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Monthly Archives: April 2018

Teleconference & Process

The Carleton University Board of Governors meeting began oddly. The chair of the board mentioned that the open session was being held completely via teleconference because the CUPE 2424 strike made traveling onto campus too difficult. However, the chair of the board and the chair of the board’s finance committee both claimed to be dialing-in from the university president’s suite in 503 Tory, not from the Board of Governors boardroom.

The board chair announced that there would be no closed session today. This announcement makes sense because issues with collective bargaining are handled exclusively by the board’s executive committee. I wonder whether an emergency meeting of the executive committee was convened via teleconference immediately after the open session adjourned.

Because the open session was held via teleconference, I was forced to listen to the meeting from the remote live-stream site in Southam Hall. Surprisingly, a special constable was guarding this room. Teleconferencing supposedly caused the board chair to conduct the meeting in a way that defied the board’s usual rules. The chair stated during many votes that he “assumed that everyone was in favour of the motion” and therefore only called for votes in opposition or abstentions for every motion.

CUPE 2424 strike

Item 5 on the open session agenda was a “report on negotiations”. The head of human resources was delegated to speak. He said that Carleton reached out to an external mediator, which the union agreed to. The head of human resources said that he was hoping that this would bring the strike to an end/resolution. He spoke for less than 20 seconds! This was immediately followed by the chair of the board stating that no specific questions would be allowed in open session and that questions about mandates were exclusively the purview of the board’s executive committee, which technically is true. That was it for item 5, all done in less than a minute, with no questions.

The only other item in open session explicitly about the CUPE 2424 strike occurred during the president’s report. The university interim president said that he had submitted a written report (pages 95-96 of the open session meeting binder) and therefore would not submit a verbal report, but would field questions. An internal member of the board then asked why there was nothing in the president’s report – either written or verbal – about the CUPE 2424 strike. The university interim president said this matter was for the bargaining table and for the head of human resources’ 20-second verbal utterance earlier in the meeting.

Later, the chair of the board’s finance committee apologized to the board for the finance committee meeting scheduled for 14 March 2018 being disrupted, which I assume meant disrupted by the strike. The chair of the board’s public relations and advancement committee said that she had cancelled the latest “talk exchange” because of disruptions, which I again assume meant cancelled by the strike.

Budgets

Carleton’s administration has lots of money in reserve funds. According to the vice president finance, these include $126 million in capital reserve funds, $120 million in pension solvency reserves, and $70 million in carry-forward appropriations. The vice president finance said that, “the first two of these reserve funds will largely be used for their designated purposes.” External auditors had flagged the need for a policy on how to spend such reserve funds, which resulted in a policy being approved at the board today. However, this new policy on moving monies from reserve funds vests complete authority in “the Financial Planning Group (FPG) [which] is an advisory committee to the president” (here), hence provides little if any real oversight or insight by the board.

The chair of the finance committee and the vice president finance announced that Carleton was once again running a substantial surplus this year, supposedly of $10.1 million. The chair of the finance committee started by saying that the surplus was “largely due to increased enrolments and holding down expenses.” He said the surplus was lower this year than in previous years because of increasing expenses. The chair of the board then mused that last year’s surplus was only $12-13 million. However 2017 board open session documents show that the previous year’s claimed surplus was three times that amount, at $38 million.

There were several motions proffered regarding budgets, all of which were moved by the chair of the board’s finance committee and seconded by the university interim president. While this is proper, it seemed peculiar for the interim president to second motions when virtually anybody else on the board could have done that.

Parking and Driving

The board passed a $68 million ancillary budget. This includes $14 million for the gym, as well as monies for parking, residences, health & counseling services, etc., all of which are supposed to be self-funding entities. The vice president finance mentioned adding three additional floors to the parking garage over the O-Train, to be installed for $25 million when the O-Train is closed for upgrades in 2020-2021. But the vice president finance and board chair said that no planning nor formal requests for funding will be brought to the full board until 2019. An internal board member asked if there was a parking shortage that necessitated this doubling of the O-Train parking garage. The vice president finance replied that there is only a parking shortage “in the most preferred places and times.” The parking garage over the O-Train is not a preferred place for people on campus. The only way that this parking garage is at a preferred time and place is if you are walking to football or hockey games at Lansdowne.

Internal board members mentioned that it is nigh impossible exiting from the adjacent dirt and pothole-laden parking lot on the northeast end of campus, especially in the evenings.

The vice president finance mentioned two possible new roadway entrances/exits from campus, in addition to the two currently existing ones on Bronson at Sunnyside and at the south end of Colonel By. He mentioned a new bus-only entrance/exit on Bronson, which I assume will be at the east end of Raven Road at southbound Bronson. He mentioned consulting with the NCC for a new entrance/exit on the northwest end of campus off of northbound Colonel By, probably near the O-Train parking garage. This would certainly help diffuse picketing during any future strikes.

A board member suggested making the main road loop through campus one-way for all vehicles, something currently only done for busses, a suggestion that fell flat.

Health Building

The new health building, which is gradually becoming operational after long delays, is now slated to have its 4th and 6th floors finished. They were inexplicably not part of the original construction budget, which was one way to keep the building within budget. The board approved an extra $9 million to finish those two floors, although this does not include any costs for equipment. The board was told that equipment will be paid from ELBA funds (enrollment-linked budget allocations) that have already been approved by the interim dean of science. I sincerely hope that this does not use up all of science’s ELBA funds for the year.

The first four ‘finished’ floors of the health building (1, 2, 3, 5) are supposedly 99% complete. The 7th floor animal care facility is supposedly 95% complete. This is despite the fact that there were supposedly 300 change orders once work was ostensibly completed. A board member opined that neither the finance committee nor building committee had full discussions of this ongoing construction debacle. The chair of the building committee then admitted that his committee was indeed too rushed in approving the heath building construction. Compounding this lack of oversight, a governor said that the entire board on 8 February 2018 received questions, but no answers, about the new health building.

The interim university president ‘publicly’ apologized for the lack of consultation with the departments of neuroscience and health with respect to the move to this new building. I put ‘publicly’ in quotes because the open session was not really open to the public other than from the police-guarded live-stream room.

ARSE Building

Contrary to what was reported at the 8 February 2018 open session, the chair of the building committee said that the university had applied to the province for a funding extension for the ARSE (Advanced Research in Smart Environments) building, which is currently only 40-45% complete.

Dominion-Chalmers church

An advisor to the board was tasked with providing an update on the purchase of Dominion-Chalmers church. This seemed odd given that this portfolio had previously been the purview of the interim president, who at the previous open session had promised a major announcement on the purchase on or around 2 March 2018 unless the deal was floundering. No announcement has been made yet. The advisor to the board said he hopes a final purchase agreement will be executed in a few weeks, but that negotiations are still confidential.

Selection/election of new board members

The board chair mentioned that 166 individuals had applied for upcoming vacancies as at-large governors. He also reported that all newly elected student governors were female. He did not report on upcoming elections for academic staff and non-academic staff governors, one of each who must be elected this spring, but nominations and elections have not yet been announced.

Closing Remarks

This blog posting reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton Board of Governors. No closed session occurred this evening. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary that is drafted prior to the meeting (here). As always, I welcome your feedback.

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Seating and secrecy

The board chair began the meeting with an announcement that board members need to sign the newly revised Code of Conduct (here). Near the end of this blog post, I will have more to say about this revised document.

The boardroom blinds were all fully drawn so that nobody from outdoors could watch the open session.

The number of seats for the public to watch board open session were still limited and those few seats were only available upon advanced request to the university secretary. Although the board table had several vacant seats, some administrative underlings were relegated to the spectator seats, such as the university’s relatively new sexual assault support coordinator, who had to find a microphone to answer questions about the sexual violence policy. Another audience seat was reserved for Carleton’s director of graduate studies, but who was not in attendance. That left only four seats for the public, which seems like an intentional move to limit the number of genuine visitors to board open sessions.

The seating arrangement at the board table was different than before. This time, the board chair, university president, university secretary, general counsel, university vice presidents, and all other university administrators sat on one side of the table, while all board members other than the chair sat on the other side of the table. This is an “us versus them” arrangement, not something that reflects supposed collegiality in which all board members are treated as equal.

Show-and-Tell

The first substantial portion of the open session was a pair of presentations for information. The assistant vice-president academic, Adrian Chan, described his work on accessibility. He gave a remarkably good presentation, although it is not obvious why the board needed to hear it. He had recently been awarded a $1.65 million NSERC grant for this work, for which he deserves kudos. This provided a stark contrast to the next presentation by the vice president of research, who spoke interminably about metrics in the newly signed second Strategic Mandate Agreement. One system-wide metric is the total number of grant dollars from tri-council (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR), of which Carleton last year received $16.5 million. This is only ten times what Adrian Chan received in one grant, albeit I am not sure over how many years. This shows that tri-council grants are becoming less equitable, with fewer grants of larger size. This also shows that Carleton’s ability to obtain tri-council funding has been waning over the past several years. The amount of indirect costs associated with tri-council funding, which all gets put into Carleton’s “Research Support Fund”, is 29% of actual grant amounts. This was larger than I had thought and means that more administrative services should probably be provided to our faculty from this overhead, such as long-distance phone charges, toner cartridges, and new office computers and printers for faculty members every few years.

CRC Equity Plan

The board approved a CRC Equity Plan (CRC = Canada Research Chair), as mandated by the federal government. The plan is available in the consent agenda. One external (“at-large”) board member asked whether this plan conflicts with the CUASA collective agreement. The university president responded that it did not conflict insofar as the CRC equity plan was merely a reporting document.

Parking garage

Minutes of the 19 September 2017 Building Committee meeting, which were first made public on 10 February 2018, state:

A MOA is being considered with the City of Ottawa in regards to the tunnel connection between the light rail line and campus tunnel system. During the shutdown of the light rail line (April 2020 – September 2021) additional buses service to campus is being planned. The addition of three stories to the parking structure is also being considered during the light rail shutdown.

A tunnel connection to the O-Train station sounds great, which would be especially nice if the tunnels went to both northbound and southbound gates. A doubling in height of the existing 617 parking space parking garage over the O-Train, however, would be detrimental to Carleton. While Carleton has lost several dozen parking spaces due to construction of the new health and business buildings, it has not lost 617 parking spaces. While the administration undoubtedly has enough money in unrestricted reserve funds to afford $30-35 million for a parking garage addition, there is no need. Extra parking makes the university less environmentally friendly. Provincial demographic numbers show numbers of high school graduates continuing to decline through 2020 or 2021, with only meager increases over the subsequent few years. And the provincial government has imposed a corridor model of funding, which translates into a financial penalty if enrolments increase. So why add over 600 new parking spaces? The one obvious answer is for extra overflow parking for Lansdowne’s professional football and hockey games, both of which have game-day shuttles to and from Carleton’s O-Train parking garage. Carleton should not be subsidizing the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG).

The Dominion-Chalmers Rollercoaster

The university president stated that, “negotiations to purchase Dominion-Chalmers church are like a rollercoaster.” This made some external governors nervous insofar as the purchase and renovation of the church were supposedly going to be funded solely with external donations that had already been secured. If the deal falls through, what happens to the donated money? The university president said that, without the purchase, all donations would be returned. This has interesting tax implications if a donation and subsequent return occur in separate tax years. The university president said that several potential donors have waited on making a final commitment because of these tax implications. Carleton’s announcement on the purchase of Dominion-Chalmers church is scheduled for 2 March 2018, but this will only happen if the deal is close, much closer than it apparently is today. This may have an effect on Carleton’s overall fund-raising, which supposedly is around $30 million per year.

New buildings

Construction of the Advanced Research in Smart Environments (ARSE) building was supposedly well behind schedule, but this will not effect provincial funding because the final financial installment is supposed to be made in April 2018. This building is much taller than its predecessor, the old Life Science Building. Even just a few years ago, the university president stated to the board that the master plan had Carleton demolishing and not replacing Patterson Hall so that people in Dunton Tower and Tory Building would have nice views of the Rideau River. That view is now entirely obstructed by the big ARSE building. So much for master plans.

The chair of the building committee also mentioned potential future building projects. He said they would cost at total of $140 million, but he never said what those projects were and nobody questioned him.

Governance Committee

The chair of the board’s governance committee reported on their committee meeting of 1 February 2018, which contained a few surprising details. He stated that the terms of reference for the board’s executive committee should reflect bylaw 8.01 and that the minutes of the executive committee should reflect the “fulsome discussions at those executive committee meetings”. Having minutes reflect fulsome discussions is code for keeping those minutes secret. What the governance committee chair neglected to mention is that Appendix A of the bylaws requires that minutes of executive committee meetings are to be released as open session documents, as part of the boards (faux?) attempt at openness and transparency, a requirement that the board has blatantly flouted since the new bylaws came into effect on 1 July 2016. In relevant part, Appendix A of the bylaws states:

There is no ordinary right in the University to prevent public disclosure of University records simply by considering the matter and creating the record pursuant to a session of a meeting that the University has held in camera, whether at the Board or Committee level. 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.

The chair of the governance committee also announced that a consultant would be hired to review the workings of the board, including transparency of communications and size of the board. Not sure if this is a cover for keeping executive committee minutes secret or for altering the Code of Conduct. I am also curious how they will change the size of the board. The Carleton University Act specifies that the board will be composed of the chancellor, vice-chancellor, and 30 other members. This is why I tried altering the break-down of those 30 individuals to be 15 internal members and 15 external members (my motion was rejected after the board chair repeatedly badgered the seconder into withdrawing their second; see here). Members of the Carleton community will need to keep a close eye on these developments.

At the 8 February 2018 board open session, the public was first given the chance to see the minutes of the 11 October 2017 governance committee minutes. These minutes contained some fascinating revelations, such as that the university president would be consulting with students about changes to the Code of Conduct, but conspicuously not mentioning consultations with faculty or staff. These minutes document that the university would be (future tense) having a meeting with CAUT about those proposed changes, even though that meeting had actually occurred three weeks prior to the governance committee meeting (past tense). But my favourite part of those minutes was that someone recommended that members of the governance committee read Peter MacKinnon’s book “University leadership and public policy in the twenty-first century: a president’s perspective”. This is ironic insofar as MacKinnon’s next book was just published in January 2018, in which he stated that board members should be prohibited from blogging about open sessions of their university board, but that audience members should be allowed to freely blog about the exact same open sessions. MacKinnon never describes the difference between these two individuals nor what would happen if a board member drafted something that was subsequently posted by an observer who was not a board member. The real irony comes from Carleton’s board of governors expressly allowing its members to freely blog about open sessions according to the Code of Conduct that was revised on 9 January 2018 (here). Even the passing of this revised Code of Conduct was odd insofar as the board convened a closed session in order to implement changes ostensibly meant to foster openness and transparency!

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 nor as a proxy for the official meeting summary that is drafted by the board’s executive before the open session actually occurs. As always, I welcome your feedback.