I am reporting on the final board of governors meeting for the 2018/2019 academic year. This meeting occurred four weeks ago, but, hey, it is summer, I am on sabbatical, and there was nothing urgent to report.
The open session began with a 1.5-hour discussion on Indigenous issues, which largely seemed to be used to advocate for one or more new senior management positions for Indigenous affairs. While I will report much more below on this topic, let me begin by saying that I think that one such new senior management position could be useful, but this did not warrant over an hour-and-a-half of the board’s time, especially since the formal request for such a new position was never made.
The first 40-minutes of this discussion was an introduction by the esteemed Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Chief Bellegarde was invited by the board chair. The two of them are apparently friends. Chief Bellegarde began with a 25-minute speech, which was truly inspirational, followed by 15-minutes of answering questions. He discussed AFN’s four priorities: climate change, restorative justice, moving beyond the anachronistic Indian Act, and ongoing fiscal arrangements with the Crown. He discussed how Indigenous peoples in Canada rely on community identification, rather than self-identification, saying things like:
- “Look out for self declarations.”
- “But they are not really part of the community.”
- “Who gets to make that determination?”
It was useful for the board to hear this, especially since most western human rights in Canada relies on self-identification, rather than community-identification. This does separate Indigenous issues from many equity issues.
Unfortunately, Chief Bellegarde then said, “Before coming here, I did my homework.” Those words will wake up any academic. Chief Bellegarde said that he looked up how many members of the Carleton Board of Governors were Indigenous, and found only one such person. Given that he is friends with the board chair, this homework could have and should have been delegated to the university president and/or the head of university communications. Chief Bellegarde then asked, “Where is Peter?” He was referring to Peter Dinsdale, an Indigenous external member of the board, who was absent from this, his final, board meeting. Chief Bellegarde said that only one Indigenous voice at the table is a start, but not enough. Later in the conversation, the provost, who has been in charge of Indigenous initiatives at Carleton for over a decade (the provost’s office has this task, not necessarily the current holder of that office), repeated that it is a pity that there is only one Indigenous member on the board, which places too great of a burden on that one individual to represent Indigenous interests. The problem is that at least one of the undergraduate student board members, Taylor Arnt, is also Indigenous, which is obvious from her biography on the board’s website. She is also from Treaty 4 territory, like Chief Bellegarde. I have no idea whether the other undergraduate board member for 2018/2019, Yvonne Osagie, is Indigenous, but she very well may be. Both undergraduate members of the board this past year were superb advocates that could not have easily been overlooked. Therefore, there was either extreme carelessness in doing homework or simply that student members of the board don’t count.
Chief Bellegarde moved on to discussing two specific actions that Carleton could take to help with reconciliation. His first specific suggestion is that medical researchers at Carleton should stop co-opting traditional ecological knowledge about plants – i.e. stop using Indigenous medicines as western medicines – without giving full credit and full compensation. This is an important ethical and intellectual property issue, which has justifiably given ethnobotany a bad name. The problem is that Carleton does not have a medical school. And, as far as I know, Carleton only has one faculty member looking at Indigenous plant medicines, a chemist in the food science program. Chief Bellegarde’s second specific suggestion for reconciliation at Carleton revolved around primary and secondary education. He emphasized that teaching about truth and reconciliation needs to start in K-12 and that Carleton needs to do a better job training such teachers. The problem is that Carleton does not have a Faculty of Education. Carleton does not do any teacher training. So much for specific recommendations and homework.
While I have raised some specific complaints here, it was still fabulous listening to such a luminary, inspirational, and insightful person as Chief Bellegarde.
Chief Bellegarde was followed by a 50-minute presentation and discussion by two of the three co-chairs of the Carleton University Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee (CUISIC): Kahente Horn-Miller and the provost, Jerry Tomberlin. Their presentation included four discussion questions, but they skipped two of the questions, only lightly touched on one of the other questions (“How can the university ensure there is a systems-wide commitment to raising awareness of Indigenous experiences among those who are part of the Carleton community?”), and largely focused on their last question: “Are there senior administrative positions that need to be created?” Note that this last query refers to possibly multiple such positions. While several board members spoke in favour of this idea, including the board chair and chair of the board’s finance committee, several others questioned the need for these new senior positions. Kahente Horn-Miller claimed that there was a need for at least one individual to be focused on large-scale Indigenous initiatives and that this was too much for an assistant professor, herself, to handle. She was rightfully defensive about this, at which point the provost stepped in. Next, the university president said that he wants consultation before taking any actions, but said that hiring someone senior soon to deal with Indigenous initiatives is a high priority. Although, I will note that it is not such a high priority that a motion was put on the table. Another external board member asked if we have such a hard time hiring Indigenous assistant professors, how will Carleton hire a decent Indigenous senior manager. Kahente Horn-Miller responded that is important home-growing (“capacity building”), possibly by hiring people who are still working on their PhDs at Carleton, i.e. individuals who are ABD (all but dissertation). My hope is that she misunderstood the question and was only talking about hiring assistant professors, rather than hiring senior managers.
Next, a board member asked how Carleton is funding the ten new Indigenous hires. The provost answered that the university is simply diverting/prioritizing existing funds. I had hoped there were special federal monies allocated for these ten new Indigenous hires, but instead we learned from the provost that these ten new faculty positions will simply be allocated out of existing programs and not be net new positions.
Board open sessions usually only last 1.5-hours, but this one was just getting started after the discussion about hiring one or more senior managers for Indigenous initiatives, with still another 1.5-hours to go. At least most board members were not leaving early, with the annual board supper following the meeting and the food and drink not delivered until at least 6 pm.
The clerk of senate provided an annual report to the board. She started by describing the differences between the board and senate, noting that the board uses a corporate system of governance, whereas the senate uses a parliamentary system of governance. Incidentally, nobody on the board of governors questioned the clerk’s characterization of Senate’s governance being parliamentary. I did not grow up with either a corporate or parliamentary system, but did grow up with fractured fairy tales.
A parliamentary system is formally ruled by the crown, i.e. the head of state, who primarily serves nominal and ceremonial functions, but is actually ruled by a prime minister, the head of government. In Carleton’s Senate, the head of state seems to be the chair of Senate, who is automatically the university president. But the university president seems to serve a very substantive day-to-day role in Senate, not a nominal nor ceremonial role. In a parliamentary system, with permission of the head of state, the prime minister is chosen by whatever party holds the majority of seats in the parliamentary body. Who would that be for Carleton’s Senate? By design, a plurality (but not a majority) of seats in Carleton’s Senate are held by faculty members, but they do not collectively choose anybody. Carleton’s Senate has a clerk, but they are anointed by the Senate Executive Committee and then later nominally acclaimed by the entire Senate. To me, this system does not look any more parliamentary than the late Fidel Castro being prime minister of Cuba. I’m not saying that parliamentary systems are perfect (e.g. Doug Ford and Boris Johnson). But, is there any chance we could actually make Carleton’s Senate parliamentary in any sort of Westminster sense, transforming the current clerk’s fractured fairy tale into reality?
The clerk of senate also very briefly touched on other matters, such as convocation, senate appeals committees, a new senate review committee, quality assurance, and the free speech policy, but never with any particularity nor questions.
Strategic Integrated Plan and Strategic Mandate Agreements
The university’s previous five-year plan has just seen its time expire, so obviously it is time to draft a new one. To that end, the university president has started to form two separate advisory bodies to help draft a new Strategic Integrated Plan (SIP): (1) an SIP task-force of 12-15 members with four co-chairs that have already been appointed, plus an open nomination process for the remaining 8-11 members and (2) an SIP committee that will be solely populated by 35 senior managers. The fact that Carleton can easily find 35 senior managers is itself frightening. The board was not told what the relative roles of these two separate advisory bodies will be. External board members did, however ask two great questions, for which there were no answers. One board member asked if the SIP would cover disruptions, by which they seem to have been referring to labour disruptions, i.e. strikes. The other board member asked how the SIP will be reconciled with the next Strategic Mandate Agreement, SMA-4. All four co-chairs of the SIP task-force were in attendance (Lorraine Dyke, Cindy Taylor, Patrice Smith, Bettina Appel Kuzmarov), but only Lorraine Dyke said a word, which is telling. Lorraine Dyke, the deputy provost, could not even answer how the SIP will be reconciled with the current SMA, SMA-3. The deputy provost also stated that the SIP would eventually be vetted by both the board and senate, but never said whether the SMAs would be vetted by either the board or senate. This was a grand fiasco with SMA-1 and SMA-2, where Carleton’s administration completely short-circuited Senate, with repeated promises to do better next time. Oversight of SMAs are probably Senate’s most important academic role.
The university president boasted that he has hired twenty (20) new senior managers during his first year in office. He at least claimed that this pace will slow down, with seemingly only the need to hire a new dean of public affairs next year.
The university president said he is looking for new programs that require no government funding. Why do so many smart wealthy people still search for the elusive free lunch?
The university’s advancement officer and a member of the board’s community relations committee reported that this year Carleton contributed $15 million in matching funds, but that there is still $8 million remaining for other possible matches.
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. Enjoy the rest of summer!