Editorial: Does the UBC Board of Governors care about transparency?

You would think UBC Board of Governors (BoG) would be interested in maintaining transparency and accountability, following years of criticism around bad governance.

This month, its governance committee has proposed several changes to the board meeting rules and practices. Among small wording changes brought forth by UBC legal counsel Hubert Lai is a change that would ban everyone, except the board secretariat, from recording meetings.

Screenshot UBC Board of Governors

If passed, this ban on recordings could fundamentally shift the way The Ubyssey does our job of breaking down convoluted, bureaucratic policies and bringing them to the attention of the students, staff and faculty who are impacted the most.

UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan, with the former being almost its own city, are effected by these policies. That's around 70,000+ students, staff and faculty on both campuses. The university handles an operating budget of roughly $2.1 billion and an endowment fund of $1.71 billion. As a student newspaper with a hyperlocal mandate, we focus almost solely on UBC when other Vancouver-based news outlets often cannot.

While the board does livestream the full meetings, they do not livestream the committee meetings which are arguably where most of the important debate and discussion about specific policies takes place.

With that, our news team has tried to attend and live-tweet every single BoG meeting over the years to hold the university accountable.

But despite our best efforts, it is obvious that live-tweets — required to be packed into 280 characters each — cannot convey the full nuances and complexities of fast-paced meetings that are often full of bureaucratic lingo.

As a result, our recordings have allowed us to make sense of the discussions being had at the highest level of university governance to accurately inform the community members they affect the most. In fact, our reporting on UBC’s sexual violence policy, tuition increases, food insecurity and endowment divestment have relied on the discussions held at BoG meetings and our recordings play a huge role in helping us get the facts straight.

And we are not alone in our frustration.

After Dr. Charles Menzies — a Vancouver faculty member on the Board — criticized the motion on his blog, there has already been public pushback from a number of other governors.

Notably, Board Chair Michael Korenberg himself tweeted about his appreciation for The Ubyssey’s work, calling the proposed change “unacceptable.”

When questioned by Menzies about how the proposal came to be, Korenberg said he was “unsure.” Jeanie Malone, a Vancouver Board student representative who is also a member of the governance committee, similarly expressed that she was “very surprised” by this motion.

More importantly, Board policy GA8 solidifies the university’s commitment “to the principles of accountability and transparency to the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University and to the public which is served by the University.”

Together, we hope that the motion will be dismissed when it comes up for discussion at the November 22 meeting.

If not, how solid is this commitment when the proposed change would fundamentally impact our ability to increase accountability and transparency?