Deputy Minister of Advanced Education appointed to College Board

On February 12, 2016, BC Order-in-Council 058 was signed, appointing Sandra Carroll to the Board of Governors of the College of New Caledonia (CNC), based in Prince George. It was signed by Andrew Wilkinson, the Minister of Advanced Education, and specified that Ms. Carroll would be a member of the Board for 2 years. It looked like a fairly mundane matter except for one thing – Sandra Carroll is the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education, working directly under Minister Wilkinson, in the same ministry that provides funding and oversight to institutions such as the College of New Caledonia.

This is yet another government appointment that raises questions over the process and qualifications of the appointees. It also raises questions about one of Minister Wilkinson’s favourite positions in recent months, namely that institutional autonomy must be respected and that the ministry is strictly hands off when it comes to each institution’s internal governance. And it’s just plain weird.

But not illegal, as Advanced Education spokesperson Rodney Porter was quick to note. Section 23 of the University Act would prohibit someone like Ms. Carroll, in a senior role in the Ministry, from sitting on the Board of a university like UBC. But as a college, CNC falls under the College and Institute Act, which doesn’t contain the same prohibition. Under that Act, Minister Wilkinson could appoint himself to the Board of a BC college if he wanted to. The ministry’s official statement about the appointment was as follows:

    “The College of New Caledonia is a respected and valued college in the north that has provided high-equality [sic] education and training for thousands of students since 1969 and will continue to do so for many more years to come. To position the college for short- and long-term success, the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education, Sandra Carroll, and Lee Doney have been appointed as board members to provide support, guidance and advice. Our government is committed to putting students first and, when appropriate, providing assistance to ensure students and public post-secondary institutions succeed.”

Reading between the lines, the Ministry is basically saying that CNC needed some help, and so they made sure that help was delivered. In addition to Ms. Carroll, it also mentions that Lee Doney was appointed at the same time. Mr. Doney, according to his bio on the BRDO, spent 17 years as a Deputy Minister in the BC Government. A statement issued by CNC would seem to echo the ministry’s sentiments. It notes that the college is facing a $2.8M deficit this year and hints that it very much welcomes any assistance that would move it towards the achievement of long-term financial stability.

So how to think about this appointment?

Minister Wilkinson has often cited institutional autonomy whenever delivering a non-comment about whatever’s been happening at one of the province’s universities. It’s not just the Gupta stuff, it’s also been cited in regards to sexual assault policies, or a faculty strike, or revelations that post-secondary institutions felt the need to hire lobbyists to contact the Ministry on their behalf. To be clear, it’s absolutely appropriate that post-secondary institutions have a great deal of autonomy and that the Ministry isn’t trying to micromanage each one of them centrally. But in the case of Ms. Carroll’s appointment, by “providing assistance to ensure students and public post-secondary institutions succeed” the ministry is clearly meddling with CNC’s internal affairs. In fairness to both parties, this particular meddling is meant to be constructive and CNC does not seem to object. But it does show that the ministry clearly recognizes that it can influence the direction of a post-secondary institution through the quality of the people it chooses to sit on the Board.

If appointing skilled Governors to CNC’s board can help them get their ship in order, the corollary is that appointing unskilled or unqualified Governors to UBC’s board can be harmful or destabilizing. (I’ve heard complaints from elsewhere about the quality of governors the province sends them too.) UBC has had its fair share of seemingly disinterested or ill-informed governors in the past little while, and the unfortunate fallout has been put on display for all to see, and continues still. It’s time for the Ministry to quit the cynical patronage appointments and actually send good people to sit on these Boards.

Kudos to the ministry then, since it seems like that’s exactly what they were trying to do with Ms Carroll’s appointment. It’s certainly difficult to argue with her merits as they relate to the ability to serve as a knowledgeable and competent governor of CNC. No one is as well-positioned as her to have the complete picture about the context in which CNC is operating, and the issues it is facing. But that positioning unfortunately leads other problems – the vast majority of this knowledge and expertise is derived from the fact that she is the current Deputy Minister of Advanced Education.

Rodney Porter went out of his way to offer assurances that Ms. Carroll would declare all conflicts of interests and recuse herself where appropriate. He also noted that Ms. Carroll was entitled to remuneration of $2,000 to act as a governor of CNC but that she will forgo that payment. This sounds good and all, except that still falls short of addressing the fundamental and systemic conflict of interest that exists regardless of Ms. Carroll’s personal attributes and qualifications. The Board Resourcing and Development Office’s “General Conduct Principles for Public Appointees” says this about conflict of interest: “Appointees must avoid any conflict of interest that might impair or impugn the independence, integrity or impartiality of their agency, board or commission. There must be no apprehension of bias, based on what a reasonable person might perceive. It is unavoidable that Ms. Carroll’s role as Deputy Minister of Advanced Education might, as the alliterative writer put it, impair or impugn the independence or impartiality of the CNC Board.

In a nutshell, what makes her very well-qualified to be a Governor of CNC is her experience as Deputy Minister, but since she still holds that position, she should not be applying her experiences as Deputy Minister towards the governance of CNC. There’s a very good reason why the University Act has a “Persons Not Eligible” section written into it. It’s time for the College and Institute Act to have it too.


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