Concordia’s Board of Governors shot down a series of audience accommodation motions calling for broadcasted meetings, a minimum required amount of seating for the general public, open question periods and fewer closed-session discussion at board meetings.
All four motions that were presented by GSA rep. Erik Chevrier in November in an effort to increase the board’s transparency, as suggested by an External Governance Review Committee report following the ambiguous departure of former Concordia President Judith Woodsworth, have now been rejected, following the recommendation of the board’s executive committee.
Why were the GSA’s motions the cause of so much debate when all they seemed to do was make official what already happens at board meetings? In some ways, Concordia is light years ahead of the rest of Canada. Our board meetings are both open to the public and, in some ways, already televised: it’s common practice to set up an “overflow room” in an empty classroom where extra people can sit and watch a live feed of the meeting projected on a screen.
As it stands, interested individuals have two options if they want to be filled in on what’s happening at a BoG meeting in real time: come to school at 8 a.m. and try to find a seat, or go on Twitter.
Student media, university public relations people, and even governors themselves type out constant streams of tweets while attending BoG meetings. If the idea of someone taking a video recording of a board meeting and using it out of context is worrisome—a fear that was brought up in the original debate around these motions—compare it to the reality of seeing the complex workings of a BoG meeting being reduced to 140-character snippets. A live broadcast provides at the very least both a firsthand account of the meeting and a record which could be used to debunk false claims and the occasional mis-tweet.
It’s also worth nothing that this decision to not take measures to increase audience accommodation was made at a meeting last Thursday where seats for non-board members were unavailable do to the small room size. Adopting the motions would have in fact allowed the board to create rules and a framework to allow anyone the opportunity to witness board meetings and the decisions the governors make through their own eyes, rather than secondhand accounts.
According to documents provided by the executive committee, surveys were conducted with other Canadian universities regarding their own board room practices. Of the 14 Quebec universities listed, only Concordia, McGill and Bishops University checked ‘yes’ when asked if “any portions” of their board meetings were “open to the public.” Meanwhile, across Canada there are more university boardrooms that appear to be open to the curious observer, but not one of them videotape their meetings on a regular basis.
The idea of documenting board meetings is approached by different degrees of severity. The University of Alberta was casually noted as having student media taking photos and filming during open session. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Queen’s University not only prohibits their audience from using electronic recording devices or cameras, but makes a point of noting that their own audio recordings are “destroyed after approval of minutes.”
In addition, the fact that Concordia would have been one of the first universities in Canada to take such measures with regard to the transparency of their board of governors meetings should have been encouragement to proceed. As Provost David Graham put so well when discussing the new academic plan, the strategic outline of the university’s goals for the next five years, Concordia does “not aspire to be McGill or U of T.” When compared to others universities both within Quebec and across the country, our school is relatively progressive and should therefore not shy away from further defining ourselves as different.
The audience accommodation motions presented an opportunity to set a precedent at Concordia University but ultimately, that path was not taken.