UBC’s Board of Governors wants to ban anything that may create a record of any kind from their meetings. Under the policy, even generating a neutral, factual account of the Board’s decisions would not be allowed. The highest governing body of a very large public institution is trying to withdraw from the public eye.
The story is that the Board Secretariat, Reny Kahlon, has recently become concerned about photography and recording during meetings. According to her, the creation of records is the means by which people disrupt meetings, inhibit discussion, attack the board, and distort the truth. There are no cited examples of any of these things having ever actually happened, just the concern that they might. So naturally photos and “recording of any kind” must be banned for everyone!
Er, for everyone except the Board Secretariat, that is. In the hands of the Board Secretariat, who routinely creates a recording of the entirety of every meeting, it is a valuable tool to ensure accuracy and proper documentation of events for the minutes. Hypocrisy has a name and it is Reny Kahlon.
Under her direction, the Board already operates in an extremely secretive manner without this nonsense.
Some important background: The Board usually holds two meetings, Committees and Board. Committees meet first and is essentially a “practice” meeting where they work out the kinks of proposals in front of them. By the time they have a Board meeting, usually about a week later, they are generally just rubber stamping the things they already talked about the previous week. Within each meeting there are two agendas, Open (public) and Closed (private). And within those agendas are items that are either for Discussion/Approval (where the board discusses and/or votes on each individual item) or for Consent (documentation provided, but no discussion occurs, voted on in one omnibus motion).
While there exist legitimate reasons for the Board to deliberate in private, marking items as “Closed” has become a matter of convenience to avoid scrutiny rather than one of genuine necessity. For example, tomorrow’s Open portion of the Board agenda has an item for Approval about raising international tuition. It comes with no documentation, no presentation, and is only allotted 5 minutes. This item did not appear on the Open portion of the Committee agenda the week prior. Motions like this do not appear out of nowhere. Chances are extremely high that in the Closed session of Committees, there was documentation, a presentation, and way more than 5 minutes of discussion.
It also happened this month with the university’s development plans along University Boulevard. A six-part, 240-word motion with 135 pages of supporting documentation has miraculously appeared on the Open Board agenda, where nothing existed on the Committees agenda. In April, it was the university’s billion-dollar annual budget which did not appear on the Committees agenda, then was approved at Board based on a title slide and about 30 seconds of non-discussion. It’s extremely disingenuous to pretend to be making the decision in public while undertaking all discussion and deliberation in private.
The “no recording” policy also fits into this mould – despite being dated May 12, it did not appear on the June 2 Committee agenda and was magically dropped from the sky onto the Board agenda on June 5. To make things more absurd, it is an item for Consent, which means it likely was not subject to any discussion during Committees. It was kept secret for… what reason, exactly? And that’s not the height of the absurdity: approval of Board and Committee minutes, the “accurate documented record” of meetings, never appears on Open agendas. The official public record is considered a private matter. It’s secrecy for secrecy’s sake.
That this motion would even be considered is a symptom of the Board’s greatest weakness: its utter disconnection from the university it governs. The modus operandi of Ms. Kahlon as Board Secretariat seems to be to insert herself as the middle person into any issue that is or could become a problem. Under the guise of protecting Governors, they are isolated from everyone except the administration. The information stream and narrative they receive is often very narrow, and carefully cultivated to support certain outcomes. Alternative viewpoints and information is minimized or suppressed. The result is that the Board becomes the stereotypical governing body that is completely out of touch. Rather than addressing problems head on to find solutions, the strategy results in disputes that are allowed to fester and grow, and only dealt with once they become too big to ignore. Trying to prevent records of the Board’s activities from being generated is just part of that strategy to keep Governors in the dark, and the public too.