Friday, April 16, 2021

Roll Call Votes on the UBC Senate

A motion came to UBC-V’s senate Wednesday, April 14th that would have made recording the vote of each senator for each motion a rule of senate. The advocates explained this as a response to concerns with the use of roll call votes this past year. They said that mandating roll calls will make senate more transparent and senators more responsive to their ‘constituencies.’  After a lengthy debate in which mainly student senators said making all votes roll call builds a better senate, and mostly faculty senators saying the status quo was fine, the motion was referred back to the agenda committee for further consideration and consultation.

[One note on senate's organizational structure. I note that many of the student senators discussed senate as though it were a representative government body in which each senator had a duty to a particular constituency.  My understanding of senate, as per the BC University's Act, is that senate is an academic governance body - not a legislative assembly. Perhaps this is hair splitting, but with the mix of appointed and elected senators, the division of categories of senators, it raises a question as to whether or not the notion of a representiare assembly is the correct way to regard senate.  But this is a minor aside to the core issue.]

With regard to the rule change I find it a bit perplexing as to what problem it is trying to fix. From what I have seen this past year roll call voting has been used as a particular tactic when there are motions that elicit strong emotions and arise out strong moral convictions and that a coordinated group of Senators want passed. In these cases, those arguing for the motion expected all of senate to agree with them. When dissent appears, a senator advocating the motion would then called for a roll call vote under the frame of ‘transparency,’ yet it appeared more like a tactic of enforced compliance in which they hoped it would ensure support would go their way; trusting that with the implied threat of having each vote recorded those thinking about voting against the motion would change their mind and vote for it it or be silent. The complaints against roll call being used as a policing tactic won't end when roll call is normalized, their inherent problems simply become engrained in the process.


The rule change appears to deal with concerns over the tactical use of roll cal voting by making all votes roll call, using the technical argument of ‘transparency’ as the rationale and ignoring the tactical deployment of the roll call vote that I have witnessed this past year several times.  This is a neutral change (in terms of ‘democratic’ process), except in so far as it might add time to meetings for counting and recording (though there are very likely technical fixes to bring to bear). What intrigues me about it is how it is a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist – at least one that this kind of rule change won’t fix - the use of social media shaming and attempting to imply disagreement is a kind of moral failure.


If there is a concern over transparency of decision making processes then I would think all meetings of senate (except those with reasonable grounds) would be open to the public, that agendas of committees would be publicly available in advance of committee meetings, that minutes would be available, and that we would get meeting materials with enough time to actually read them. But none of that currently happens. Try finding meeting minutes to committees and you will find a patchwork quilt of materials with gaps. You will spend a lot of time looking. Some committees don’t even have publicly discernible schedules. Try, as a member of the university public to attend a committee meeting and you will find yourself rebuffed on several fronts. 

Roll call votes have an interesting history in governance models. An important use of roll call vote would be  when the decision is split and it is hard to ascertain the vote outcome. While nothing in typical rules of order prohibit it from being used in a ‘policing’ manner, each time it has been used this past year has been in the context of emotionally charged debates where the advocates feel they hold the moral authority. The implications is one is racist if one challenges the particulars of an EDI motion or anti-student if the use of proctoring software is defended or extended withdrawal dates questioned. What this has led to, as we can see from some of the discussion Wednesday evening, is silencing of senators who would just rather not get mobbed online.

The current rule allows the assembly itself to decide when to do a roll call (or a secret ballot). The idea behind allowing the assembly to decide when to do a roll call or secret ballot is based on the premise that it is the assembly’s will, not a prearranged procedure, that should decide when to roll call or secret ballot.  There is no easy way to prevent the deployment of political shaming to enforce compliance to popular cultural values. The very idea of a roll call is to force individuals to put their name behind their actions. In contexts of heated debate and high emotions this can contribute to some to either abstain or vote with the outspoken advocates simply to avoid problems. If we wanted our academic governance body to act more representatively then we really should be enable secret balloting as the norm so that individuals can vote their conscience, not be cowed into going with an outspoken cohort that feels it has the moral upper hand. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

President's Advisory Committee for hiring a new Dean of Arts, UBC-V: election.

Update, April 20, 2021. The election is over and I was not among the four elected. Thank you to those who did vote me for, I appreciate your trust!


Seventeen faculty members have put their names forward to be elected to one of four spots on the hiring advisory committee.  I am one of those seventeen.

This is my official statement as submitted to the UBC elections folk:

Charles Menzies (hagwil hayetsk) is a professor in the department of Anthropology. As a researcher his work focusses upon Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in laxyuup Gitxaała (north coast British Columbia) and North America ( ). Charles has also served as a member of the UBC Faculty Association Executive, the UBC Board of Governors, and is currently an elected member of the UBC-V Senate (

Short and to the point.

I thought about what one might say in such a statement. There are many possibilities. 

One could focus on all of the administrative positions one has held (or currently holds). I am not an administrator.

One could focus on all the academic accomplishments in one's career. That doesn't strike me as relevant to representing colleagues in the selection of a new Dean.

One could highlight the values that I hold and would apply to the selection of a new Dean. That seems more apt, but not what I did.

Instead I presented three things. My name and role at UBC. A summary statement of my research. A listing of my public, elected service roles at UBC.

I stand on a record of community-based service. I might also have mentioned my role as an elected resident director of the UNA for four years.  From my time as a member of the UBC faculty association executive to being an elected governor on UBC's board my pressing interest has been in transparency and open democratic processes.  On the faculty association I was part of the change that resulted in all committee chairs being elected, not appointed. At the UNA I pushed for the end of appointed voting directors. I ended up on board of governors after having been part of the UBC Clean movement that called for open meetings and democratic procedures. Grassroots, democratic, and participatory are values I am proud to uphold.

While I was an elected member of the board of governors I was involved in hiring processes for several senior administrators now working for UBC. It was an illuminating experience to observe the ways in which corporate head hunting firms structure the fields of choice.  In those discussions it was important to have the diverse student and faculty voices that often stood apart from the more corporate directions of administrators. Selecting a Dean will require a diversity of people at the table. As an Indigenous British Columbia (Gitxaała Nation) and a social justice activist I bring a particular perspective that is unique among my fellow candidates. 

Right now the University Administration is trying to get approval through Senate and the Board of a revised hiring process for Deans that would encode a process that is more focused on obscuring, than it is on opening. There is an important place for confidentiality in hiring processes. Deans, though, are public academic leaders who will serve a large constituency. It is more important that the process of hiring them is open, transparent, and democratic then it is secretive and out of sight.

As a member of the hiring committee I would be a voice for all of us who desire more openness in UBC policies and practices, a person who will place social justice at the center of the process, a colleague who understands that those of us from the grassroots have an important voice that needs to be heard among the administrators who inevitably will populate this committee.

I trust that you can count me as one among your four choices.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Making the cut - who gets to be an appointed governor at UBC?

In December of 2020 I was interviewed by a Ubyssey reporter about UBC's Board of governors and who appointed governors were selected.  In March of 2021 the article was published with several sentences from the interview cited. Here is the full text of the interview for the record.

[00:00:09.210] - N.B.

Could I have permission to record?

[00:00:11.280] - Charles

Yeah, no problem. Is it working for you?

[00:00:32.870] - N.B.

Not yet.

[00:00:36.930] - Charles

I see. I have to give you permission on Zoom to do it. You mean?

[00:00:40.080] - N.B.


[00:00:41.970] - Charles

Okay. Let's see. Where do I need to go? I haven't actually done this mid stream before under community. I'm actually not sure where the requirement in this. I think I have to go, because the way UBC has got this set up, I can send you the audio file right after that. Okay. That should work to work with that. Okay, because sorry about that.

[00:01:22.220] - N.B.

It's okay.

[00:01:23.190] - Charles

Unless I just click up here, just looking ....

[00:01:46.470] - N.B.

You can just email me the recording.

[00:01:48.940] - Charles

It takes too long to try to figure out, but I do think I have to set it up on the way this set up. I think I have to set it up on my settings on the web page, I suppose. Here.

[00:02:00.940] - N.B.


[00:02:01.450] - Charles

Okay. So I've got a recording and I'll send you the audio file as soon as we're done. It takes a little bit of time, so it won't be immediate, but.

[00:02:12.990] - N.B.

Yeah, of course.

[00:02:14.320] - Charles


[00:02:14.700] - N.B.

Thank you for recording. And thank you for agreeing to sit down with me today on Zoom. So I just want to ask you a quick few questions about your thoughts on how representative the Board of Governors is and how it can maybe be made more representative. So I guess first question is, when you were on the Board of governors, how did you work to represent the interests of student and staff?

[00:02:43.410] - Charles

Well, because I was a faculty member, I first predominantly saw my role as representing faculty, though the legislation is very clear that all governors are supposed to represent the best interest of the University. So our particular experience comes from our  location, so technically speaking, a governor is not representing a constituency, but rather acting the best interests of the University. And we do that from a particular vantage point, a particular situated location. And for me, that would be as a faculty member.

[00:03:19.390] - N.B.


[00:03:21.250] - Charles

I would say students do an admirable job representing themselves, and have been quite effective at it for a good number of years.

[00:03:29.410] - N.B.

Okay. Awesome. So I guess my next question is in your last interview with us, you said that you thought there should be a fewer governors that are appointed that have business related backgrounds. Since UBC doesn't seem to have direct power over appointments, how can the school address that?

[00:03:52.570] - Charles

Well, one of the things I can say is that first off, even during the period of time I was on the Board of Governors, the actual how people got appointed struck me as really opaque and hard to figure out. Every governor was asked to fill out this really interesting matrix, which looked like something that came out of an HR Department at a major Corporation, and then they kind of added in the little categories. The first version I saw had a kind of category called ethnicity at the bottom.

[00:04:24.740] - Charles

That was their one sort of play, I haven't seen, because subsequently, what changes have been made? I trust that matrix has been more appropriately modified, but all the matrix of skills they're looking for, things like, Have you run a real estate company? Have you run an accounting firm? Have you run a corporate law firm? Do you have experience chairing large corporations? Do you have experience managing large corporations? So they are all in that kind of category. It's not clear to me that under the guidance of the NDP provincial government that they would really have changed that matrix very much, I suspect,

[00:05:06.810] - Charles

but again, I'm not speaking with direct firsthand knowledge that they might have included some value, tweaked the kind of subcategories within the larger matrix categories to include,  so somebody who might be run a private strategic consulting firm in the nonprofit sector, or to perhaps somebody who has social justice legal practices. So tweaking things. So while UBC doesn't have something, there has been a process whereby the University, from its secretarial offices present to the people who are the government agency that's sort of filling the spots, an idea of here's our gaps.

[00:05:56.790] - Charles

But it was my impression, both serving one of the conservative government that led this province previously and this kind of middle of the road government currently leading. There's been very little shift in the notion of what constitutes appropriate competencies at the governor level. And it's really influenced by a kind of corporate board structure, though it's slightly modified. And one consistency and approach between the NDP and the provincial Liberals has been that you see a high number of partisan, what's the right word for this, they're like reward appointments.

[00:06:38.430] - Charles

So you have in the past you had Alan Schuster and David Sido, for example, and Stuart Belkin, who were very closely aligned with Christie Clark's component of the Liberal Party. I think Schuster was actually her campaign manager for her losing campaign against David Eby, for example. And so these are kind of like the reward appointments in the NDP. You've got Andrea Reimer, Joel Solomon, Allison Brewin, who are very strongly involved, the first two with the vision Vancouver kind of middle of the road NDP regime that ran the city for a number of years.

[00:07:15.850] - Charles

And Brwin, who has a long history in the back rooms of sort of strategizing work and support of the NDP Bill Sandu, who I very much enjoyed working with him, but also a long serving NDP candidate and party supporter for many years. So governments ,it's in their prerogative to do this, but I think they've miss applied the opportunity, and one would hope where you actually say, how do you govern a large institution that has a major economic and social and cultural impact in the city? What voices aren't heard at this level.

[00:07:54.890] - Charles

And what we've done is we've kind of removed some of the more corporate voices with the kind of NGO corporate voice. So you kind of have a slight shifting there, but where's the actual people who've worked on the ground, say, with homeless organizations and campaign of that, how about people who've involved in the trade Union organization, not from the upper echelons, people who may never have worked in the shops that they're representing, but actually have come up through the ranks and working hard who have experienced an understanding.

[00:08:29.850] - Charles

Yes. I've never said remove all business people from the board or get rid of all the lawyers, because I think if you really use the idea of diversity of perspective, you need to very seriously think about how that works out. The university,  through the board Secretary and the president's office, can actually have a major role in directing, suggesting to the Minister of Education and the government officials about who should come on the board and different provincial governments have played closer. I think it seemed that under Christie Clarke, she had a big role in putting people onto the UBC Board of Governors.

[00:09:16.290] - Charles

Horgan (current NDP Premier) doesn't appear to have had the same amount of interest in shaping the board governor's, leaving it to the ministers to decide. But that in itself leads to some interesting stories, how some people get discovered to be appointed to the board. And sometimes it's almost a coincidence. So they meet the skills that are required and they do a good job. But it's almost a kind of funny accident ministers and going to a particular meeting, meet somebody, find them interesting and notice they have a set of expertise and say, "hey, you'd be perfect."

[00:09:52.630] - Charles

That's like a Sauder School of Business narrative of how to network. But it's not. While I won't name names or anything like that, that does cover some past appointments.

[00:10:07.430] - N.B.

Okay. So it sounds like the provincial government:  one, seemed to look mostly for corporate, higher up people and making appointments. And two, they can sometimes be partisan in making appointments.

[00:10:22.650] - Charles

Yeah, I would frame it this way. I think both the NDP and the Liberals would think that they're doing it differently, and they probably work on it by saying, we're choosing the people who have the most experience with leadership, with complexity and how to do. So, what that means is that when you're a Liberal Party person in BC who believes in free enterprise model of the economy, the only people who can adequately and properly lead a large institution come out of business or law or real estate.

[00:10:56.090] - Charles

The NDP has a slightly more encompassing view where they would include non governmental organization type consultants, and both groups think lawyers are a good fit for the board. When you actually look at what's happening is that we tend to reproduce an ideological image of what constitutes expertise and whether from the center left, right or whatever it's strikingly and disturbingly similar to how they (Liberals and NDP) choose the people to go forward. And it really fits the kind of command structure of a capitalist economy, it's what they're looking for.

[00:11:44.560] - Charles

Whereas I think public education is quite a different enterprise. In fact, let's use a different word. It's a different endeavor because on one level, the real nuts and bolts of how the universities run happens from right down at the kind of middle, lower level management. That's where all the actual decisions are being made. Policy is set up here [raises hand to indicate height above ground]. It gives a general direction. The people who are really doing the work down there [points hand to the ground]. So the board provides a kind of unique space where it's like a sense of oversight and a kind of high level engagement.

[00:12:25.790] - Charles

So you really don't need that high degree of technical expertise, of running a big Fortune 500 company, for example, to understand how the books operate, you need to have a kind of general engagement. You need the time in your life to do it properly and you need I think, what was interesting for help in the best interest of the University, is having people who come across a whole spectrum of societies. I've blogged about this a number of times. In fact, when I first got on the board and the NDP were just coming to power, I had a piece published in the Georgia Strait, basically saying that the NDP should fire everybody and replace them with a whole range of people.

[00:13:09.110] - Charles

They didn't fire everyone. They got rid of a few people. David  Sido was booted off the board. Alan Schuster got booted off the board by the NDP. I think those are the first two kind of that they actually removed. Okay, but they kind of did an incremental approach and didn't really change. And when they started filling in the spots, we see an HR manager who's now the chair of the board of governors. We see a couple of corporate lawyers, decent people.  Then we see an accountant, a community strategist/communications type/NGO person, a couple of politicians, a green fund entrepreneur.

[00:13:58.770] - Charles

We've kind of shifted the picture a bit, but we haven't fundamentally changed the actual definition of what constitutes expertise. And because I think how far removed the board actually is from daily decisions (there are certain things from the actual on the ground working of things), but  there's not a lot of danger of experiencing some different perspectives in space. And I would argue even many of the staff reps and the student reps tend to emulate, perhaps as a loyal opposition, they tend to emulate the definition of expertise, the criteria when you run to read the campaigns, what they advertise as being the qualities that make them suitable to be elected to be a board of governor from the staff person rep.

[00:14:47.480] - Charles

And for many years there was for a while people who came from the trade Union side of campus. But most of the staff reps actually come out of management. I suspect it probably says something about the structure of the job, that it's easier for somebody who has a mid to upper level management position at UBC to run from the board, then someone from the CUPE 116 who works as a custodian. And this is the possibilities and opportunities of doing that or from the CUPE 2278, the clerical administrative trade Union on campus.

[00:15:30.190] - Charles

I actually think that we're kind of deprived of points of view and perspectives as a large swath of who constitutes the community.

[00:15:38.890] - N.B.

Okay. So speaking on sort of the makeup of the board, I know that's outlined by a provincial act, so it would require, like, provincial action. But do you think it would be helpful to maybe reduce some of the appointed members and fill them with trade Union specific members? Sort of like how faculty are elected and that sort of thing.

[00:16:01.860] - Charles

It's really hard to say, because for one thing, the University is a public entity. It's run by the provincial government. Even though we use a lot of revenue that's generated through donors and money making for profit enterprises like the student housing, for example, the University has and things like this. There's a lot of revenue outside of government coming through. It's still, however, a  public entity. So the provincial  government, in a sense, I think, has the right in the crown to decide the general direction. I'm not sort of concerned that there's the balance of elected and appointed reps in that sense because it represents the will of the public.

[00:16:47.180] - Charles

But I do think they should do a better job not appointing partisan people as reward things. And I think the NDP have been better at this because under the Liberals, a relative of a relative of a relative kind of thing I had heard was on a community College board somewhere directly explicitly from their own way of thinking, anyway, as a reward for having been a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party. And, of course, they had a decade in power. And when you get about a decade in power, you start being a little more lax and doing things like that.

[00:17:27.690] - Charles

But I've seen enough of that. And I think that they need to have some voices that figure out ways, and in theory, they have a kind of arm strength agency that's supposed to be set up doing the government appointees. But the Minister can roll in and say, I want this person appointed.

[00:17:44.620] - N.B.


[00:17:45.300] - Charles

And so we need to find a kind of happy middle ground where the people who are appointed are appointed on a notion of kind of expertise and representativeness of the place in which these post secondary centers are located, with an expanded notion of where that expertise is and with a reduced obligation that they are completely party insiders. Having a few party insiders isn't really a problem, but sometimes it's just too obvious.

[00:18:20.430] - N.B.


[00:18:21.410] - Charles

And they are all, of course, working in what they envision as the best interest of the University. So I don't wish this to be misunderstood a criticism of individuals. This is a structural issue about how because the Crown has the authority to put who they want to be in these it's their privilege and their prerogative to do that. But I think they need to treat that prerogative a little more judiciously, if that makes sense.

[00:18:49.040] - N.B.

Yeah, that definitely makes sense. And I guess just one last question. So I spoke with someone from the appointment office, and they said that UBC can send sort of a job posting type thing that has a bunch of qualifications and skills. Do you think the University could maybe utilize the posting that they sent forward to maybe try and ask for more community members or trade Union members

[00:19:20.530] - Charles

Very clearly.

[00:19:22.090] - Charles

And I would be totally surprised if there isn't informal discussions between, for example, the President of the University or the chair of the Board of Governors and the Minister of Advanced Education about things like, oh, so. And so is coming to the end of the six years this term, we're looking for something. We had envisioned, this category of things to go in or when they fixed the board the last time around. We're in the middle of the crisis with this. The UBC clean protest movements about the way the board dumped Gupta, all that whole dynamic a few years ago..

[00:19:58.030] - Charles

Stuart Belkin was quite explicit to me in saying that he got called in by Cristie Clark to help shape clean up the board. And Michael Kornberg, who was a chair alongside of Belkin, was also put in there because of the kind of expertise they had and basically bringing things under control. And I think Korenberg did a good job doing that less partisan actually, than Belkin. Kornberg was very conservative, but not partisan in the same way. Let's say Belkin or Sido were partisans in terms of political party affiliation, partisans.

[00:20:38.450] - Charles

Yeah. I think they could say there have been times where they had the business agent for the, I think it was a hospital employees Union, was on the board of governors in the UBC in the 1990s. And there's a person at SFU, Mike Lombardi, who's a talwart   NDPer, but he was also worked for the BCTF, was on  the board of Trustee in Vancouver school board under the Vision Vancouver banner. He's up at SFU on the Board of Governors there,. But he actually comes out of that political unionizing, the white collar sector of the trade Union movement.

[00:21:22.310] - Charles

And there are unionists and other parts of the province on boards. So this is not unusual. But I think given UBC's unique space, I think it's important that there are a strong number of actual BC based Indigenous members on the board. I think currently there's, if memory serves,  there's one Chaslyn Gilanders who is Indigenous and First Nations who's on the board. There was two appointed reps previously Celeste Haldane and Gilanders, I think that's important. I would argue that there should be a Musqueam designated seat or maybe  Okanagan seat, but also wider provincial things.

[00:22:10.340] - Charles

So I would probably argue for even more in terms of Indigenous voices on the board. I also think that the sector is such like the political activists, social movements, civil society, where people who aren't making money off of their engagements and different types of business. Bringing former politicians like Andrew Reimer well that category a person to a point has a role also because they do bring a kind of type of expertise that is useful.  One of the things for me at the core of this, this is kind of like an idea chamber of sort of.

[00:23:01.170] - Charles

It has a fiduciary duty to manage the books, the fiscal side, but even thinking about something as important but mundane as financial matters, if you're trapped within a reducing your overall spend leads to overall efficiency and effectiveness model. And that's the way you see the world. You have a limited set of decisions to make. But if you come from, say, a community based grassroots organizing perspective where you haven't had a lot of money and you've had to figure out how to do things. But the idea of making profits isn't what's motivating you, but an idea of meeting social needs, you're going to look at the money question very differently.

[00:23:42.970] - Charles

And I think that's really important. People might have ended up at the end of the day end up with the same kind of decisions, but they've actually discussed them in a different range of perspectives that actually put meaning to the notion of diversity of perspective, where right now our model we've used tends to kind of replicate a kind of dominant society model of how to think about things, which especially now we're in a moment where everything is not normal, having a normal thinking pattern isn't necessarily the most effective way of dealing with our institutions.

[00:24:19.750] - N.B.

Okay. Yeah, I agree with that assessment. So those are all of my questions for you. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. Found it really interesting. And yeah, I'll be sure to let you know when the article is published and have a great rest of your year.

[00:24:40.520] - Charles

Great. Thank you.