By Charissa Feres
The Carleton University Board of Governors (BoG) has been the subject of controversy once again, after a board member, Professor Root Gorelick, refused to sign its revised Statement of General Duties, Fiduciary Responsibilities and Conflict of Interest. This document would prevent him from blogging about matters discussed during open Board meetings.
The updated statement adds an obligation for members to refrain from using social media platforms to comment on matters both discussed and decided upon during all board meetings for the duration of their lifetime.
In an open letter, Carleton President Runte defended the updated statement, saying that board members are “legally mandated to act in the best interests of the university as a whole and not as a representative of any group, stakeholder or particular interest. The board members are not elected representatives of a constituency nor do they report to a constituency.”
Gorelick has been blogging about open meetings since he was elected to the board in 2013. “I had heard about the board for many years […] but no information ever comes out about it ever. So I figured I should share. It was purely a matter of sharing information with people, especially because it was colleagues that elected me,” says Gorelick.
Many organizations have supported Gorelick’s refusal to sign the statement, including the Canadian Association for University Teachers (CAUT) who say that the board’s actions violate basic principles of democratic governance.
“[The statement] runs contrary to the values of open debate, academic freedom and freedom of expression that should lie at the very heart of our universities and colleges,” says David Robinson, CAUT executive director.
In November, CAUT council unanimously passed a motion to condemn the actions of Carleton’s BoG and referred the matter to an Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (a standing committee within CAUT Council) in order to begin procedures that would lead to a censure. Such a decision would entail discouraging academics from taking jobs and attending conferences at Carleton, among other things.
Regardless of what the BoG decides to do next, Gorelick says he wants to see more transparency and openness, so that members of the community are aware of the matters discussed by the board during open meetings.
“At the end of the day, we should still all go do our jobs. For me, it’s just a matter of maintaining academic freedom and really doing my job on the board. We should all move forward and be constructive and keep trying to improve the university.”
The next Board of Governors meeting is on Jan. 26.
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol.8 No. 4 (Jan/Feb 2016).