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The open session of the final Carleton University Board of Governors meeting of the 2017-2018 academic year was only 35-minutes long, but with fascinating details.

Succession Plan

The outgoing interim president produced a succession plan on 30 April 2018. This was just published as part of the board of governors’ open session binder for 28 June 2018, but I have extracted the succession plan (here), so that you don’t have to search through the 71-page binder to read this four-page ‘must read’ document. Kudos to the board’s executive for making the succession plan public, which is a huge step towards making university governance more transparent. While I have sometimes criticized the current chair of the board, he makes up for a lot of ills by being progressive enough to publicly release this important succession plan.

The final section of the succession plan, titled “Concerns that need to be addressed”, contains only five topics, all of which I quote verbatim:

  1. Pension Plan Management: in the medium-term there is a critical need to develop internal talent to support management of the Pension Plan at Carleton.
  2. Advancement: There are serious structural issues in Advancement.…
  3. Sprott School: There are significant challenges in the Sprott School. The dean search in 2017/18 failed primarily because the University could not offer a competitive salary to individuals interested in the post. It will be a critical issue for the new dean to address middle management level strength as an early priority during her/his tenure.
  4. Director of Communications: The position and roles of communication and structure of the unit need to be reviewed in comparison with other institutions
  5. Comparative salaries at the administrative/management level: There are a number of positions where there are apparent inequities among salaries for similar positions in other institutions. This puts Carleton at risk of losing outstanding individuals who are being tempted away by offers from other institutions….

This is a remarkable statement for many reasons. First, this admits there are problems with management of the Carleton Retirement Plan, something evident to many from the CUPE 2424 strike, FSCO complaints filed against the university for purportedly mismanaging the pension plan, and unresolved pension language in the just ratified CUASA collective agreement. Second, it is unusual to publicly state why a decanal search failed. Third, it had not been previously admitted that there was a need to strengthen middle-level management in the business school, but not other faculties. The board did not hear (at least not in open session) about this management problem before approving an expensive new business building, $65 million, which was especially relevant for a business school with zero growth in undergraduate enrolment since 2010. I feel sorry for my colleagues in the business school, trying to hire a dean who knows the salary offered may be too low, that there are issues with middle management level strength, and with perennially flat undergraduate enrolments. Fourth, it is curious hearing management’s concerns about their own pay inequities, while they remain utterly silent about pay inequities for rank-and-file employees.

The succession plan contains many other insights, so I hope you read the entire four-page document. Here I will just highlight one other interesting passage:

Several challenges became apparent. These included: (1) lack of forethought about staggering re-appointments of senior leaders so that there is continuous gradual turnover of leadership positions rather than several key positions falling vacant at the same time; (2) reliance on single-sourced consultants for external recruitment or belief that search processes can be conducted by internal teams (neither of these is appropriate in the current climate); (3) little active recruitment practised by Carleton; and (4) concerns about focus on leadership from the Indigenous community for Carleton…the University has implemented an affirmative employment program to recruit at least ten Indigenous faculty scholars to the University.

Buildings and Construction

Speaking of the expensive new business building, the vice president finance announced that he has decided to cut $2 million of cost for this building. Based on last month’s board meeting, this means adding bubbles to the concrete so that less concrete needs to be poured. Minutes of the 24 May 2018 open session state, “A bubble form will be used which will put spaces in the concrete. This technique has not been used in the Ottawa area but is routinely used in Toronto.” The board was not told whether this is a sound construction technique in Ottawa, which is more prone to earthquakes than is Toronto.

The board has decided to put out to tender bids for finishing the remaining two floors of the brand new health science building. I do not understand why this could not have been part of the original contract for such a new building, other than this may be a way to hide costs.

The interim university president announced that “Carleton is now the proud owner of a church”, referring to Dominion-Chalmers, the still consecrated church in which the congregation will continue to meet each weekend. This seems to violate section 3 of the Carleton University Act, which states that, “The objects and purposes of the university are…the establishment and maintenance of a non-sectarian college with University powers, having its seat in or about the City of Ottawa.” Owning a functioning consecrated church seems sectarian to me. But then, Carleton University’s Senate blindly approves all degrees earned by students at Dominican University College, which is owned and operated by the catholic church.

The interim president stated he does not want to perturb the new provincial government (Ford government), therefore will NOT be thanking them for all the monies that the province (i.e. the Wynne government) gave to Carleton to purchase Dominion-Chalmers church. Instead, thanks will be delayed at least until the fall. Hence the old adage, “Let sleeping dougs lie.”

Enrolment and Programs

At last month’s board meeting, enrolments were reported as being down by 5%, blaming the CUPE 242 strike for this diminution. According to the interim president, the enrolment decline now stands at only 3.7%, with much of the decline being attributed to Carleton’s BA program. Nobody asked nor offered an estimate of how much revenue this will cost the university, both in terms of lost tuition and a reduced government grant given the new corridor model of funding.

The interim president briefly mentioned in passing unspecified collaborations with the other three universities and colleges in Ottawa, under the umbrella “Education City”. These presumably include University of Ottawa (including Saint Paul College), Carleton University (including Dominican University College), Algonquin College, and la Cité Collégiale. Does Education City have a governance structure? Can Education City impose things on Carleton? This might be worth paying attention to.

The cyclic review of Carleton’s Food Science and Nutrition program contained a remark that might be of broad interest. “The External Reviewers…identify that the ‘program delivery is substantially dependent upon sessional instructors which may bring significant variations in the quality of the course delivery.’” In response, the department running this program (chemistry) recommended hiring three new faculty members to eliminate the highlighted problem. If university management is cutting corners by hiring too many precarious instructors, then cyclic review might provide a way to counteract this trend.

Fundraising

There was an open session discussion about university fundraising, albeit under the euphemism of ‘advancement’. Carleton is nine-years into a ten-year campaign to raise $300 million, and the advancement team is supposedly on target, having now raised $270 million. This success is not surprising insofar as these campaigns typically are not publicly announced until over half the funds have been obtained, giving such campaigns a chance to adjust their targets. The vice-chair of the board, who will be chair as of 1 July 2018, asked the interim university president, “When does the next campaign start?” The interim president answered that, “Carleton is now in perpetual campaign mode” and that “post-campaign is simply about continuity for at least the next five years.” This might have something to do with the statement in the succession plan that, “There are serious structural issues in Advancement.

Governance

The board passed recommended changes to the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document. Article 1 of the AGU, titled “Governance Structure”, is striking insofar as it explicitly states that Senate is subordinate to the Board of Governors and that the board considers itself a corporate entity:

Carleton University is governed by a bicameral system that is established by the Carleton University Act, a statute of the Province of Ontario. The two bodies are the Board of Governors (the senior body) and the Senate. In general terms, the Board of Governors is the corporate head of the university while Senate, subject to Bylaws as may be passed by the Board from time to time, is the academic head.

This is faux bicamerality, with one body (Board of Governors) senior to an inferior body (Senate).

The board’s governance committee minutes of 1 February 2018 stated, “It was reiterated that the primary role of the Executive Committee is to exervise [sic] the powers of the Board between meetings of the Board, including the powers specifically delegated to the Executive Committee by the Board. Where time and circumstances permit, decisions will be deferred to be made or approved at an open or closed session of the Board as appropriate.” This implies that the board’s executive committee is largely abandoning the idea of convening electronic votes of all board members. Overall this looks like a good change, one that encourages and fosters debate.

Marijuana and Mental Health

The written report from the vice president of students and enrolment included something about student mental health. The chair of the board spoke about that, even though nobody else did, blurting out that, “Student mental health will become more problematic as of October 17th.” Federal Bill C-45 takes effect on 17 October 2018, legalizing recreational cannabis use. I was shocked that the chair of a university board, who is a well-regarded physician, linked mental health problems with marijuana use. His comment was insensitive and showed misunderstanding of both marijuana and mental health. His comment seemingly was not meant as joke as he did not even laugh or smirk after saying this. And nobody else laughed or chuckled. His comment seemed like something out of the propaganda film “Reefer Madness”.

Closing Remarks

This post completes my fifth consecutive year blogging about the Carleton University Board of Governors, reflecting my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the board. This post is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary that is written before the meeting begins. This blog post is exclusively based on publicly available documents and public meetings. Hope you found some of this informative. As always, I welcome your feedback.

[Note added 27 July 2018: The board of governors’ open session binder for 28 June 2018 on the Board’s public website still contains the 30 April 2018 succession plan document, indicating that public release of this document was not an inadvertent error.]

 

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The most salient discussions at the board’s 24 May 2018 open session were on the new building for the business school and on university governance.

New business school building

With only one dissenting vote, the board approved a $17.1 million cost overrun for the new business building, raising the total building cost from $48 million to $65.1 million. This 36% cost overrun will be paid entirely out of unrestricted internal funds, in this instance from capital reserve funds. The $48 million estimate was part of the January 2018 cost estimator. The chairs of both the board’s finance and building committees tried to explain how one gets such a huge budgetary change in four months, blaming the Trump administration for the increased price of steel and blaming the shortage of trades-people in Ottawa to work on the construction because of ongoing renovations to the Parliament buildings. The problems with these explanations are that the US government did not impose those tariffs on Canada until a week later, on 31 May 2018, and builders and developers have long known about construction on Parliament Hill, especially to Centre Block. Between the contractors and the numerous builders and developers on Carleton’s board, how did nobody see this coming? As with the large cost overruns for other buildings on campus, I suspect this was just a ploy to garner initial approval for buildings and then string the board along to get approval for the real costs, especially when the winning bidder was apparently the same firm that put up our new health building, for which I have previously written about the ever escalating prices that the board approved.

The board was told that the business building cost overrun will result in delay of Unicentre renovations. The chair of the board’s building committee then blamed the failed Unicentre renovation referendum on this delay, but stated that there could be no delay in building the new business building, asserting that the board should not “nickel and dime” the new home of the business school, which ironically will be named for Wes and Mary Nicol. In the same breath, the chair of the building committee also claimed that other units on campus will occupy the new business building, using this as weak justification for approving this exceptionally large cost overrun.

Someone asked why the new business building was being erected in the middle of campus, rather than along Bronson Avenue as originally proposed, as a sort of beacon for the university. Currently, Carleton’s only presence on Bronson Avenue are athletic facilities and parking facilities, making us look like anti-intellectuals compared with our colleagues at University of Ottawa. The chair of the board’s finance committee responded that moving the business building to the centre of campus would free up more space for parking on the edge of campus. He then stated that he wants Carleton to double the height of the latest parking garage and to add a second large parking garage over the train tracks. That would add 1,850 new parking spaces on campus. This is at a time when the provincial government has imposed a corridor model for funding, which penalizes Carleton if there is increased enrollment. At least the business school is doing their part by having no changes in undergraduate enrollment since 2010. This is also at a time when the university president just announced that Carleton would have an overall 5% enrollment decrease this coming year, which he blamed on the CUPE 2424 strike causing a diminution in acceptances from so-called “105” applicants, i.e. those not applying directly from high school. At least the university president had the decency to call this a “strike”. By contrast, the chair of the board’s public relations and advancement committee used the euphemism “labour disruption”. It seems that the only people who will benefit by having increased parking during periods of decreased enrollment are associated with professional sports teams at Lansdowne, who run a free shuttle service for their customers (“fans”) between the Lansdowne stadium and Carleton’s new parking structures on the edge of campus.

The chair of the board’s building committee did, however, propose a possible $2 million cost savings in the new business building by adding bubbles to the concrete. While concrete pouring will be expensive for this building, especially because the plywood forms used to construct curved walls cannot be re-used, adding bubbles will decrease the volume of concrete. An external board member asked if this was safe, especially in a region prone to earthquakes. The building committee chair replied that this would be to code. The obvious retort, which did come, was wondering whether the code had ever been wrong or inadequate.

University governance

The chair of the board’s governance committee described ongoing efforts to modernize Carleton’s governance documents. Earlier that day, he had spoken to the Clerk of Senate about revising the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document because the governance committee chair claimed that the AGU was no longer aligned with existing collective agreements. But he provided no details about this assertion nor the AGU revisions, which supposedly will come to the board for a vote at its June 2018 open session. He further stated that changes to the AGU will make it so that the Board of Governors bylaws finally cover all of Senate. While I believe this is standard practice, it also speaks to the illusion of bicameral university governance, where senates really are inferior to boards of governors.

The chair of the governance committee announced a delay in the request for proposals (RFP) regarding the study on best practices in university governance, claiming that the incoming university president wants to be involved in this process.

Closing Remarks

This blog post reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton University Board of Governors. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary that is written before the meeting begins. As always, I welcome your feedback.