreements at many provincial universities are drafted by upper administration fiat, without any meaningful consultation with Senates or with Faculty Associations. OCUFA’s recommendation is that the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development require that faculty be meaningfully consulted in drafting of Strategic Mandate Agreements.

Presidential search

Carleton is hoping to appoint a new president, starting on 1 July 2018. A search committee has been established, which has two oddities. First, the committee membership lists Nik Nanos as Board vice-chair. Nik Nanos is replacing Michael Wernick as vice-chair, half-way into Michael Wernick’s two-year term. Second, the committee membership lists three Senate representatives, who were supposedly chosen by a Senate election. The problem is that two of those three Senate representatives are outside of the faculty union, one because they are an associate dean and the other because they were elected by the Senate to a three-year Board of Governors seat hence are automatically out of the bargaining unit. It seems like regulatory capture having members of the management team hire a president, a president who could then turn around and fire those managers that had served on the search committee.

The Board’s executive committee has put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a headhunter to lead the presidential search. Regardless, the board chair said that he expects thirty (30) bids on this RFP, which seems like a lofty expectation. He also stated that the position of president at Carleton should be a plum because of Carleton’s superb financial position, running large surpluses for many consecutive years.

Executive compensation

The board chair was lamenting how the provincial government has frozen executive compensation, which made it difficult recruiting new university presidents. The provincial cap is being removed soon, albeit in a gradual fashion. Executive committees of university boards of governors are required to a submit proposal on executive compensation to the government of Ontario by 27 September 2017. However, it is not obvious when the province will approve or otherwise vet these proposals. Final versions of approved executive compensation plans will be publicly posted.

For years, maybe even decades, Carleton’s Board of Governors delegated executive compensation to a subcommittee of the executive committee, namely the “executive compensation sub-committee”, which in recent years merely has meant approval of the president’s annual 12% bonus. Today, the full board in open session revised the terms of reference of this subcommittee, which is now known as the “executive HR/compensation sub-committee”. This subcommittee of five select members has an important new task, namely “to review and recommend the mandates for collective bargaining in respect of labour”.

Decibel levels from new co-generation plant

Carleton is replacing its old electric power and heat generation plants with a single unified co-generation plant that will be located adjacent to the light-rail O-Train and the pedestrian underpass by the train station. This underpass is a major thoroughfare, connecting the gym and northbound train platform with residences and most academic parts of campus. A board member asked how much noise this new co-generation plant would typically generate. Will the many pedestrians who walk past there be exposed to dangerous sound levels? Amazingly, nobody knew the answer nor offered to find out.

Closing remarks

This blog posting reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton Board of Governors. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting. As always, I welcome your feedback.