Lack of Transparency At the Board of Governors

Graphic Nico Holzmann

On Wednesday, Dec. 14, the Concordia Board of Governors failed to pass and implement a new pay system for future international students in deregulated programs, which would have seen tuition increases upwards of nine per cent.

The vote count was 12 in favour, six against and three abstentions, said Norman Hébert Jr., the chair of the Board, in an interview following the meeting.

I had to ask this question because I had not seen the meeting myself. After a disruption by student-protesters that blockaded the usual room, the IT department scrapped the scheduled live-stream.

And since non-Board members—including students and press—have been barred from sitting inside the meetings for the past few years, I could not attend the meeting firsthand.

This lack of transparency is concerning and problematic. The chair should have made special circumstance to allow for student reporters to attend the meeting, or have postponed it altogether.

First off, credit is due for university spokesperson Chris Mota, who arranged a short interview between student media and President Alan Shepard and Hébert Jr. after the Board met. Being able to have some reaction to what happened was vital to the story.

But coming into an interview with little context is bad journalism. My goal is always to get specifics to what I already know and saw—if I know and saw little, I am playing catch up with whomever I talk to.

The Board of Governors is not mandated to ensure non-members can watch their deliberations over their very important decisions. No rule or bylaw was broken that evening in December.

Regardless—that they chose to proceed knowing no one could see was the wrong choice. Because the motion to implement the new pay system failed, little has been said about the inaccessible meeting.

Had it passed in secrecy, it’s likely that student politicians would have mobilized around the lack of transparency.

“It’s a shame that there could be no live stream,” said Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis, the Concordia Student Union General Coordinator who sits on the Board. “I think this was an issue that a lot of students wanted to see.”

To get a sense of what happened, I also interviewed Marshall-Kiparissis post-meeting. Because of the disruptions, she explained that most of the Board members sat in one room, but others, including Shepard, were conferenced in.

She also said that after the first count, one external-community governor, who abstained, suggested that they might switch to “yes” on a revote. All of this is an interesting yet unverifiable narrative because—again—I did not see what happened myself.

Shepard addressed the concerns around transparency in the post-meeting interview, explaining that many boardrooms in other Quebec universities are completely closed to non-members.

At McGill, the university to which we often compare Concordia, the Board has a rule welcoming community members and visitors to observe meetings, space permitting. Like at Concordia, it’s prohibited to record meetings, but at least journalists can take detailed notes.

As it stands now, the Board of Governors appears off-limits to the Concordia community, including the press. Live-stream or not, getting access to the individuals responsible for the making the big decisions at this school isn’t always easy.

I recommend that the Board of Governors reevaluate its policies and adopt one similar to the one McGill employs. We need to have a system that encourages any student who wants to be more involved in the community, to be able to inform themselves from the very top.