Sunday, June 25, 2017

Time to Change up University Boards of Governors' Membership

Almost two years ago I penned a blog post calling for the democratic reform of UBC's Board of Governors.  The context that propelled that post was the hamfisted way in which a off-book clique of the Board of Governors forced the resignation of the then university president. Months have passed, governance promises have been made, new faces have turned up at the board table, but much of what I commented upon still applies today.  Here's the core comment from two years ago:

UBC's vision statement opens with the following: "The University is independent and cherishes and defends free inquiry and scholarly responsibility." It's a laudable statement.   
The UBC Board of Governors is comprised, for the most part, of government appointees.  Unlike under previous provincial governments, all of the current government appointees come from a particular segment of the business world.  They are, I am sure, fine family people, strong advocates of community engagement, and very likely quite personable folk if one were to know them personally.  However, they are all cut from the same cloth.  It is reasonable that the government who pays the bulk of the bill set the policy direction of public institutions.  It is patently unreasonable for a government to so game the system that there is no significant diversity of opinion represented on the Board outside of elected faculty, staff, or student governors.   
We need a rethink on how governors to BC's public post-secondary institutions are appointed.  The governors are to act in the best interests of the university.  However, when the majority of governors come from a narrow band of society their idea of what may constitute the best interests of the university will very likely not be in accord with the actual interests of the university nor with the wider public of the province.  Governors should come from a wide sector of BC society.  They should include regular working people, community activists, union members, doctors, lawyers, and, yes, some business people.  They should not be restricted to major contributors of only one political party, nor should they represent only one small minority segment of society.  Unfortunately, that is the the way our provincial government has structured our university board.
We  have a chance to make an important change to the structure of university boards of governors. The potential change in political governance opens the doors to rethinking how boards are appointed and who should be appointed to them. Even if the same party holds onto government their recent policy flips, if authentic and sincere, should lead them to make changes now as though they were a new government.

A proposal for moving forward:

  1. Immediately replace at least 50% of all appointed post-secondary governors with non-business community minded folks.  People with backgrounds in public education, trade unions, community action groups, and municipal/community representatives.
  2. Introduce legislation to create an arms length 3rd party agency to select and appoint future governors on post secondly boards of governors. This legislation would set criteria for selecting from a broad spectrum of society. 
The structure of university boards have deep structural implications for many facets of university life. Most importantly they shape the hiring processes of senior administrators who subsequently shape the hiring of mid level administration which in turn has implications for academic leadership at the faculty level. A narrowly focused board with it's roots in business and interested primarily in research that can be commercialized tends to foster a leadership culture that focusses on science, technology, and commercialization (falsely referred to as innovation). This kind of leadership may be in the best interest of a small sector of business leaders. It is not the best kind of leadership for a public university.

We have an opportunity to build on the strength of our public institutions by drawing upon the wealth of diverse experience in our province. Let's open the door to real community-based diversity of voice and perspective on our post secondary boards of governors.  Lets draw on the broad wealth of experience of all our citizens!

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