Monday, November 30, 2015

Universally Annoyed

My university has made the news and not in a good way.  The Board of Governors are aiming to be as opaque as possible.  Closed meetings are a really bad idea.  Telling the professors who are appointed to the Board to represent the faculty that the BoG is now like fight club--that one cannot talk about it--seems to run against the purpose of having profs on the board.

While going into closed session when discussing personnel issues, to operate entirely closed seems problematic in the extreme.

Of course, the Canadian prof union is overreacting, possibly telling aspiring profs not to take jobs at Carleton (in this job market) and not to go to conferences.  Seems like quickly pushing the "nuke all" button.

Not a great way to start the last week or two of the term as our focus should be elsewhere.

Could be worse, our universities could be under attack by the ill-informed.  Ooops.

Update:  I just got this email from Carleton.

Monday, Nov. 30, 2015

Carleton faculty and staff are advised that the Ottawa Citizen published an online article on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 and in their print edition on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015 that contained a number of inaccuracies about the Board of Governors.

At the request of the Citizen, the university provided a statement about their story. Only a portion of that statement was included in their story. Another communiqué was subsequently forwarded by the university to the paper outlining the errors contained in their story. The Citizen updated its story, but used only a portion of the second communiqué and failed to correct the errors. Contrary to what is stated in the article, the communiques did address the allegations made by the Carleton Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA).

It is important to keep the Carleton community informed about this issue and to share accurate information and context. For full transparency, a copy of the letter to the CAUT can be found here:

The Citizen article incorrectly states that the Board adopted a new policy about discussing Board business publicly. The Statement of General Duties, Fiduciary Responsibilities and Conflict of Interest (“the Statement”) is a code of conduct adopted by the Board of Governors that has been in place at Carleton since 2008. The Statement outlines not only the fiduciary duties of the Governors but their responsibilities as Governors and their obligation to avoid conflicts of interest. The Statement also includes the obligation of members to appropriately maintain confidentiality. As with all governance documents, the Statement is reviewed periodically. The Statement was amended and again approved by the Board in 2015. The obligation to maintain in confidence matters or documents discussed in closed session is neither new nor controversial. All universities and institutions require their Board members to comply with similar confidentiality obligations.

The Board has not banned faculty or student union representatives, although the matter of removing union and association executives from eligibility was considered in the past. There was never any discussion to change the composition of the Board, which consists of community members, alumni, faculty, staff and students.

The Statement has been signed by every Governor since 2008 including, for the two prior years, by the Board member referenced in the Citizen article. In fact, 32 out of the 33 current members, including the faculty, staff, alumni, students and community-at-large members have signed the Statement. The Statement does not interfere with any academic freedom issues or collegial governance, which are enshrined at Carleton through bicameral governance.

Every Board meeting consists of an open session accessible by the public and a closed session in which confidential matters are discussed. Every Board in the country handles sensitive matters dealing with issues such as personnel, legal and contracts through closed sessions. No Board of Governors allows members to speak publicly about in-camera closed sessions. This has been the university’s consistent policy and was recently reaffirmed by board members.

The open session of Board meetings are publicly streamed and accessible by all members of the public at a location on the campus. In addition, a limited number of individuals from the public who have sought permission are able to attend the open session of the meeting in person. For example, the November meeting was attended by journalists from the Charlatan. The September meeting was attended by journalists and student association and union representatives.

As for the issue of commentary, once the Board has made a decision, the minutes become the record of the meeting. Proper governance requires fulsome, candid discussion and debate by Board members at meetings, without fear of being misquoted or maligned following the meeting. Blog posts by the member referenced in the article making inaccurate statements about members, meetings, discussions and decisions of the Board are neither appropriate nor legal, according to advice obtained by the Board. Indeed, such posts stifle the freedom of speech of all other members of the Board. While faculty members are free to express themselves, once a faculty member becomes a governor, he or she is required to adhere to the same duties and responsibilities as all governors with respect to board business. Carleton regrets that this sole governor does not want to abide by the Statement that has been previously respected by all other faculty members.

Currently, all the bylaws in the university, including conflict-of-interest issues, are being studied by the Governance Committee of the Board to ensure their conformity with the Ontario Not for Profit legislation. The bylaws will be discussed by the full Board in the future.

Carleton addressed the issues raised by the CAUT by letter to Mr. Robinson on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. Carleton confirmed its commitment to transparency and that the confidentiality obligations were for closed sessions, which is the same as all universities.

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