Is Stephen Harper in charge of the University of Victoria?

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Dear community, students, faculty, staff and administration, do you know who’s in charge of the University of Victoria?

If you visit the university’s website, you’ll read that “the Board of Governors is responsible for the management, administration and control of the property, revenue, business, and affairs of the university.” Reading further, you’ll see that the Board of Governors is made up of eight politically appointed members (a majority), the president (elected by a 20-person appointment committee), the chancellor (recommended to the Board of Governors by a seven-person search committee, approval required by the Board of Governors), two elected students, two elected faculty, and one elected staff member. That’s a total of 15 members.

So who gets to appoint the eight members? The “honour” goes to the lieutenant governor of British Columbia, Judith Guichon (a figurehead). She is appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Let me repeat myself. The person who appoints the majority of the Board of Governors of the University of Victoria (eight out of 15 members) is herself appointed by Stephen Harper! Long story short, why is Harper in charge of the majority of the Board of Governors of the University of Victoria? Is Harper in charge of the University of Victoria?

According to UVic’s website, the federal government provides 13 per cent of the university’s revenue, so why does Harper, through his appointment of Guichon, get to appoint the board majority—100 per cent of the appointed UVic board members (eight out of 15)? Most reasonable people would agree that voters should have democratic political representation. When a voter votes for their candidate and party of choice, they are exercising their fundamental human right, a political right, the right to vote. In the 2011 Federal Election, 54 per cent of British Columbian voters and 60 per cent of Canadian voters voted for a candidate and party that was Liberal, New Democratic, Bloc Québécois or Green, yet none of these parties get to appoint any member to UVic’s Board of Governors, while Stephen Harper and his Conservative party get to appoint all the appointed members. In the 2013 B.C. Provincial Election, 95 per cent of voters voted Liberal, New Democrat, Green or independent, yet none of these parties get to appoint any member to UVic’s Board of Governors, while Harper and his party get to appoint all the appointed members.

One person and party should not be able to appoint all the appointed members to the Board of Governors of UVic, because this violates the human and political rights of voters who did not vote for Harper and the Conservative Party. The reason this is undemocratic and a clear violation of the human and political rights of voters is that their political views and choices are not represented by the current Board of Governors at the University of Victoria. If the University of Victoria is to be considered a progressive and democratic institution, its politically appointed members to the Board of Governors have to be representative of the political choices of British Columbians and Canadians.

So what would a democratically appointed board that respected the human and political rights of voters look like? Based on the 2011 Federal Election results, 19 per cent of the voters voted for a Liberal candidate, so the Liberal Party would appoint 1.52 members to the Board of Governors or two members if we’re rounding (19 per cent of eight appointed members). The New Democratic Party got 31 per cent of the vote, so they would appoint three members (31 per cent of eight appointed members). The Conservative Party got 40 per cent of the vote, so they would appoint three members (40 per cent of eight appointed members). Using the same proportionally democratic system for the 2013 B.C. provincial election, the Liberal Party would appoint four members to the board (44 per cent of eight appointed members), the New Democratic Party would appoint three members (40 per cent of eight appointed members), and the Green Party would appoint one (eight per cent of eight appointed members).

The system above for choosing the politically appointed board members is democratic and respects the human and political rights of voters, unlike the current system which is undemocratic and violates our human and political rights.

Dear community, students, faculty, staff and administration, let’s start working together to make the University of Victoria a democratic institution that respects our human and political rights.

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  • cornflakes101

    Hey Kelsey. Thank you for your comment. What I understand as of now, is that some people within the B.C Liberal Party select 8 people to UVic’s Board of Governors and the Lieutenant Governor of B.C approves, and also those 8 members approve the selection of the chancellor.

    The premise of the story is that one party and its leader (Christy Clark) select all the politically appointed members of the board of governors. The second premise is that voters have human and political rights and have to have political representation on the board of governors. The conclusion is that since 56% of voters who voted NDP, Green, and Independent have no representation on the board, that is a human and political violation.

    I am re-writing the story for next week’s issue, but the premise and the conclusion is still the same, the main difference will be to replace “Stephen Harper” with “Christy Clark”. In the original story, 60% of voter’s human and political rights are violated (60% did not vote for Harper), in next week’s issue, 56% of B.C voter’s human and political rights are violated (56% did not vote for Clark).

    Lastly, another issue is if the Lieutenant Governor only approves the selection made by one political party, why is she needed and what is her influence and why is she appointed by the Prime Minister? Also, since the school is funded by taxpayers and students, what are their human and political rights if the executive leadership is in charge of administrative decisions and not the board as you say.

    • Peter Kazakoff

      Jesus Christ.

      “The conclusion is that since 56% of voters who voted NDP, Green, and Independent have no representation on the board, that is a human and political violation.”

      It’s a goddamned university board for a public research university. Are you seriously suggesting that all levels of governance for public institutions reflect the popular vote from a general election? That’s lunacy. Yes, the board composition likely will reflect the wishes of the political government, and no, there is nothing terribly unusual about this. The BC Liberals formed a government by winning a majority of seats in the last provincial election and thus have the right to manage public institutions as representatives of the people provided they maintain the confidence of the Legislative Assembly. This is a concept known as “democracy.”

      “56% of B.C voter’s human and political rights are violated (56% did not vote for Clark).”

      Ah, the “sore loser” point. First off, BC is FPTP province. Two referenda were pitched to install a single transferable vote system (2005 and 2009), and both failed. It could be reasonably inferred that voters in BC are quite happy with the way the system runs now. Secondly, even if you look at the PV numbers, the Libs still won a plurality of votes. So nope, I’m not buying it.

      “Lastly, another issue is if the Lieutenant Governor only approves the selection made by one political party, why is she needed and what is her influence and why is she appointed by the Prime Minister?”

      Wow. Did you sleep through civics in grade school? The LG is the viceregal representative of HM Queen Elizabeth II and is an important component of our constitutional monarchy. The LG’s role is largely ceremonial today, but certain functions of the governmental system (such as summoning the legislature or providing royal assent to legislation) are only performed by the LG. Thus the LG is a cornerstone of our monarchy.

      • cornflakes101

        Hey Peter. Thank you for your comment.

        You made a good point. UVic is a public university. UVic is funded by taxes and students. People who pay taxes and students have to be politically represented by the Board of Governors in my opinion. 44% percent of voters voted B.C Liberal, 40% voted NDP, 8% Green, 5% Conservative, 2% Independant. Why do you think all 8 politically appointed members should be chosen by one party? Why not select politically appointed members proportionally based on the vote? Why do you consider that lunacy? I consider that a healthier democracy where voters and taxpayers are politically represented, which is a human right. Unlike now, where only 44% of voters have representation.

        Regarding the referendums you mentioned, the first one in 2005 got 57% approval. To put that in perspective, the current government got 44% of the vote and has all the power (since they have a majority of seats), but when voters voted 57% in favour of changing the voting system, that wasn’t not enough for some people. Do you think that’s logical and democratic? The second referendum in 2009 was worded differently, here I’m quoting from wikipidea
        “In 2005 voters had been asked: “Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform?”
        But in 2009 they were asked:
        Which electoral system should British Columbia use to elect members to the provincial Legislative Assembly?
        ▪ The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)
        ▪ The single transferable vote electoral system (BC-STV) proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform ”

        Lastly, it’s 2013, why are we still talking about monarchy?

  • Kelsey Hannan

    It’s hard to read an article where the central premise is so fundamentally wrong and misunderstanding of the facts, Everything after that reads like a terrible diatribe from somebody who clearly has no idea how the board appointment process actually works.

    In BC the lieutenant governor yields no discretionary power or judgement over decisions that are legally in his domain. He is, for all practical purposes, a figure head who implements the political will of the *provincial* government lead by the premier. This is a long standing tradition in provincial governance that is entrenched in actual practice. To suggest he is somehow a relevant political player is to fundamentally misunderstand how governance is actually conducted in BC and Canada.

    If you want to analyse the power dynamics of the Board of Governors at UVic you need to examine the **provincial** government. Power brokers at the provincial level (ie, the premier) are the real people influencing and deciding on appointments. Most UVic Board members are people with political connections to the *provincial* government who also hold relevant experience. Most appointed UVic Board of Governors actually have little interest in wielding discretionary power over the administrators at the University. In almost every circumstance, administrative decisions at UVic are made solely by the executive leadership, beginning with the President down to his respective VP’s. It’s their accountability to the board, and the board’s accountability to the provincial government, that is worthy of deep analysis.

    Please understand these basic facts before you write your next editorial…

    Sincerely.

    Former UVic Board Member
    (No, not appointed by Harper)

    • Kelsey Hannan

      Part of your mistake is assuming that the appointment process is more political than it is.

      When I served at UVic, the board appointment philosophy was driven strongly by technocratic decisionmaking–UVic searched for people with backgrounds that would be of use to the board (e.g, accounting, engineering, legal background, etc) and then made recommendations to the board appointments office that they should be appointed. In most circumstances (not always) the provincial government followed the recommendations made by UVic. So from my experience it was the executives at UVic who were in the drivers seat, not the province.

      Unlike other universities with fractious governing bodies, the UVic board of governors has tended to have a corgial and technocratic approach to decision making–at least recently. Without revealing specifics, because I can’t, if I had to identify a problem with the board, it’s that the board is too deferential to the UVic executive, not that the province is interfering or forcing an ideological orientation on it through its order-in-council appointment majority.

      The current provincial government takes a hands off approach to the board. That could change in the future but that’s how it’s functioning currently. The order-in-council appointees majority is there more so as a backup to ensure that the provincial government can make universities toe the line on major public policy initiatives. E.g. If the premier wins an election promising to double the number of medical school placements in BC, then the provincial government can use its controlling board majority to ensure the coherent coordination of this public policy objective.

      To say that the current arrangement is a human rights violation is simplistic and intellectually lazy. Take a real academic approach to this: interview former board appointees and find out what their experience was. Then use that real data, rather than just your assumptions, to construct thoughtful analysis about how the board could be made better.

      Sincerely again,

      – A former board member

      • cornflakes101

        Hey Kelsey. Thank you again for your comment.

        My opinion is that since UVic is a public university funded by taxes and students, they should have political representation on the board, not just the 44% of voters who voted B.C Liberal. If the university was private, then the owners and executives should have control, but UVic is not a private school, it’s a pubic university.

        One of two new politically appointed members this year is Ida Chong, B.C Liberal MLA (1996-2013). Yes, the board of governors is political and should be, it’s a public school funded by taxes and students, but the board should represent all voters, not just the 44% who voted B.C Liberal.

        • kziegler

          I agree with Kelsey in almost all respects, this piece can use a lot of work (understatement) and changing Prime Minister to Premier won’t make a substantial difference to the article. It is deeply flawed and lacks both rigour and research.
          If the argument is that publicly funded universities should be democratically accountable then right an article outlining ways you feel UVic’s governance should be improved. Saying that appointees should be made to reflect voting preferences of taxpayers is a flawed way to convey your point on several accounts. This is not exhaustive:
          First, board appointees are usually appointed for a fixed term and all appointments by the LG are not made all at once. Between appointments elections can occur and voter’s preferences do change. Keeping that in mind; if your argument is tied to provincial election results then board terms would be linked to the terms of MLAs. Thus would weaken the autonomy that universities enjoy and increasingly expose them to provincial partisan politics, but that is neither here nor there.
          Second, in provincial elections legally Canadian citizens do not vote for political parties. We elect candidates, though in practice almost all elected MLAs are members of political parties and many voters vote for a candidate based on party affiliation. That said MLAs and MPs can, and some have left the parties they were elected as members of, some leave by choice, some switch parties, some are forced out.
          Third, there are different models of democracy and democracy is not the sole or primary principle that undermines the Canadian constitution: that would be the rule of law. Canada was not created by directly democratic means, indeed when it was created its constitution was structured in such a way which was designed to restrain and discourage notions of direct democracy and contained a fear of the tyranny of the majority. It is out of recognition that there are rule in place, and that for Canada as a whole direct democracy is not an ideal system of government, that govern processes that our democracy continues to function. This thought underlines the single-member plurality voting system. There are legitimate complaints about electoral systems in Canada, but what is recognized is that if reforms are to be made they should be made in accordance with the law. When the referendums on STV occurred in British Columbia those referendums failed to meet the thresholds set out in law, recognizing that a simple majority for some things is not enough (a simple plurality is not enough argument can be made for MLAs and MPS, but such arguments are not of this discussion).
          Fourth, if your argument is that a public university’s board members should be appointed to represent those who pay for it to operate that has several interesting implication, the most interesting being if we apply the principle to all board seats it would excludes faculty and staff representation. Looking strictly at the appointed seats, a taxpayer centric argument would be they should be divided between levels of government based on their contributions to the institution for an academic year.