Immediately after the end of today’s Board of Governor’s meeting, i.e. less than an hour after the board meeting ended, the chair of the board sent an en masse e-mail stating that, “all faculty and staff will receive a meeting summary after each Board meeting.” However, what was sent was not a summary of the meeting, but rather a pre-written and pre-authorized statement about what the administration and board’s executive hoped would come out of the meeting. There was not enough time to write a summary, let alone have it approved, after the board meeting ended. The document that was sent thus sounds more like public relations than a summary. Indeed, a genuine summary of the 27 September 2016 open session would have contained items such as:
- The board was asked to approve Audited Financial Statements that board members did not have time to read – the statements were only distributed to board members an hour before the meeting;
- Deb Matthews, the Ontario Minister for Advanced Education, will probably require that all universities submit new Strategic Mandate Agreements this fall that include all new programs that universities wish to offer over the next several years, even though Carleton’s Senate has never been consulted on this vital academic matter;
- A request for retraction and apology from a governor who called Carleton students “Brownshirts and Maoists” and who subsequently got promoted to vice-chair of the board despite or maybe even because of this brazen remark;
- Lack of meaningful input from students into the provincially mandated but still undrafted Sexual Violence Policy;
- Board meetings will now be recorded in audio, albeit without any promise to release such audio recording to the public and without any promise to preserve these important public records.
Although I am highly critical of the prescient so-called summary released by the board, the board chair did do something very good by posting on a public website the agenda and consent agenda for today’s open session, including supporting documents. Kudos.
This was my first board meeting as an audience member. I had to request a seat in the boardroom a week in advance, although was only told on the day of the meeting that I had been allotted a reserved seat. The boardroom ostensibly has eight seats for audience members. However four of those eight seats today were filled by staff reporting to the vice-president finance, and those four individuals left at the end of the open session without having ever said a word. Another of those eight seats was reserved for the dean of engineering. Another seat was reserved for a reporter from the campus newspaper, the Charlatan, which I think is a stellar idea. Ironically when I requested an audience seat for all board open sessions this academic year, the university secretary wrote, “As the number seats available is subject to change based on the agenda, you cannot reserve a seat months in advance.” She also wrote that, “Due to fire and safety restrictions, seating in the room is limited, and is generally reserved on a first-come, first-served basis subject to ensuring diversity of access by members of the community.” What kind of diversity can you have when audience seats are mostly occupied by administrative underlings? The board needs to return to a larger room, such as the senate room in which they met for many years.
The Board of Governors’ executive committee ratified the collective agreement with my faculty association, CUASA. That collective agreement states that, “The [faculty] association shall have the right to have an observer present at open university meetings.” This should include open sessions of the Board of Governors. As the faculty association’s communications officer, it would make sense for me to be that observer at all upcoming board open sessions. Yet the university secretary wrote, “you cannot reserve a seat months in advance”, despite the board’s executive approving a collective agreement that specifies that I can reserve a seat as the CUASA communications officer.
The so-called open session still seemed prison-like. A special constable guarded the boardroom door and had to verify my identity before entering. While this boardroom has beautiful views of the river, with windows on two of the four sides, all the blinds were fully closed so that nobody could look in or out.
The chair of the board announced that audio recordings will now be made of all board meetings. He then said that this is largely to insure accurate taking of minutes. That is a peculiar assertion insofar as meeting minutes are usually and intentionally devoid of controversial items. The chair said that these audio recording will not be made public and possibly not even retained once minutes to the meeting are drafted. While I applaud making audio recordings of public meetings, such as open sessions of the board, it seems absolutely wrong to not release or to intentionally destroy such important public archival records. It is far too contentious destroying or hiding recordings. For instance, consider the case of José Rodriguez.
The new chair of the board did a fabulous job following proper parliamentary procedure, thereby remedying many of my complaints in previous blog postings. Kudos, although this does not fix the myriad due process wrongs of the previous two years.
While the Board of Governors has plenty of really important decisions to make, for some reason the upper administration distracts them from this important work by taking up huge portions of open sessions with silly show-and-tell. This time around, the board had two of these dog-and-pony shows, with the vice-president research having 20 minutes to discuss university rankings and the dean of engineering having 30 minutes to discuss the engineering capstone course.
The discussion of university rankings should have taken no more than five minutes. Many of the rankings are silly. Carleton, as well as most (all?) other Canadian universities, has recently done worse in rankings of universities world-wide because Asian universities are now ascending the rankings. Our rankings will be further diminished because a large component of the rankings are “international orientation”, which means numbers of international students, international faculty, and international collaborators. Many potential international students and faculty members may now opt for schools in Asia, which until recently had not been an attractive option.
One item that was noteworthy in this presentation was the vice-president research stating that a viable option for improving our ranking may be to recruit senior faculty members. This would be a major shift for Carleton, who almost exclusively recruits assistant professors, not faculty of higher rank, other than for administrative posts.
I have no idea why the dean of engineering was asked to waste a half-hour of everybody’s time to talk about their capstone course, something which does not really affect university policy, but is a mandatory requirement for accreditation. In fact, I felt sorry for the dean being given such an unenviable task. He did the best he could, but this is really boring material. The only highlight was a slide that he showed about a sustainable urban development on Albert Island. The dean briefly said this project included community involvement. What he failed to mention was that this is a hugely contentious project to develop Chaudière Falls (Akikodjiwan) with the so-called ‘Zibi’ development by Windmill Developers, which is development on sacred Algonquin territory. The dean may have been prudent to not emphasize the highly contentious nature of this project, but it is surprising that Carleton is involved at all, possibly giving the impression that the university is complicit in this development. I no longer know the background of all external board members, but wonder whether any of them have involvement with this contentious real estate development, although nobody declared a conflict of interest.
Audited Financial Statements
The audited financial statements were distributed to governors an hour before the open session. Yet, despite protests from some governors, the board still voted to approve this document without having time to read it. The advisor to the board claimed this was an inadvertent error and that the board’s executive committee at least had a few weeks to examine the full document, which should be good enough. I have no idea how that constitutes due diligence, especially when the university has a brand new vice-president finance. Why have full board meeting if they act as rubber-stamps of executive committee decisions? I guess the answer to that rhetorical question is that there are no internal governors (students, staff, faculty) on the executive committee and that executive committee minutes are still considered confidential despite the recently passed Appendix A to the bylaws, which seem to specify that executive committee minutes are presumptively public documents. The audited financial statements are probably fine (and can be downloaded from the board’s public website). The problem was instead with process, with the board seeming to once again violate its new vaunted bylaws and code of conduct, i.e. many governors were effectively compelled to abrogate their fiduciary duty by voting for something that they could not read.
Ontario university presidents met with Minister of Advanced Education & Skills Development
Last week, Ontario university presidents met with the Minister of Advanced Education & Skills Development, Deb Matthews. Carleton’s president conveyed to the board her reading of the tea-leaves from that meeting. Our president anticipates a new funding formula soon, which will be contingent on both provincial metrics and each university’s own boutique metrics. The provincial metrics will probably include graduation rates and an envelope for enrollment. Demographic data in Ontario shows that the number of 18-year-olds will bottom-out in 2020, finally starting to slowly increase in 2021 (data here). Therefore it makes little sense to have funding dependent on enrolment growth, rather than an enrolment envelope, which was referred to as an “enrolment corridor”. The board chair stated that the change to the funding formula will occur in the next fiscal year.
The blockbuster news was the board chair stating (and the university president concurring) that drafts of new Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMA) will almost certainly be due this fall. The president said that any new programs that universities hope to start in the next several years will need to be in the SMA, otherwise the province will not approve them. New academic programs are the purview of our university Senate. Yet, not only has Senate not yet been consulted about such matters, but ironically this week’s Senate meeting was cancelled for lack of anything to discuss! This basically means that the upper administration is again trying to foreclose Senate from having any role in deciding the academic future of Carleton, merely looking for Senate to rubber-stamp a draft SMA at the last second. In my humble opinion, the full Senate (not just a committee) needs to convene a very thorough discussion about what should be in a new SMA and should deliberate on this at two or more successive open sessions. Does anybody want to call a special session of Senate to discuss a new SMA?
According to the university president, the Minister of Advanced Education talked ad nauseum about experiential learning. Therefore expect a lot more impetus for things like co-op programs and capstone programs. While this sounds too much like commodification of post-secondary education to me, it may be reality in Ontario
The Minister also broached that she will impose more collaboration between colleges and universities. Mandating something does not make it collaborative, except in the most Orwellian sense. Regardless, expect more vertical integration between colleges and universities.
With the current provincial funding formula and our self-imposed Enrolment Based Allocation (ELBA) formula, funding is still very much dependent on increased enrolments. Final tabulations of enrolment are based on head counts on 1 November, but forecasts are relatively robust based on end of September numbers. Overall, Carleton is doing well, with almost a 2% increase in new first-year enrolments in undergraduate programs. Most of this increase is due to science and engineering. Our public affairs and arts & social sciences (FPA and FASS) enrolments are holding steady, which is still pretty good given the decreasing numbers of high school graduates. However, our undergraduate business enrolments dropped 7% this year, which makes arguments for a new business building precarious. That said, I do not necessarily advocate making decisions on capital investments dependent on income. With that logic, we would never have built a new health building or even contemplate building a new concert hall.
Sexual Violence Policy
The university had been pursuing a new sexual violence policy as a community during the 2015/2016 academic year, along with a facilitator. That process devolved, with the administration not showing up for several successive meetings and the facilitator eventually quitting in spring 2016. During summer 2016, the university administration opted to go it alone in drafting this provincially mandated policy. In September 2016, the administration consulted with individual stakeholders, but never engaged in collective discussions with the entire community. The administration’s new tack was more divide-and-conquer. A draft of the resulting policy will be distributed to the university community and posted on a public website during the first week of October.
A final draft of the sexual violence policy will be submitted to the Board of Governors for their 1 December 2016 meeting. This is the last possible meeting for board approval before the provincial deadline, leaving governors in a bit of quandary on 1 December 2016. If they reject the draft sexual violence policy, then Carleton will be defying provincial directive. Therefore the board’s hands will be tied to approving almost any document handed to them.
Today, one governor lamented that students will be foreclosed from meaningful consultation in drafting the sexual violence policy. The vice-president students & enrolment replied that students will have a say via their representatives on the Board of Governors, who can adequately represent their constituencies. The problem is that the new rules recently foisted on the board stipulate that governors are expressly forbidden from acting as representatives of the constituencies that originally selected them. After a short exchange about this important bureaucratic disenfranchisement issue, the university president half-jokingly said, “On that note, let’s move on,” which is exactly what the board did.
Question Period and Regulatory Capture
A governor posed a question for question period about what actions the board has or will take regarding the three recent unprecedented no confidence motions against the board and university. The question was asked of the board, not of the administration. Yet the question was answered by the university president, not the board’s chair nor vice-chair nor any other board committee chair. This is a clear sign of regulatory capture of the board by the university president.
Compounding this problem, the president answered that nothing needed to be done regarding the no confidence motions. This was an abbreviated version of her answer from an earlier board meeting, in which she said that the no confidence motions were regarding the new code of conduct and bylaws, which had been passed by a large majority, hence meant that the board considered there to be no problems. However, on 27 September 2016, the president added that, “the board will improve communications, engagement, and transparency.” Promulgation of a summary of open sessions written before open sessions have actually occurred should not constitute improved communications. Effectively shutting out students from consultation on a new sexual violence policy should not constitute improved engagement. Continual posting of special constables at the boardroom door and filling audience seats with administrative underlings should not constitute improved transparency.
“Brownshirts and Maoists”
A governor broached that the former chair of the board’s governance committee, who is now the board vice-chair and current clerk of the privy council, had previously and unapologetically called several Carleton students “Brownshirts and Maoists”. One of those aggrieved students is now a governor on Carleton’s board and was present at the open session today. A motion was put forward asking that the “Brownshirts and Maoists” pejorative be retracted and that the individual apologize to the students. Part of the rationale given for this motion was that another individual had been disciplined by the university for supposedly making almost identical defamatory remarks, but that the person who first used the phrase “Brownshirts and Maoists” had not only been exempt from discipline, but had been promoted to vice-chair of the board.
To the credit of the current chair of the board, the motion was allowed to be brought forward in open session, was seconded, debate was allowed – but nobody said a word during that debate period – and a vote was taken. The vote was two in favour, a majority opposed, and five abstentions.
What was striking is that the person who first used the phrase “Brownshirts and Maoists” sat silent throughout these proceedings, even though they could have easily offered an apology. All members of the board’s executive committee voted against the motion, possibly making them complicit in this degradation of the affected students, students they are supposed to watch after.
This post only reflects my opinions and reporting of what occurred at the open session of the board. I hope to keep up this tradition of reporting, at least if the board allows me to continue attending so-called open sessions. And, as always, I truly welcome your comments and feedback.