Our Campus: New Board of Governors Chair Nancy McKenzie is placing transparency, diversity and inclusion on the front burner

Nancy McKenzie wasn’t expecting to become chair of UBC’s Board of Governors.

Formerly the chair of the Finance Committee, she was elected in July, a few weeks after then-Chair Michael Korenberg was found to have liked tweets from online figures bashing Black Lives Matter protests. Public backlash ensued and Korenberg stepped down, leaving the Board in the hands of Vice-Chair Sandra Cawley as the Board scrambled to find a replacement for Korenberg, who had served for two years.

“To be asked [to be chair] at this time of great change in the world, not only with COVID but obviously with all of the issues around invisibility, around equity, diversity and inclusion, climate change … There are so many large issues that UBC can play such a large leadership role in,” McKenzie said.

“I’m just very honoured to have been asked to be the chair.”

McKenzie was appointed to the Board by the provincial government in 2017. She spent most of her career at Seaspan ULC, a Pacific Northwest marine services company, serving as chief financial officer from 2005 to 2017. McKenzie was involved in strategic planning, something that has come in handy at UBC.

“Even though it’s a very different business, a lot of the issues and the types of things that I was involved with there are very relevant to some of the things I see at [UBC].” Currently, she’s a corporate director and vice-chair at Coast Capital Savings credit union. When McKenzie joined the UBC Board in 2017, she fit right in as the university was beginning to implement its ten-year strategic plan Shaping UBC’s Next Century.

A pledge for more transparency

McKenzie said her three priorities as chair are diversity and inclusion; supporting the core academic mission of teaching, learning and research; and fostering best practices at the Board around transparency, accountability and governance.

She also noted a commitment to supporting the university in COVID-19 recovery, the Indigenous Strategic Plan and climate crisis initiatives.

“One of the things we need to be careful with is we don’t spread ourselves too thin,” McKenzie said. “UBC is so broad and diverse that sometimes we can try to do too much, and I think sometimes it’s better to do a few things really, really well than do many things not as well.”

On transparency, McKenzie said the Board recognizes that it is a public institution and that it is accountable to the community. Last year, the Board faced public criticism on its move to ban the public recording of meetings. Within a week, the Board backtracked, but it sparked conversation of how transparent the Board really is as an institution.

“My default position for Board meetings would be that things should be open to the extent they can be,” McKenzie said.

Policy GA8 sets out what Board business is done in open, closed and in camera sessions, and McKenzie said she wants to ensure the Board is following that policy closely, so the “community knows the right things are being discussed in the right forums.”

According to that policy, the reasons for a closed session discussion are limited: confidentiality, protecting personal information, commercially sensitive information and legal privilege are the only outlined reasons. But the policy does include an “other” section that defines other times discussion could be closed “including where discussion in open would be contrary to the best interests of the University.”

McKenzie also said livestreams of the Board meetings and more recently, committee meetings, are evidence of the Board taking steps toward greater transparency. Agendas and materials of open meetings are also published online, as they have been for decades. She said in her term, she hopes to report back to the community more on Board’s progress on various initiatives.

“These are some of the things that we are doing in recognition that we are accountable to the UBC community,” McKenzie said.

Rebuilding community trust

During and after the Korenberg incident, a moment of reflection emerged both at the Board and in the broader community. Former Board members attempted to reconcile Korenberg’s accomplishments as Board chair with his political views, and many faculty and community members sent emails on the incident to the Board and President Santa Ono after the fact, a freedom of information request obtained by The Ubyssey revealed.

When asked how she plans to rebuild community trust in the Board after this incident, McKenzie emphasized her commitment to diversity and inclusion in a time where protests against the systemic oppression of Black and Indigenous lives have erupted globally.

“I truly believe that one of UBC’s great strengths is its diversity. I think we’re very fortunate that our Board is extremely diverse … I would argue that we’re one of the most diverse boards in the country,” McKenzie said.

In Canada generally, senior university leaders are overwhelmingly white, with 8.3 per cent racialized and 2.9 per cent Indigenous, according to a 2019 Universities Canada report.

“That gives us a great opportunity to hear different voices, and I think we need to listen carefully to those different voices, both at the Board … but also in the community.”

McKenzie acknowledged the moments of “reckoning” occurring in the world right now around those who have been historically and continue to be discriminated against.

“The Board in its leadership role has a strong role to play both as role models and also supporting the administration and community in coming together to deeply listen and understand how we can do better in the future,” she said.

Board members attended two equity and diversity trainings in September and October. This is more extensive equity and inclusion training than the Board has ever had before, McKenzie said.

“We all have learning to do ... and I think we all need to embrace that opportunity to learn and to listen and to find ways to be antiracist, to remove barriers and to remove discrimination.”