Today (September 3), the Graduate Student Society of UBC Vancouver issued this open letter in regards to UBC's board of governors.
Re: Policies and Practices of the UBC Board of Governors
Dear Alice Laberge,
I send this open letter to the UBC Board of Governors on behalf of the Graduate Student Society of UBC Vancouver (GSS), representing more than 10,000 UBC graduate students. It is the mandate of the GSS to advocate for, promote, and protect the academic, social, intellectual, cultural and recreational interests of its members.
The GSS recognizes the Board’s important role as one half of UBC’s bicameral governance structure and the work it undertakes to ensure that the institution maintains its position as a globally significant research university. The GSS also recognizes that the Board regularly deals with sensitive matters for which discretion and confidentiality is required. Furthermore, the GSS recognizes the Board’s stated commitment to the principle of accountability to the students, faculty and staff of the University and to the public which is served by the University.
However, when examining the Board’s recent actions in conjunction with its longer-term practices, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile this stated commitment to accountability with those actions and practices. Graduate students have indicated particular concern about a lack of transparency regarding the functioning and decision-making practices of the Board.
It has come to the attention of the media that the Board has held meetings outside of its regular meeting schedule, not just without informing the UBC community and the public of those meetings but, even more concerning, the Board Secretary publicly denying its occurrence.
The Chancellor and Board Chair were invited to attend GSS Council and to engage directly with graduate students. They both declined to attend, now and in the foreseeable future. Overall communication by the Board to the GSS has been limited to 1 phone call and 1 letter in a span of at least 3 years.
Earlier this year, the Board considered a resolution to restrict photography and recordings at meetings. Questioning such recordings, which are a useful practice for ensuring accuracy and proper documentation, also demonstrates a lack of commitment to overall transparency.
Both the Board and the Acting UBC President recently announced being fully confident in the Board Chair after serious allegations had been made against him. The GSS is concerned about this rush to support the Board Chair before an investigation or fact-finding process had been concluded or even commenced. Graduate students feel a Board supporting the UBC value of integrity should suspend all judgement until all facts are available.
The GSS has concluded that the practices of the UBC Board of Governors are not sufficiently transparent to ensure that UBC's values – integrity, public interest, mutual respect and equity – are maintained.
The GSS is committed to building an open, respectful, and constructive relationship with the Board of Governors. Student representatives elected to the Board have a fiduciary duty to UBC. Recognizing this fact, the GSS seeks to work with the Board to create more opportunities for engagement for the graduate student body and regular communication and interaction with the Graduate Student Society to establish a fuller student representation at the Board.
In an attempt to provide constructive feedback on how the Board can achieve alignment with the aforementioned values of the university, the GSS asks the Board to consider the attached list of recommendations of reforms (see below) to increase the level of transparency. The GSS believes that adoption of these recommendations will re-establish the UBC community's trust in the Board by demonstrating a renewed commitment to transparency and accountability.
The GSS would welcome the opportunity to present the recommendations to the Board on its next regularly scheduled meeting on September 29 and address any questions of the Board regarding those recommendations.
Sincerely, Tobias Friedel
President, Graduate Student Society