By Leveller Staff
The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) at Carleton University is accusing its board of governors of doubling down on a gag order on board members, according to a statement released on March 16.
The statement was in response to the board revealing its proposed bylaws on March 14 and rejecting 10 of the 12 recommendations submitted by six campus organizations that would, “make the board more accountable and representative of the university community.”
“What is most troubling is that the board has rejected our proposal to allow and encourage board members to freely communicate with the Carleton community about non-confidential board business,” GSA President Michael Bueckert told the Leveller via email.
“This undermines the ability of both elected and non-elected representatives to engage with the community, gather feedback and even explain the consequences of the board’s decisions.”
Controversy enshrouded Carleton’s board of governors after it recently imposed a code of conduct on members in what was viewed as an attempt to muzzle biology professor Root Gorelick after he blogged about board meetings.
“The proposed bylaws are horrendous and embarrassing,” said Gorelick in an email to the Leveller. “If passed, they will certainly damage the reputation of the university, making Carleton’s governance one of the most repressive in the country.”
At least two board members along with Carleton’s administration maintain that Gorelick and others do not have the right to publicly discuss board business.
University spokesperson Steven Reid quoted a passage from the Supreme Court of Canada in the Ottawa Citizen on March 18 describing the duty of board members to “serve the corporation selflessly, honestly, and loyally.”
“While possibly an accurate description of fiduciary duty, Mr. Reid seems to have used the terms ‘selflessly’, ‘honestly’, and ‘loyally’ out of context,” Gorelick told the Leveller.
“My loyalty is to Carleton University, not to its president nor (the) chair of its board…My honesty means committing no lies of omission, which would otherwise be imposed by the draconian new gag order. My selflessness means putting my job on the line for defending academic freedom and trying to improve the university by being willing to voice even a modicum of dissent.”
Gorelick refused to sign the code of conduct and his future on the board remains uncertain.
The GSA further accused the board of governors of solidifying its power by assuming full control and oversight over student elections of board representatives.
“The GSA believes that these elections should be held by the student unions that represent students, without any interference from the university,” according to the statement.
“This ensures that elections are fair, transparent, and subject to the bylaws established by students themselves.”
Gorelick agrees with the GSA’s assertion that the board has doubled down on the gag order and its negative implications for student representation.
“The new ‘Code of Conduct’ was draconian, while the proposed new bylaws aim to codify those draconian rules within a misguided constitutional framework,” he said.
“Not only will governors be required to sign that gag order, students running for open seats on the Board must now sign a promise that they will sign the code of conduct before officially becoming a governor. Without that promise, the university secretary will deem those students ineligible to run for an open seat.”
While the GSA is disappointed that the bylaws fail to address board membership imbalance, which is comprised of a majority of “appointed ‘community members’ vastly outnumbering the elected internal stakeholders (students, faculty, and staff),” the two accepted proposals will modestly improve campus representation.
“We are very pleased to see that the board has backed off from its previous attempts to exclude the executives of labour and student unions from being eligible to serve on the board, which means that the bylaws preserve the right of students and workers to freely elect their own representatives,” said Bueckert.
“This is a major victory for Carleton’s labour student unions, as we have been pushing against these proposals for a couple of years now.”
Carleton’s contract instructors are now also eligible to sit on the board, although they are to be elected by senators and not their peers. Postdoctoral scholars remain ineligible.
“The board has no taste for making structural changes unless the changes centralize power,” said Gorelick, “thereby rendering the board increasingly more corporate and less collegial.”
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 8 No. 6 (March 2016).