Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2008

Quebec: University Governance Report Undermines Openness and Transparency

Recommendations contained in a report ostensibly aimed at improving university governance in Quebec would achieve the opposite result, CAUT is warning.

The September 2007 report of a working group mandated by the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations is both “insubstantial and disappointing,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “It offers a model that is antithetical to the tradition of good university governance.”

That tradition is one adopted overwhelmingly by most Canadian universities since the 1906 Flavelle Commission highlighted a bicameral model of collegial governance — one which includes both a board of governors and a senate working together in the best interests of the university community.

Instead, the 19-page untitled report largely ignores discussion of senate functions and recommends focusing power in the hands of “independent” board members with no ties to the university.

The Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU) said it’s also disturbed about the report’s stance, and called certain aspects of the report “astonishing.”

Twelve wide-ranging recommendations in the report touch on issues as disparate as the importance of defining a mission statement as a touchstone of governance, to the ways and means of constituting an efficient and appropriate board of governors.

The 10 members of the working group, which was chaired by Professor Jean-Marie Toulouse of HEC Montreal, state that 15 is the optimal number of board members, of which about 66 per cent, including the chair, should be “independent,” or external to the university community.

The report also states that inclusion of non-voting members, even those without the right to speak, is “not conducive to sound governance,” and that “these people should not be present when decisions are made.”

As well, the group recommends the creation of three powerful “statutory” committees — audit, governance and ethics, and human resources — comprising “independent” members only.

“They recommend a board that effectively operates in private, with no observers allowed, and puts control exclusively in the hands of external members,” Turk notes. “The three committees that must make so many important decisions are also made up of external members — people not part of the university community.”

Such a system would deny the established university tradition of operation as a community, with members of that community playing a role in their own governance, he added.

The concentration of power in a “new oligarchy of managers” flies in the face of the need for transparency and accountability, according to a statement issued by the FQPPU in response to the report.

In a similar joint statement issued recently by the Concordia University Faculty Association and the McGill Association of University Teachers, the parties said: “Bicameral governance based on a senate and board of governors is essentially ignored . . . the very idea of a senate is viewed as either a paradox or a challenge and it is dismissed without further discussion. The fundamental role of collegial governance is never mentioned.”

Turk also condemned the recommendation that candidates for university president be nominated by a committee consisting of external members only, and then ultimately weighed and chosen in secret by the full board.