Barbs at the Board
Student Reps “Ticking People Off” at BoG Meeting
Two motions introduced by a student representative at the Concordia Board of Governors meeting on Nov. 17 were tabled and another was defeated, in a session that culminated with another Governor forcefully telling students they are “ticking people off.”
“I’d like to send a message,” said Robert Barnes, who represents the Sir George Williams Alumni Association on Concordia’s highest governing body.
“Many of the items you bring forward have some merit for discussion, but you do not let it go,” he said. Referencing a call for increased transparency and reopening discussion of an upcoming cut in proportional representation for undergraduate students at the BoG.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over […]. If you come on an attack mode, you’re going to continually see every one of your motions shot down in flames, and that’s what’s been happening over the last few meetings.”
Barnes’ comments came while debating motions introduced by graduate student Erik Chevrier, which included allowing BoG meetings to be taped and broadcasted, expanding the gallery to accomodate more spectators, and introducing a 20 minute general public question period to the end of meetings.
Chevrier introduced the motions with a plea to have them heard fairly by the assembled governors, saying, “If there’s any questions or if there’s any issues people have, please address them and don’t just vote these down.”
Barnes’ outburst was not received warmly by the other student reps.
Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill, who also sits on the BoG, said, “I felt like he was belittling and rude, and frankly speaking to us like we were children. It’s worth pointing out that the student representatives are the only people in that room referred to by their first names.”
She added that other members of the administration had come to her after the meeting, apologizing for remarks that were “inappropriate.”
Chevrier’s first motion was for BoG meetings to be recorded and made available to the general public, and also be open to broadcast by the Concordia University Broadcasting Corporation, the governing body of CUTV and CJLO.
CUTV is currently reviving efforts begun last year to record and broadcast all meetings of the CSU Council.
Some of the assembled disagreed with the idea, citing both legal concerns and an opinion that such a move would force more issues into closed session meetings. Concordia Interim President Frederick Lowy said he had consulted fellow university heads at a recent meeting, and had not heard of any precedent.
“I’m not aware of a single Canadian university where there is this broadcast,” he said. “That’s not to say we shouldn’t necessarily do it here, that’s another issue.”
Governor Jonathan Wener objected on the grounds that the Board is not meant to be “an open forum.”
“I think one of the issues [is that the] Board is a forum where we can discuss, with a reasonable degree of confidentiality, issues which relate to the university,” he said.
“I think if we get to the point of having everything broadcast, that we get to the point of moving all the issues to closed agenda […] which I think defeats the purpose. I think that the concept of a board of governors is not a senate or open forum.”
“I felt like he was belittling and rude, and frankly speaking to us like we were children. Student representatives are the only people in that room referred to by their first names.”
— CSU President Lex Gill
While other Governors worried about the legal feasibility of the idea, suggesting that each Board member would have to give permission for it to be possible, Chevrier said that as far as he knew, this was not the case.
“From my understanding, they’re already broadcasting to the overflow room, and nobody sought any documents giving permission for this to be broadcast,” he told The Link. “I would say a web broadcast falls under the same category.
“It’s our duty to actually represent what we’re saying and what we’re doing in the most transparent way possible,” he added.
When discussing the second motion, which proposed expanding the gallery at BoG meetings to up to 50 seats for interested individuals, Wener pointed out there is a new boardroom being built, and the seating will have to be limited to what this room can accommodate.
Concordia VP Services Roger Côté said that the room would not be able to handle 50 spectators.
When Chevrier asked if there would be seating for any non-Governors in the room, Chair Peter Kruyt replied, “Not very much.”
The current room seats roughly 20 non-BoG spectators. The Board will also be shrinking next year from 42 members to 25.
The second part of that motion, which would require BoG to take 20 minutes of questions from the general public after their meetings, met with heavy resistance. Lowy conceded that while transparency is a lofty goal, it must not interfere with the Board’s raison d’être.
“There’s no doubt that openness and the capacity for participation are important things […] At the same time, the Board has to operate efficiently. We have to do this consistently with what we’re here for, which is to govern the university.”
The motions regarding broadcasting the meeting and the question period eventually tabled, and will be sent for more study to the BoG’s executive committee, while the motion for a larger gallery was defeated. Chevrier said after the meeting that he was not optimistic about the motions getting further than that.
“The executive committee already ruled before the September meeting [that these issues] not be included on the agenda. I think that’s a bit of a problem on its own. The second thing is that they’re not allowing me to attend this meeting because I’m not on the committee.”
While Chevrier won’t be in attendance, Gill is a member of the committee. However, she declined to comment on what happens in the committee, due to concerns about confidentiality.
“Most of the members of the executive committee didn’t speak on these issues at the board meeting, but I think we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks up to the executive committee meeting,” she said.
Barnes’ outburst was not the only time things grew heated during the meeting. After Chevrier referenced the infamous “culture of contempt” line, written by former McGill principal Bernard Shapiro in a report last summer on the state of Concordia’s governance, Kruyt asked him, “Do you feel there has been any contempt shown at the Board in the deliberations?”
This set off a back-and-forth between the two, with Kruyt asking for a yes-or-no answer, and Chevrier replying that Kruyt was “basically speaking over me and putting words in my mouth.
“Please don’t pin statements on me where you’re not actually getting my opinion in its full validity,” he asked of Kruyt.