UBC Board Governance: Elected Governors – Appointed Governors

This is one of a series of posts on my thoughts and experiences as an elected faculty governor on UBC’s Board of Governors. My opinions are my own and do not represent the opinions of other governors or of the Board itself. 

In my last post, I presented some perspectives on board governance issues that affect the participation of the elected governors in the business of the Board of Governors.

The issues I raised arise from sharp differences between the way the elected governors view their role on the Board and the way some of the appointed governors (and some members of the administration) view the role of elected governors on the Board.

It would be an easy trap to fall into to try to interpret these differences by making assumptions about the intentions of those involved in the disagreements. I think it would be a mistake to do so because I believe this is about resolving a difference of visions of how the university community participates in its own governance, and, as such, this is not simply connected to the intentions of the individual governors. (It would be safest to assume everyone is well-intentioned, if one felt the need to ascribe intentions to others at all.)

I (and other elected governors) have strong disagreements with the perspectives of some of the appointed governors in leadership roles on the Board over how elected governors are to participate in the Board’s business and over how matters pertaining to elected governors should be discussed by the Board. These are not personal disagreements.

The indoctrination of governors when they come onto the Board seems heavily influenced by the ideas and philosophies of organizations like the AGB, a US-based organization, when it comes to building perspectives on the elected governors’ role on the Board. The AGB pushes the idea that students, staff, and faculty on boards cannot be sufficiently “independent” to participate in making good board decisions.  In effect, the AGB rejects the idea that a university community has the right to participate in its own governance.  (I would expect the AGB to object to my characterization of their position, but I tend to effects-based analyses, and the effects I see lead me to conclude their approach acts to limit the participation of community-elected members on boards.)

The University Act puts us on the Board, which means the government has decided a university can be well-governed when members of its own community participate as members of the Board of Governors.  The AGB generally works in contexts where the founding legislation of universities does not provide for faculty, staff, or student representation on boards. (For example, the University of Michigan Board of Regents has no faculty, staff, or students on it, and its members are elected in statewide elections.)

The idea that elected governors are not “independent” is relied on heavily in many of the arguments I hear to limit elected governor participation in Board business. These ideas appear in many of the documents or books on governance members of the Board receive as part of our “education” on being better governors, materials that are hardly unbiased in some cases. (Some members of the administration also hold to the idea elected governors should not participate in some Board business, which influences the views of some of the appointed governors.)

Given the influence and perceived authority of established organizations like the AGB, and the influence of members of the administration, it is not surprising some appointed governors would hold to the position that it is reasonable to limit the participation of elected governors in board business.

That said, acting on this belief to exclude elected governors without engaging with the elected governors to discuss the issue does not make for good board governance.

A few comments on the appointed governors.

As a general rule, I avoid mentioning individual governors (or administrators) in my posts, though I occasionally refer to the chair of a committee or the board by their position. It is usually not relevant who the individuals are when I write about matters on my mind as an elected faculty representative on the UBC Board of Governors, and this is also the case with the present issue.

The provincial government has appointed some excellent people to the UBC Board of Governors. They are dedicated, talented individuals who are genuinely committed to UBC. In my experience, they are persons of high integrity. They certainly work hard on the University’s behalf, and for no compensation.

While a few appointed governors are active members of the BC NDP, I am unaware of the political affiliations, if any, of most of the governors. I do not imagine the provincial government unduly influencing the Board in our meetings through the appointed governors.

The Board’s main contact with the government is through the required regular meetings between the Board Chair (and usually Vice Chairs) and the Ministry of Advanced Education. The University’s primary working engagement with government is through the Office of the VP External Relations.

Government certainly has an influence on matters at UBC, and I will be highlighting this in some of my future posts on specific issues (e.g. COVID).


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