The open session of the Carleton University Board of Governors lasted for two-and-a-quarter hours, with several noteworthy details on finances, “free speech”, a wasteful parking garage, opaque governance, and “risky” Indigenous initiatives.
The Board’s finance committee was on the open session agenda to present its planning framework for the 2019/2020 operating budget. But the chair of the finance committee stated that there were too many uncertainties from the provincial government to present a formal framework or even a motion. The university president stated that there is no tuition framework from the province. The university president stated that he had spoken with Merrilee Fullerton (Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities) and Lisa MacLeod (Minister of Community, Children and Social Services), who he claimed were sending “strong signals about sacrifices, but with no word on timing or levels” of those fiscal sacrifices. However the university president declined to provide any further details in open session, promising more details in the closed session. Nonetheless, as a planning exercise, the administration is asking all resource planning committees (RPCs) to prepare budgets for both a 5% cut and a 10% cut.
The chair of the finance committee stated that Carleton will continue with the Board’s mandate of coming up with a “break-even budget”. As we have seen for many years, this is a sham. Each year, the Board first allocates any surplus funds, and then, immediately thereafter, votes on a balanced operating budget each spring. The finance committee chair stated that virtually all fiscal uncertainty is on the revenue side, not the expenditure side. This undoubtedly reflects that collective bargaining with all large unions on campus has concluded.
The big news on the financial front is that the university budget process is no longer being run under the auspices of the vice president finance, but under auspices of the vice president academic. While this seems to make the vice president finance somewhat subservient to the provost, this was also touted as comprising a current best practice. The financial planning group (FPG) is now replaced by the provost’s budget working group (PBWG). Another change this year is that all RPCs will meet simultaneously with the PBWG. In the past, each RPC would be meet separately with the FPG.
A few times in open session, the university president or board members stated that Carleton and the province are currently at the demographic nadir for graduating high school students. My memory was that these numbers would not bottom out for another two years. Regardless, Carleton is trying to get around the issue of a low number of undergraduate applicants by sending out admission letters early, many even in November this year.
The university president strongly advocated that Carleton institute more forms of Activity Based Budgeting. Currently the only one of these mechanisms we have is ELBA, i.e. Enrollment-Linked Budget Allocation. Can we stop commodifying public education, which should be a public good, and not merely “open for business”? My office is in the Carleton Technology and Training Centre (CTTC) building, which was built to attract high-tech outside industry tenants. The last of those high-tech tenants, Bayer Crop Science, just ended their lease and have moved off campus, which indicates how good Carleton is at such ventures.
“Free speech” policy
The Clerk of Senate and university president discussed the process surrounding the provincially mandated “free speech” policy. The president said that, “this is a deeply academic policy” and that the draft policy, which was not presented to the Board of Governors, met the provincial governments minimum eight requirements. The Clerk stated that the draft policy would be presented to Senate on 30 November 2018, i.e. the next day. The Clerk said that Senate had sent out an e-mail blast to individual students, staff, and faculty to gather feedback from 23 October thru 6 November. The Clerk said that the “task force”, which I assume meant the ad hoc senate subcommittee on “free speech”, obtained great insights from the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which is an organization largely by and for Ontario university presidents.
A student member of the board very insightfully asked how do you protect vulnerable groups and be inclusive with a “free speech” policy? The clerk responded that there is a tension with speaking freely because some groups do not have an opportunity to speak freely. A former CUASA president, who is now an associate dean and on the board, asked what are other universities doing. The clerk answered that an advisor to the board had canvassed other provincial universities and found that they did not have as consultative a process as does Carleton. This may or not be true, but certainly seemed self-serving. He also claimed to have just attended a symposium on this very subject, at which the consensus was to be minimal and meet the 1 January 2019 deadline. This is something that everybody has always presumed.
The Chair of the Board interjected that the policy on “free speech” is up to Senate and that this matter was on the Board’s agenda for information only, but that the policy will (somehow) come back to the Board. But he did not say when this would occur. The next full board meeting is scheduled for 28 March 2019, and the next board executive committee is scheduled for 28 January 2019, both well after the provincial deadline of 1 January 2019. An external board member, Konrad von Finckenstein, then asked, if Senate approves a “free speech” policy, whether the Board of Governors can then reject this if they don’t agree with it. The university president responded that we should take this one step at a time, but that he hopes the Board will endorse the Senate-approved policy. The Chair of the Board then said that the job of the Board of Governors is merely to ‘endorse’ the policy, not to ‘approve’ the policy. The Chair then said that there is “enough time for the Board to digest and deliberate this matter before the next board meeting.”
I have absolutely no idea what the Chair of the Board’s and the university president’s distinction is between ‘endorse’ and ‘approve’. The Board of Governors’ bylaws and procedures do not make such a distinction. I also do not know of any legal distinction between the two. This simply looks like the Board giving themselves discretion to veto what Senate does, although not obligating themselves to ratify Senate’s decision. The lack of Board meetings before 1 January 2019 also makes these assertions about the Board’s possible endorsement of Senate’s “free speech” policy particularly puzzling.
The Board of Governors approved hiring a design team for doubling the height of the parking garage above the O-Train, adding more than 600 parking spaces at the north end of campus. Proposals on the RFP are due 3 December 2018. The vice-chair of the board’s building committee said that a final decision on whether to double the size of the parking garage would largely be based how this addition would look from Bronson Avenue. So it looks like the final decision on whether to add 600+ additional parking spaces by August 2020, largely to accommodate sporting events at the stadium at Lansdowne, will be based on aesthetics. This project is proceeding despite the university president stating that there are grave uncertainties in provincial funding for post-secondary education from the Ford government. The original 617-space parking garage over the O-Train cost $35 million, therefore I suspect that Carleton would be spending at least $25 million out of their unrestricted reserve funds to double that parking garage that the university does not need, but that the professional football team that plays one kilometer away desperately needs. Not only do the demographics predict a nadir in high school graduates, but the Board’s finance committee chair even lamented the decrease in revenues this year because of the decrease in enrollments for 2018/2019, the first such decrease in many decades. This is also at a time that the Board discussed incorporating a green plan. This is also at a time that the Board discussed planning other new shovel-ready projects, just in case the federal government comes up with new infrastructure moneys for university, without mentioning future provincial infrastructure monies because everyone knows those will not be forthcoming from the Ford government. If there ever was time to save money for a rainy day, this is it. So much for education taking precedence over football, parking, and other special interests.
Before July 2018, at the end of each Board of Governors open session, the Board Secretary would post the open session meeting binder, which contained most of the powerpoint slides shown in open session, as well as copious supporting material. This provided a fair amount of transparency. Since September 2018, the Board no longer provides the public with this vital information. Instead, the public is merely being provided with a risk assessment for some of the motions brought to the floor during open session. This is a sharp corporate turn for Carleton’s Board of Governors. Furthermore, these risk assessments seem ludicrous. The risk assessment for a motion in which the Board merely endorsed the work of the Carleton University Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee (CUISIC; see below for details) was assigned a moderate amount of strategic risk and reputational risk. At the September 2018 Board of Governors open session, the risk assessment for approving the audited financial statements had far lower risk than endorsement of the work of CUISIC. By contrast, the motion to fund a design team to double the height of the parking garage over the O-Train did not even garner a risk assessment, even though the financial risk seems high. This new Board reporting seems not just like a farce, but a highly opaque farce.
Board committee structures will soon change. The Board’s nomination committee will soon be merged with its governance committee. Nobody said this, but it also seems possible the Board’s audit committee could be re-amalgamated with its finance committee.
This fall, the university launched a new “Carleton University Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee”, with the dreadful acronym CUISIC, but with three great co-chairs in Kahente Horn Miller, Benny Michaud, and Jerry Tomberlin. According to the provost, the CUISIC will, “support the TRC calls to action”, “energize and reinvigorate Indigenous strategy”, be “an investment in people”, and stated that the number of Indigenous faculty members at Carleton does not reflect the number of Indigenous students. Furthermore, the provost stated that “the 2011 Indigenous Strategy was more like a list of platitudes than a strategy or action plan”, something that CUISIC hopes to remedy. A large portion of the presentation to the Board of Governors was describing what Queen’s University did with their Indigenous Initiatives when Benoit Bacon was provost there. CUISIC will be hiring a project manager soon. Benny Michaud stated that, “At the end, there will be a fundamental shift that will make people uncomfortable.” This statement sounds fine given the current state of affairs and that education should be intellectually disruptive. A board member asked about how one would inject Indigenous knowledge into the Board of Governors. Kahente Horn Miller sagely responded that the Board needs to hear how Indigenous communities see the world; how the Board needs to understand why some terminology, such as ‘Indian’, is offensive; and that Indigenous peoples don’t own the land, but instead live in it. The Board unanimously passed the following motion, albeit seemingly without a seconder or even a call for a seconder: “The Board fully supports and endorses CUISIC efforts towards revitalizing our Indigenous Strategy and our relationship with Indigenous peoples on and off campus.” To me, this seems incredibly valuable and not risky at all.
This Carleton University Board of Governors blog reflects 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. 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.