8 February 2018

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.

 

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