Memorial University's Board of Regents has announced it will review its culture, policies and procedures in the wake of bullying allegations made by a student who abruptly resigned.

The review comes after student representative Brittany Lennox resigned on Nov. 14, alleging she was bullied and harassed by fellow board members for expressing contrary opinions.

Chair Iris Petten disagreed with Lennox's characterization of board of regents meetings, adding she hadn't witnessed any bullying.

But in a news conference on Thursday, Petten and representatives from the Board of Regents committed to a thorough review of their practices.

Memorial University Representatives

Gary Kachanoski, left, Iris Petten, centre, and Denis Mahoney spoke at a news conference on Thursday. (CBC)

"The Board of Regents takes very seriously the concerns raised by Ms. Brittany Lennox," Petten said. 

"We value students opinions and contributions on the board, and are always looking to improve that governance experience for students. This review will help us do just that."

'Toxic' culture

In an interview with the St. John's Morning Show in November, Lennox said the board of regents was a toxic environment, which jeopardized her mental health.

"How they made me feel was horrible about myself," she said, alleging she was harrassed for speaking up at meetings and criticizing university spending.

Petten told CBC she wished Lennox had brought her concerns to Petten first, and in an interview with the Telegram newspaper, she described Lennox as "fragile."

That comment brought complaints from a mental health advocate, but MUN representatives declined to respond to those complaints on Thursday.

Confidentiality defended

Lennox also complained the board was operating in a secretive way.

On Thursday, Memorial University President Gary Kachanoski defended the board's practices, arguing there were many avenues for discussion at the university.

He said that many topics that are under discussion in the closed portions of the Board of Regents meetings have already been presented and debated publicly — like discussions around budgets and tuition.

Gary Kachanoski

Gary Kachanoski, president of Memorial University, defended the closed meetings. (CBC)

"The consultation process that goes on within the university … needs to be taken into account in examining the overall transparency," he said.

Kachanoski said the closed-door portions were an opportunity "for a volunteer board to be able to have the time and, I guess, the atmosphere, where they can speak frankly."

Wide-ranging review

The review will cover a lot of ground, and Memorial's board will start work to select an external reviewer shortly, according to board member Denis Mahoney.

"We are going to be looking at other Canadian universities, and addressing questions around our confidentiality practices, are open and closed meetings, and we're going to be taking a broader look at that right across the country," he said. 

The board said the review will include:

  • Confidentiality requirements;
  • A code of conduct;
  • The interaction between governance and administration;
  • Feedback mechanisms for board members; and
  • Orientation and professional development for board members.

Petten said she hopes a reviewer can be found in the next few weeks and complete the work within a few months.

With files from Julie Skinner and Daniel MacEachern