Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Ubyssey election profile transcript.

Last Friday I was interviewed by The Ubyssey for a profile piece on faculty candidates for the current board of governors' election. This is a slightly cleaned up version of my answers. I have removed comments from the reporter and inserted simple questions in their place.


Q. Why are you running for the board?


[00:00:33.190] - Charles

I was on the board three years ago, I served one term. About six years ago I ran for the board because the University Board of Governors had taken to meeting behind closed doors, avoiding publicizing what they were talking about. And [they] were literally caught scampering around campus avoiding the press. And that point in time faculty voted a motion of non-confidence in the Board of Governors. And I thought at the time we needed people on the board who were willing to speak with a different voice, weren't afraid of speaking out publicly. And so I ran. And was elected that time. And at the end of that term things looked like they'd improved a bit. They had a board, a chair of the board, who was willing to push the administration to keep things in the open. It wasn't perfect, but it looked like things [had] been done and it would be nice to have some people in there who were kind of less publicly expressive. But it seems that the board has become more entrenched [in secrecy]. The Pandemic gave them the opportunity to retrench behind closed doors. They've been massively defensive. The meeting to come up on December 5, for example, has literally 90 minutes of public debate.


Everything else has gone to be either closed meeting or consent agenda where the full board won't talk about it. The board will probably say the material has been discussed in the committee meetings. The committees are now structured so they're [a] subset of the full board. And not all board members are either welcome to attend those meetings, nor are they encouraged to, given the fact [of] the way it's set up. So that means a small subset of the board is making decisions that have major importance and then it just gets tossed to the consent agenda and then they meet behind closed doors. That needs to be addressed. Mark Maclean who isn't running this time, has been very public towards the end of his term about this. And I think that it's unfortunate that a large public institution's board of governors would use such kind of managerial secrecy to govern itself


Q. What are your specific goals?


[00:03:05.880] - Charles

While the two basic principles that motivate me are what you might call ecologically grounded growth and paying attention to the primary mission of the university. This institution is currently in a visioning exercise. They're trying to scale up massively the campus facilities, the residential components, and it's all being framed as an ecologically growth based program. I'm not convinced, but I think when we look at this, we need to ask, do we have to be constantly growing? How do we maintain the core academic mission of the university? And to do so in a way that's ecologically grounded, that recognizes the climate emergency that we're in, that attends to the academic mission, not the corporate profits of the development sector that is very large, even under, a nominally centrist government (the provincial government). We actually have a board of governors that still favour a development orientation on campus, which isn't really in the best interest, I would argue, of students, staff or faculty or the people of the province British Columbia. I've lived on this campus for 26 years. I've worked on this campus for 26 years. My kids grew up here. They went to school in the nearby schools.


We first rented from UBC Housing, then we rented from Village Gate Homes, and then we were able to buy a condominium in a co-development for faculty and staff at university. … During this time I've sat on our Faculty Association executive a number of times. I've been an elected resident director on the University of Neighborhood Association. And of course, I’m currently sitting on the Senate in Vancouver as a joint faculty senator. And through living here, working here, playing here, raising a family here, being involved in these things, you meet a whole range of people from across campus. So I think I find myself with a kind of interesting point of view of seeing a wide perspective of people. I think had I just lived off campus, I would have a very different viewpoint of the situation. But by living here and working here and being so involved, we recognize the things that we really do. And I think that brings me right back to the idea about how we structure this question about growth.


I think as a society we really have to ask quite seriously about whether how we do [development]. I'm not opposed to, [not saying] do nothing. That's the wrong approach. But it has to be an informed model [or growth] that is actually consistent with asking with literally with each building we put up, each job we create, with each sort of program we structure: ‘What's the actual long term cumulative effects of doing this?’ So far, we [consider] every piece of [development] segment by segment, 


Q. What is the relevance of your past experience?

[00:06:27.060] - Charles

I think one of the things that tends to happen is the people who go to the board tend to be department heads, deans, associate dean, things like that. And they're really tied into the management track at university. For better, for worse, I have not been part of the management system on this campus. I've been involved in the front line of faculty teaching my four courses a year, like regular faculty in arts do, doing the different service activities, doing my research, doing publications, doing grants, training students, doing all that work. And when you do that, after a quarter century, you start to realize there's things that don't work. …  So you recognize these problems, and when you see it from the grassroots level, you see it differently than when you're sitting up in the management level of things.


That's a different vantage point. We need that viewpoint [management’s]. I don't disagree with that. Point is we need to make sure that the kind of grassroots, that actual faculty member who's been in the trenches all through the years doing the work, that's the voice we [also] need sitting on the board at the governors’ table. Because otherwise people are kind of too isolated from what's actually been happening. And there's a kind of bubble built around the dean's office, the president's office, the senior management offices, where they kind of inform each other of what they're doing, and that closes in [on them]. And when you're down here, and like I am living here talking to people, I meet a lot of different people from different things, different walks of life, literally as I'm walking and running across campus. And we need that voice because the board of governors doesn’t really know anything [about UBC]. The people who are appointed, they don't know anything really about UBC, they don't live here, they don't work here. They maybe went to school here years ago, or they have a child that might be going to school here, or a husband or relative or something like that.


Someone's [on the board needs] to have an actual connection. [From the grassroots we] see a different level. They [appointed governors] actually need to hear that voice. And that's where the faculty, the staff and the student representatives really come in and play a major role, because we are so closely tied to [the on the ground experience], that our voices need to be heard and we need to be confident and willing to articulate a clear, independent voice as faculty, students, or staff represent on the board. I think that's more important than anything.


Q. What would you like to accomplish?

[00:09:45.870] - Charles

I think it's really quite simple. More meetings in public. Open meetings. I find it hard to actually believe there's so much business going on that somehow needs to be kept closed. I think that something else is happening. That there's just a reluctance to be viewed and people feel uncomfortable [being seen]. And I get it. When I make decisions about teaching my classes and a student comes and asks me a question, a query something, Yeah, I don't necessarily want them to see all my back ruminations on how to do that, but I actually think [sharing that helps] explains to the student. [If I share] all the process I've gone through, [how I] establish this particular type of assignment or this decision on how to do things? It helps them understand, and they can, like, say, oh, I agree with you. You're right. [Or], actually, professor, did you notice when you said that you actually avoided, miss a whole category of things that you should have thought about? If I don't share that information with the student, I have no way to learn from that experience. If the board doesn't share what they're talking about behind closed doors, if there's no way of releasing it, we have no basis to evaluate or understand what they're doing.


So the solution is simple more meetings in public. I actually think that more people who appointed the board have a public duty to be public and expressive of the decision-making process in what they're thinking of. They shouldn't be allowed to sit in quiet in the background not being observed by the general public. Under the Liberals. I will say this lately, as I said at the time, a lot of the Liberal appointees, they thought it's a plum to get a UBC appointment. And it was more prestige than. Of course, in their version, they tell you it was public service. There was a kind of prestige mark. I had an associate of an in law of mine who was a hardcore Liberal who really said that there was a kind of ranking of who you got [what appointment]. I don't think the NDP is approaching that yet. You have to be in power a little bit longer before that starts to kick into play. It's generally happened the last time they were in power. By the time the end of the 90s came around, the people they were pointing to boards, it was patronage appointments type stuff, but they're appointed they have a public duty.


So we need to know where they stand on the issues that they're voting on, because they're making, they decide about tuition, how many people I'm almost willing to bet on this, how many of the board members are going to necessarily say anything very much about tuition? Probably the students, a number of the faculty and the staff reps are probably the ones who say the most about it. And you'll get the people who say why we do need to have tuition fee increases from that core? And then there'll probably be a good chunk. Hopefully I'll be wrong if they read this before the meeting, but there'll be a good chunk that will just say nothing and it will go through. But I think people should have an obligation if they have given such an important thing. This is a multi billion dollar enterprise. We need to know where they stand and all these issues. We need to know what they think about development. We need to know what they think and not just a vote. That's not actually how they think. Get to the positions that they've arrived at that should be public. That's a kind of radical perspective.


A lot of people don't think that's appropriate and they especially don't think it's appropriate in the corporate board. But this isn't a corporate board. This is a public university board. And so it makes it all totally different.


Q. Anything else to say?


[00:13:25.620] - Charles

I'd say that any two out of the five people whose names have been put would make amazing and excellent Board of Governors members, and I think that we're blessed to have so many people. The last election we had didn't have an election. When you look at the people I see, there are four colleagues who have all put their names forward,  all of them I know. I admire, respect and value each of them and would be pleased to see any of them be a member of the Board of Governors.


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