Carleton University student, staff groups demand governance changes

Some Carleton University students and staff members are 'shocked' by proposed policy changes they say are effectively muzzling board of governor members.

'We saw this as an attack,' says student representative about proposed changes to board of Governors

Michael Bueckert, president of Carleton University's Graduate Students' Association, says he sees proposed bylaw changes for the Board of Governors as 'an attack.' (Elyse Skura/CBC)

Some Carleton University staff, faculty and students are speaking out against proposed restrictions they say will effectively muzzle their representatives on the board of governors. 

The university is currently reviewing the board's bylaws and have proposed a number of changes, including restricting who is eligible to sit at the table. 

"We saw this as an attack on student and labour representation on the board," said Michael Bueckert, president of Carleton's graduate students' association. "Graduate students have been shocked." 

This week, a group of six organizations, including various unions, has submitted its own set of recommendations to make the university's most important decision-making body more transparent, accountable and representative of the campus.

Lauren Montgomery, a vice president with CUPE 4600, the union which represents contract instructors and teaching and research assistants, says it's more than a philosophical issue. 

"The board makes decisions about our working conditions. They make decisions about tuition fees," said Montgomery.

"They really impact our daily lives on campus."

'Ridiculous' policy affects free speech

The groups are also speaking out against a new rule which they say restricts board members from speaking publicly about meetings. 

"It's really surprising," Bueckert said. "It specifies further that especially dissent is not allowed once a board has made its decision."

He says board members who represent staff and students should not only have the right to keep their constituents informed about what goes on in open meetings, but should be obligated to do so.

To further explain his point, Bueckert uses the hypothetical example of a board member who speaks out against a proposed increase to tuition fees.

"They can speak at that meeting against tuition increases. They can vote against it. But after that they're not allowed to talk about it ever again? They're not allowed to say 'I disagreed that the board voted to increase tuition'?"

"I think that's absolutely ridiculous," Bueckert said.

Group considering 'academic boycott'

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is also crying foul, saying it's watching the situation at Carleton University. 

"Carleton's a bit of a canary in the coal mine," David Robinson, CAUT's executive director, told CBC's All In A Day.

"It's a place where there's a fundamental problem in governance, [one] that I think stems from a different set of values that are creeping into the university."

Robinson says the kind of secrecy the board seems to be promoting may be "appropriate in a corporate boardroom, but not in a public body."

It's a very open, inclusive university.- Michael Wernick, chair of Carleton's governance committee

The organization is considering putting Carleton University on a blacklist — tantamount to an "academic boycott" — says Robinson. 

It's a huge concern for both Bueckert and Montgomery, who are completing PhDs at the institution. 

"That's our workplace. That's where we study," said Montgomery. "We don't want that to impact us or our reputation as staff or students."

Michael Wernick, who chairs Carleton's governance committee, told All In A Day this debate is based on a "misunderstanding" of a policy which is merely meant to ensure board members are not disseminating misinformation. 

"It's a very open, inclusive board," he said."It's a very open, inclusive university."

Carleton University says it received the group's submission, but it will not review any proposed bylaw changes until January. 

Until then, university spokesperson Steven Reid says anyone from the campus community is welcome to submit their ideas by emailing the university secretary.