A look at how the provincial government impacts university governance
In all institutions with bicameral bodies, meaning two bodies that form a single government, there is usually debate about which one is most important. In BC, universities are governed by two bodies, the Board of Governors (BOG), which is responsible for finance, lands and assets, and the Senate, which oversees academics. While both governing bodies have drastically different mandates, funding determines the scope of education an institution can provide, privileging the BOG over the Senate.
All BOG’s at BC universities are comprised of 15 members, except that of UBC, which has 21. As per the University Act, the provincial legislation that governs universities, the members of the Board of Governors are as followed: the chancellor; the president; two faculty members, elected by faculty members; two students, elected by students; one person, elected by the staff of the university who are not faculty members. The other eight BOG members are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council, two of whom are nominated by the alumni association of the university. All these members are appointed on the advice of the Minister of Advanced Education, who, since 2014, has been Andrew Wilkinson.
In Section 19.1 of the University Act, it states that all Board members must act in the “best interests” of their university. However, it is perhaps this clause that is most controversial and a big reason why post-secondary education advocates, from former UBC President Arvin Gupta, to BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver, have called on government to end their “majority” on university boards.
In recent years, Lieutenant Governor-in-Council appointments have been accused of being patronage positions handed out to supporters and associates of the governing party of the day, in this case the BC Liberals.
Before her election as the Liberal MLA for North Vancouver—Lonsdale in 2009, Naomi Yamamoto served on the CapU BOG from 1995 to 2001. Other Liberal donors or associates of the government that have previously served on the CapU BOG include Sonja Lebans and Cybele Negris, who has since been appointed to the Government’s Small Business Roundtable as a leader in her community.
BC’s Small Business Roundtable was created by the Liberal Government to hear recommendations from small business on how government can enhance growth and expand opportunities. Current BOG members who have donated to the Liberals include Christopher Doll, Nicholas Cartnell and BOG Chair, Soon Kim, who donated through his eponymous company.
Critics of the current BOG composition scheme in BC have called on the provincial government to amend it. BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver, has taken matters into his own hands, by personally tabling a private members bill to increase autonomy between the provincial government and university governance. Bill M202, University Amendment Act, 2016, was first read in the Legislature in February 2017. Though this bill will die when this Parliament is dissolved for the election, this issue doesn’t appear likely to lose steam.
As alluded to earlier, the presence of government-appointed members on university BOGs and their inherent majority thrusts Section 19.1 of the University Act into question. The interests of the government may not always be those of a university, and if the majority of its BOG is appointed on the advice of a Minister. This unfortunate reality is said to have led to former UBC President Arvind Gupta’s resignation in 2016, and prompted Weaver to pursue related reforms in the legislature.
Shortly after Gupta’s resignation, and musings about his falling out with the UBC BOG’s 11 government appointment members, most notably with former Chair John Montalbano (elected as Faculty), the UBC Faculty Association passed a motion of no confidence in their BOG in Mar 2016. Montalbano is CEO of RBC Global Asset Management, who, like CapU BOG Chair Soon Kim, has made corporate donations to Liberals in the name of his company.
Another example of the schism that can form between ideological BOGs and campuses is the controversy surrounding the appointment of a new Chancellor at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in late 2015. The Chancellor is appointed by the BOG in consultation with the senate and alumni association. Former Conservative Minister and Tri-Cities MP James Moore, who served in the government of Stephen Harper, was appointed chancellor of UNBC by its BOG, despite widespread disapproval from students and faculty alike.
To learn more about the CapU BOG, its mission, responsibilities and membership, visit capilanou.ca/about/governance/Board-of-Governors. If you would like to learn more about the laws governing institution BOGs in BC, please refer to the University Act at Bclaws.ca.
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