Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Act as a Reasonable Person in the Best Interests of the University

The very first listed duty of a member of the UBC Board of Governors "act in the best interests of the University and with a view to advancing its welfare" (clause 3.1.1) and that furthermore each member shall "exercise the care, skill and diligence that would be exercised in the same circumstances by a reasonable person having both: the knowledge and experience that may reasonably be expected of a Governor; and  the knowledge and experience of the specific Governor" (clause 3.1.4). 

Each member is expected to sign an acknowledgement of these duties and to agree to be bound by the code of conduct.  My form is shared alongside this post.  You will note that I appended a note to the effective that in my viewpoint the reasonable person doctrine does not mean that I am compelled to agree with the recommendations or decisions of the majority

To me there are two very important underlying issues: (1) how does one decide what constitutes the "best interests of the university" and (2) in what manner might the the legal doctrine of acting as a "reasonable person" be a way of compelling consent against one's better judgement. These are interesting guiding principles that, while based in law, are also social constructions that can reasonably be interpreted and understood in a manner of differnt ways. 

It has been my observations of the past few years that the idea of what is in the best interests of the university has been collapsing into a fairly narrow band of economic terms tied to a very restricted idea of fiscal responsibility. As an outsider to the BoG (I don't take formal office until March 1, 2017, it has seemed that more general social values are being displaced by a limited idea of fiscal responsibility and revenue generation. Universities at their best are places in which ideas can forment. Such ideas are not necessarily directly translatable into income generating enterprises. I am very much concerned that the best interests of our public university is not being served by the language of profit, innovation, and spinoff. Universities have a place in generating pure knowledge untrammelled by industrial interests and ideas that can spur free thinking, critical insight, and civic mindedness. If innovative solutions to societal concerns is at the heart of our university then we need to through off the narrow blinders of cost/benefit ideas of what is in the university's best interest.

The idea of a reasonable person is a legal fiction, it is a kind of average person. The code of conduct modifies the notion by adding a reference to the specific knowledge that a governor may hold by virtue of being a governor and the specific and individual knowledge that a specific governor may hold due to their own personal history and experience.  This creates a threefold set of criteria for being 'reasonable:' (1) a normative criteria, (2) a secret knowledge criteria, and, (3) a personal life history criteria. Ultimately this creates code of behaviour in which there is really no clear single right response.  Ultimately, the expectation is that any decision I make needs to be clear, transparent, and that the basis for arriving at a decision be made available to those who ask.  It tells me that my decisions can not be made simply because someone tells me it's the right decision.  It tells me that my decisions on the board must be made by me acting free from the influence of other board members and that I should be able to explain how I arrived at my decision.

I am looking forward to having the opportunity to share my unique personal and professional experience as a UBC faculty member, a native British Columbian, an Indigenous scholar, a parent, a partner, a resident of  UBC's administrated residential neighbourhoods, and a person as I participate in shaping the policy and operational concerns that will ensure UBC's best interests as BC's flagship research university thrives and advances.  I shall do this by acting publicly, transparently (within the bounds of the code of conduct) and by continually advocating for greater democratic transparency in all board operations.

Update: for reference my COI form. Note that my only COI is the fact that I am a faculty member.  BoG procedure automatically excludes me from the standing committee that deals with employee bargaining.