Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Act as a Reasonable Person in the Best Interests of the University

The very first listed duty of a member of the UBC Board of Governors "act in the best interests of the University and with a view to advancing its welfare" (clause 3.1.1) and that furthermore each member shall "exercise the care, skill and diligence that would be exercised in the same circumstances by a reasonable person having both: the knowledge and experience that may reasonably be expected of a Governor; and  the knowledge and experience of the specific Governor" (clause 3.1.4). 

Each member is expected to sign an acknowledgement of these duties and to agree to be bound by the code of conduct.  My form is shared alongside this post.  You will note that I appended a note to the effective that in my viewpoint the reasonable person doctrine does not mean that I am compelled to agree with the recommendations or decisions of the majority

To me there are two very important underlying issues: (1) how does one decide what constitutes the "best interests of the university" and (2) in what manner might the the legal doctrine of acting as a "reasonable person" be a way of compelling consent against one's better judgement. These are interesting guiding principles that, while based in law, are also social constructions that can reasonably be interpreted and understood in a manner of differnt ways. 

It has been my observations of the past few years that the idea of what is in the best interests of the university has been collapsing into a fairly narrow band of economic terms tied to a very restricted idea of fiscal responsibility. As an outsider to the BoG (I don't take formal office until March 1, 2017, it has seemed that more general social values are being displaced by a limited idea of fiscal responsibility and revenue generation. Universities at their best are places in which ideas can forment. Such ideas are not necessarily directly translatable into income generating enterprises. I am very much concerned that the best interests of our public university is not being served by the language of profit, innovation, and spinoff. Universities have a place in generating pure knowledge untrammelled by industrial interests and ideas that can spur free thinking, critical insight, and civic mindedness. If innovative solutions to societal concerns is at the heart of our university then we need to through off the narrow blinders of cost/benefit ideas of what is in the university's best interest.

The idea of a reasonable person is a legal fiction, it is a kind of average person. The code of conduct modifies the notion by adding a reference to the specific knowledge that a governor may hold by virtue of being a governor and the specific and individual knowledge that a specific governor may hold due to their own personal history and experience.  This creates a threefold set of criteria for being 'reasonable:' (1) a normative criteria, (2) a secret knowledge criteria, and, (3) a personal life history criteria. Ultimately this creates code of behaviour in which there is really no clear single right response.  Ultimately, the expectation is that any decision I make needs to be clear, transparent, and that the basis for arriving at a decision be made available to those who ask.  It tells me that my decisions can not be made simply because someone tells me it's the right decision.  It tells me that my decisions on the board must be made by me acting free from the influence of other board members and that I should be able to explain how I arrived at my decision.

I am looking forward to having the opportunity to share my unique personal and professional experience as a UBC faculty member, a native British Columbian, an Indigenous scholar, a parent, a partner, a resident of  UBC's administrated residential neighbourhoods, and a person as I participate in shaping the policy and operational concerns that will ensure UBC's best interests as BC's flagship research university thrives and advances.  I shall do this by acting publicly, transparently (within the bounds of the code of conduct) and by continually advocating for greater democratic transparency in all board operations.

Update: for reference my COI form. Note that my only COI is the fact that I am a faculty member.  BoG procedure automatically excludes me from the standing committee that deals with employee bargaining.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Commitment to Transparency and Engagement

Over the last decade or so one UBC faculty Governor has set the gold standard of faculty engagement and transparency in governance.  Nassif Ghoussoub, writing in his blog Piece of Mind, made his views known, encouraged discussion and engaged with us as peers in the governance of UBC.  I find much to emulate in Nassif's example.

Our Governors have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our public university.  One important way to do this is to make oneself available to our colleagues, to listen to diverse and divergent voices, and to be as inclusive in our processes as possible.  I already maintain several social media platforms that will allow me to share information (within the legal bounds permitted to me). If elected I will use these platforms to share information and to receive feedback.

As a Governor one has an opportunity to put questions to the senior administrators who are making the operational decisions regarding UBC. This gives one an opportunity to bring a range of concerns, ideas, and thoughts into the center of UBC's decision making process.  If elected I will bring your questions and ideas forward.

I pledge to act with openness. I pledge to place the voice of faculty firmly, clearly, and without apology, at the center of my service as a member of the board of governors at UBC.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Speaking notes: UBCFA-BoG Faculty Candidates Forum, Nov. 24, 2016

I acknowledge that we are on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Musqueam Nation.
            Over my years at UBC I have been actively involved in our community.  I have served several terms on the UBC Faculty Association Executive. From 2012 to 2016 I served as an elected resident director on the University Neighbourhoods Association Board, the erstwhile municipal council for non-student residents on campus.
            My academic research is focussed on resource dependent communities here in British Columbia and in Western Europe (Brittany and Ireland).  In British Columbia my work has been predominantly concerned with First Nations engagement in government to government negotiations.  For ten years I have been involved on negotiation teams and technical working groups with some of the most significant energy development projects on coastal BC. I bring a level of expertise and experience that spans academic and community issues that is not currently in evidence on our board of governors.
            I firmly believe, and consider there is evidence to support this belief, that our governing bodies require a diversity of perspectives to function fully, effectively, and democratically.  Currently our governors come from a narrow legal and/or business background.  Our faculty needs strong and diverse voices that will not be content to simply go with the flow.

            I honoured to have been able to have committed a significant portion of my adult working life to UBC. This university is an important part of BC. As a native BCer I know how important this place is to our province.  At the heart of what makes UBC strong is our faculty.  We, and our students who come to learn from us and work with us, are what makes UBC UBC. As your board representative it is my goal to ensure that faculty are not again silenced and sidelined by a narrow corporate vision.  We have much to offer and a responsibility to step forward and act.
The forum was video taped and archived by the UBC Faculty Association. My spoken comments are not identical to my prepared speaking notes, but the above covers the general sense of what I said. To see my actual comments click this link.