Print Edition: July 1, 2015
What was it about the Writing Centre that made students care? Well, for a few dozen students to care enough to stand on the Green for a few hours with a megaphone. On one hand, this was, relatively for UFV, a big deal — students don’t self-organize beyond the occasional group event, and this was a direct response to the people who run UFV. On the other, if you look for the petition that started the short-lived protest, you’ll find that the page is now a 404 error. On Facebook, no updates since February. How many signatures were there? Weren’t there a lot of heart-felt comments? It’s gone.
Also ending (for now) is the slow, but steady progress of the matter through UFV governance — yet here, at the end, in a conference room in June miles from campus, is another barely detectable blip that raises a few questions.
The Board of Governors has final approval on most major decisions made at UFV, and decided to make all discussion of the Writing Centre and Academic Success Centre private (in camera). When two writers from The Cascade showed up for the public session of the board’s meeting (a series of reports, an activity update, a good smile at the UFV convocation proposal video that made it on the local news), they were told any audio recording of the meeting, which is used as a back-up and source for any reporting, was not allowed. This too was decided in camera. (So far, our notebooks are safe.) The board’s reasons for both are unconvincing, and similar in the way they try to insulate their words and decisions from the people who are most affected by these meetings.
When it comes to recording, The Cascade’s writers were told there are concerns about what would be done with the recordings, and how they would be used. The biggest problem, board chair Barry Delaney said, was the idea that these recordings could be archived or uploaded online.
The Cascade has no interest in putting 150-minute board meetings on Soundcloud — recordings, as any student that records lectures knows, are simply there as a more accurate document than subjective, incomplete notes ever are — but even if we did, all this would be doing is making a public meeting more readily accessible by the public. Is the board worried other universities (ie, the competition) will start listening in? That outsiders will get caught up on meeting jokes? That students will use them as sleep aids and absorb subliminal messages of international student recruitment and community partnerships?
To go from this uncertainty to a direct ban goes against the basic standards of journalism in Canada — but also parts of the province’s mandate to boards. In “Governance and Disclosure Guidelines for Governing Boards of British Columbia Public Sector Organizations,” which foregrounds the role of “corporate governance,” board members are told to be prepared for the added visibility that role brings. “The scrutiny of public sector organizations may also extend to board members,” it says. “Therefore, individuals joining public sector organization boards should be aware that their actions are potentially subject to the same level of interest and inquiry as other members of the public sector, such as public servants and politicians.”
This move, even if it may be temporary (policy creation is scheduled to begin in August), suggests a discomfort with speaking on the record. One is always less self-conscious and more comfortable speaking in a small group of people one knows, but this is not the way a Board of Governors for a sprawling, public university is intended to be run, even if policies allow the board to create rules as it wishes.
“The board should speak with one voice,” the same document says. “Once debate in the boardroom is over and a decision is made, that decision stands as a united position of the board.” The board no doubt agrees wholeheartedly with this statement. This statement also, critically, says this happens only after debate, a step that is not to be repressed unless it falls under the particular definition of an in camera meeting.
Generally, in camera, as defined by academic institutions, is to be used in sensitive situations: a budget yet to be finalized, a hiring or firing decision, plans involving the university and a third party, or security or public safety matters. The UFV Board of Governors applies this a little more broadly: the controversy of the Writing Centre did not stop Senate from discussing it multiple times, yet here we are.
The board has an additional obligation in its connection to the Ministry of Advanced Education, and so there is perhaps the sense of a greater need for maintaining an efficient, wrinkle-free exterior. Still, the use of in camera, even if called necessary when raising tuition or deciding the future of student services, rather than defusing a contentious situation, has the effect of sweeping it under the rug — at UFV, in the summer, and even in full semester swing, most people, especially students, do not have time to give to pay close attention to yet another level of government, and it is this, rather than the given acceptance of the university community, that allows this to pass.
The Cascade, of course, can contact board members for comment after the fact. We can and will do more to improve how we reach students in the next year. But the board also guides its own operations — the presence of student media is not forcing it to make the choices it is making.
Here’s a quote from Chair Delaney. And here’s the context: he was speaking about meeting people in the community, the questions they ask when they find out the person they’re speaking to is on a board. Do they get paid? No, it’s a volunteer position (and looks good on LinkedIn).
“We do it because we have a real passion and love for higher education,” he said.
Higher education as a privilege? An idea to strive towards? Or a standard of academic inquiry that says, show the work, and be open to criticism.
—The Cascade Editorial Board