FOI Releases Shed Light Into Board Appointment Process

Two recent Freedom of Information releases about provincial appointments to the UBC Board of Governors attempt to shed some light on the process by which the members of the university’s highest governing body are chosen. Both requests appear to have been filed by the BC NDP. One from the Ministry of Advanced Education was released in March and another from the Ministry of Technology, Innovation, and Citizens’s Services was released in April (The latter ministry contains the Board Resourcing and Development Office, a centralized office for managing provincial appointments to boards of public entities like universities, colleges, hospitals, or police.)

The releases focus on two members of the board, Kenneth Fung and Alan Shuster, who the NDP probably believes are recipients of patronage appointments.

At the time of his appointment to UBC’s Board, Kenneth Fung was best known for faking his identity on a radio show to denounce the local NDP candidate. That shamelessness comes through loud and clear in the following email exchange, in which he not only directly asks to be appointed to the UBC Board, he identifies a then-Board member who should make way for his appointment:

The question at the top – “are you currently employed at UBC?” – set off a series of emails later in the year when Fung’s appointment was being formalized. Under the University Act employees of UBC are ineligible to hold the appointed seats on the Board. It seems that Fung had done a rather poor job of informing UBC of his resignation (emails are chronological when read from the bottom up.)

-=-=-=-=-=-Email thread 1-=-=-=-=-=-

-=-=-=-=-=-Email thread 2-=-=-=-=-=-

And to add to the confusion, The Vancouver Sun reported at the time that Fung had not resigned but was on a leave from his faculty position at UBC until July 2014. Presumably that leave continues but don’t be surprised if nobody knows for certain.

Alan Shuster was the other subject of the requests, likely a result of him having served as Christy Clark’s campaign manager when she ran for MLA of Vancouver-Point Grey. He has the requisite common sense to not to send any emails saying who on the Board is expendable, and nothing in the documentation released shows anything out of the ordinary. Appropriately, he declares one potential conflict of interest: someone near to him (whose name and relation is redacted, but likely his significant other) is a partner in Boyden, an executive search firm which works regularly with UBC. He notes that person is not active on any UBC files.

In making these requests, the BC NDP presumably hoped to find some sort of scandal or smoking gun related to political patronage. They definitely didn’t get that, but the records provide an interesting window into how these appointments happen. While Fung’s lack of tact makes it clear how his name came to be considered for the position in the first place, Shuster’s seems to appear out of nowhere. There are no records in which he applies or is recommended by anyone. There are no records in which the UBC Board says “we’re hoping for someone with this particular skill set” and Shuster turns out to have that expertise. Despite over 100 pages of records, the best explanation is that he seemed to have dropped from the heavens. Or, if other speculation is to be believed, it’s his friends who are in high places.


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