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Jarrett Edmund

New Board of Governors members need familiarity before major voting decisions

By Scott Strasser, January 10 2017 —

There were some new faces at the University of Calgary Board of Governors’ conference table on Dec. 16, after the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education appointed three new public members to the board.

Chartered accountant Beverly Foy, environmental engineer Kris Frederickson and former high school principal Jill Wyatt are the newest additions to the Board of Governors — the highest decision-making body at the U of C.

While it may be nice to see new faces at the table, how decisions were made on Dec. 16 should concern students.

At the meeting, the board voted on and unanimously approved multiple fee changes for the upcoming year. The board also unanimously approved continuing the Quality Money program, the U of C’s long range development plan and maintaining a $1.5-million reserve fund for copyright-related expenses.

The mid-December meeting of the Board of Governors is of particular interest to students. At their last meeting of the calendar year, the board votes on items such as tuition, residence and parking fee changes, as well as long-term and large-scale projects on campus.

The new members all boast experience sitting on various boards and commissions, from the Calgary Airport Authority to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. With their experience and skills, they’ll be an asset to the board in the future. And the addition of community members often prevents public governance boards from becoming echo chambers.

But apart from Wyatt, who was a U of C senate member for two years, the newly appointed members don’t appear to have any prior experience related to the U of C.

Before voting took place at the Dec. 16 meeting, other board members provided brief explanations on what they were about to vote on so that new members felt up to speed. And then the board, including these new members, voted on large-scale policy changes.

New members should abstain on votes until they have more experience with the U of C and a thorough knowledge of campus culture. And U of C students should be alarmed with how casually some large-scale decisions at the U of C were recently voted on.

The U of C Board of Governors made local headlines last spring when minister of advanced education Marlin Schmidt declined to automatically reappoint board members whose terms had expired.

Schmidt’s reasoning was that most of the university boards in Alberta were made up of men over the age of 65. He said it would make more sense for boards to reflect the diversity of the communities they are meant to represent.

But during a question period at the provincial legislature in April 2016, Calgary-Elbow MLA and leader of the Alberta Party Greg Clark brought up concerns that newly-appointed members wouldn’t have the institutional knowledge of those they were replacing.

“Removing all board members means Alberta’s post-secondary institutions lose valuable institutional knowledge and the expertise and experience required to govern large and complex organizations,” Clark said during question period.

Clark was also concerned the NDP’s decision to not automatically reappoint board members was an attempt to erode university boards of Progressive Conservative influence and infuse boards with supporters of their own party.

“If you thought the PCs populated the boards with their friends, by replacing all of those appointments, aren’t you just populating the boards with your friends?” Clark asked.

Schmidt responded by saying the application process would be transparent and that the members whose terms had expired could re-apply for board positions under the new application process, if they chose to.

“Our process is open and transparent. Anybody is welcome to apply and we will review them based on the criteria set out in the applications,” Schmidt said.

Seven non-student U of C Board of Governors’ members’ terms expire in 2017 and we’re likely to see a slew of new members appointed by the provincial government in the near future. Regardless of your political leanings it’s important to hold Board of Governors members accountable and pay attention to what it is they’re doing. After all, their actions play a significant role in our university experience.

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