An Open Letter to the Board of Governors and Laurier Community

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Last Thursday at the Wilfrid Laurier University Board of Governors meeting I publicly announced my anger at the way the proceedings were going and stormed out of the meeting. I now regret this. That is, I now regret the manner in which I did it, while leaving no doubt that I was annoyed, did not convey to ordinary board members the reason why I was so incensed. I say here “ordinary Board members” because the chair of the board would have known full well why I was angry. He and the president of the university were colluding to do an end run around the authority of the Senate. They were further managing to subvert the normal course of bicameral governance, while fairly successfully giving the appearance of doing just the opposite.

The new committee, which many on the board thought was such a good way around what the president presented as an impasse between the university’s two governing bodies, had not been received that way by the Senate.

The Prime Ministers Statue Project, which it has been argued by many to be a symbol of a racist past and an insult to Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, is now in addition to this, fast becoming a symbol of something far more localized: misguided educational priorities and a crisis of university governance here at Laurier. An example of misguided educational priorities is the recent hiring of an expensive lobbyist to convince the government of the need for a new WLU Milton campus instead of perhaps covering the cost of something like 50 course stipends. The administration consistently privileges hiring more highly paid administrators — more of its own — over the other more educational choices faculty would prefer. This is connected to the crisis of governance.

The statues project was not on the board agenda for a potential vote to reverse its earlier endorsement of it. Rather it was on the agenda to hear and endorse the president’s plan for what to do about the overwhelming majority (39 to 6) Senate vote to reject the project. The president recommended a new committee to report to both the Senate and board. The board, of course, had the same response as they always to the president’s plans. They thought it a wonderful idea. The reason for this common response is not sycophancy. Rather it is the decisions they are taking and the ideas they are supposed to consider and pronounce upon are often outside their area of expertise and knowledge. There is a reason for bicameral governance and the entrustment of educational decision making to the Senate. The ordinary board members are most frequently completely unaware of faculty and student concerns; the widespread anger of many faculty members completely mystifies them.

It is why the statues so well take on their new symbolic dimension: Senate to Laurier community, we have a problem. We have a governance problem.

 

The new committee, which many on the board thought was such a good way around what the president presented as an impasse between the university’s two governing bodies, had not been received that way by the Senate. Not at all! Rather there was a prolonged discussion on why it was a very bad idea indeed. It was argued to be in violation of, if not the letter, at least the spirit of the Wilfrid Laurier University Act. It was argued to be in effect rendering the Senate as a governing body completely impotent and voiding its entire purpose. It was argued that the Senate, unlike the board, had not rendered their judgment in ignorance of the educational ramifications and symbolism of the project. It was argued the issue was primarily an educational issue and thus subject to the authority of the Senate.

The president argued against this point, asserting it was primarily a matter of a material acquisition over one million dollars in value and therefore a matter subject to the board’s ultimate authority. Against this it was countered by one senator that if perhaps issues fell along a continuum regarding jurisdiction, with for example curriculum being a clearly educational and a matter for the Senate and new toilets being a matter for the board, then obviously the statues had more to do with education. The president disregarded such arguments. He asked for senators to volunteer to be on his new committee. None put themselves forward as it had already been argued that there was no need for such a committee; the Senate had spoken and decided already.

He and the president of the university were colluding to do an end run around the authority of the Senate.

This takes us to the board’s discussion of the issue. There was a large gallery presence including myself and other senators. It is the usual convention, for both Senate and board meetings, that when controversial issues are before them, to allow non-members to speak. It is likely that ordinary board members assumed that people such as myself and Jonathan Finn, the author of the Senate motion against the statues project, were there to rehearse the by now familiar arguments concerning Aboriginal Peoples, racist Prime Ministers or perhaps to add some new jokes about statues of Harper. But we were not there for that reason and the board chair knew it. He knew we had come to talk about governance; that we had come to talk about the difference between informed and un-informed decisions. But he ruled that we could not speak on the grounds … that we could speak to the committee that was to be formed! This was the very thing we had come to speak against! Once again the board has made a decision in ignorance.

Ignorance can often be innocent. Such was not the case here. It is why the statues so well take on their new symbolic dimension: Senate to Laurier community, we have a problem. We have a governance problem.

Garry Potter, Professor of Sociology


2 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Board of Governors and Laurier Community”

  1. Spencer Gibara Avatar

    This is total crap. The senate originally approved the project, and only rejected it once we already entered a contract.

    Please sign this petition in support of this awesome project!

    https://www.change.org/p/president-wilfrid-laurier-university-max-blouw-continue-the-statue-project

  2. Ann Marie Hadcock Avatar

    I wish these statues would go away. This project is an ongoing embarrassment.

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