Feel­ing Bogged down by lack of ac­count­abil­ity

The McGill Daily - - Editorial -

On Novem­ber 29, 2016 the of­fice of the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) Pres­i­dent re­leased a re­port called “A Seat at the Ta­ble: An Anal­y­sis of the Mcgill Univer­sity BOG [Board of Gover­nors].” The SSMU press re­lease an­nounc­ing the re­search re­port stated that “the cur­rent state of gov­er­nance at Mcgill Univer­sity has per­pet­u­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where com­mu­nity mem­bers feel dis­en­fran­chised and un­heard by the Board of Gover­nors [BOG].” Among other things, SSMU asked to ex­pand mem­ber-at-large seats (Board mem­bers who are not fac­ulty, staff, or stu­dents) from the Mcgill com­mu­nity, the pub­lic nom­i­na­tion of said mem­bers-at-large, greater di­ver­sity, tracked vot­ing for all de­ci­sions, and con­sul­ta­tive pro­to­cols for stu­dent in­put in de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Only the last of these de­mands was met, although the pro­ce­dure im­ple­mented to meet the de­mand was in­ef­fec­tive, and showed a lack of true com­mit­ment to in­creas­ing stu­dent in­put. If the BOG claims to be open to the Mcgill’s com­mu­nity in­put, they must be held ac­count­able. In­stead, they are leav­ing no space for stu­dent en­gage­ment, ac­tivism, or dis­sent.

At the De­cem­ber 1, 2016 BOG meet­ing, the Board passed a res­o­lu­tion which es­tab­lished twenty minute com­mu­nity ses­sions twice a year in re­sponse to SSMU’S calls for con­sul­ta­tive pro­to­cols. Mem­bers of the Mcgill com­mu­nity can sub­mit writ­ten ques­tions prior to the com­mu­nity ses­sion, and re­ceive a writ­ten re­sponse. If they have fol­low-up ques­tions, they are al­lot­ted five min­utes to ask them at the Board’s com­mu­nity ses­sions.

How­ever, com­mu­nity ses­sions are an in­ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to the Bog’s lack of ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency. The Board not only gets to choose which ques­tions it gets to an­swer, but also re­tains the right to de­cline a ques­tion if an in­di­vid­ual or group has pre­vi­ously ap­peared be­fore the Board meet­ing ask­ing a sim­i­lar ques­tion, even if the ques­tion was in­ad­e­quately an­swered or dis­missed in a pre­vi­ous ses­sion. While the Chair of the Board, Stu­art (Kip) Cob­bett, has called the com­mu­nity ses­sions a “step ahead,” in real­ity the com­mu­nity ses­sions are a weak façade of democ­racy. Five min­utes per in­ter­ac­tion sim­ply isn’t enough time to ex­plain an is­sue and re­ceive a sub­stan­tial re­sponse. More­over, dur­ing a com­mu­nity ses­sion, the Board has proven that it re­serves the right not to clar­ify a re­sponse when pushed for ad­di­tional de­tails, and thereby shut down the dis­cus­sion.

As pointed out by SSMU in “A Seat at the Ta­ble,” too many im­por­tant dis­cus­sions at Mcgill hap­pen be­hind closed doors. The de­ci­sion-mak­ing process lacks trans­parency at the best of times, and is rid­dled with con­flicts of in­ter­est at worst. The Chair should re­lin­quish their right to re­ject a ques­tion if a sim­i­lar one has al­ready been asked. More­over, the choice of which ques­tions get an­swered should not solely be at the dis­cre­tion of the Chair: stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tives should have a role in de­cid­ing which ques­tions get heard. In or­der to en­sure that the BOG is held ac­count­able to the Mcgill com­mu­nity, there must be a greater rep­re­sen­ta­tion of stu­dents on the board – as of now, the only stu­dents who sit on the board are the SSMU pres­i­dent and the PGSS Sec­re­tary Gen­eral, which is in­suf­fi­cient rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a vast and var­ied stu­dent body. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Board must heed SSMU’S rec­om­men­da­tions on ac­tively re­cruit­ing and cre­at­ing des­ig­nated seats for gover­nors who re­flect the di­ver­sity of the wider com­mu­nity, such as In­dige­nous peo­ple, peo­ple of colour, trans peo­ple, and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

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