Something odd happened yesterday: security guards prevented me from attending an open meeting of the York University Board of Governors.
York has the common bicameral governance structure: the Senate (which I sit on, in the middle of a three-year term) “is responsible for the University’s academic policy” (it’s ultimately responsible for all the academic programs, for example, and also oversees the tenure process for professors) while the Board “oversees the government, conduct, management and control of the University and its property, revenues, expenditures, business and affairs, subject only to those duties specifically assigned to the Senate, the President and the Chancellor.”
As is also common, the Board (a small body dominated by non-York people) has an increasing amount of power over university operations while the Senate (a large collegial body made up mostly of professors, and with a fair number of students) loses influence. The corporatization of universities is playing out at York like everywhere else.
A while ago I started keeping an eye on the Board of Governors agendas and minutes because while the Libraries are certainly affected by Senate, the Board is where some serious and important decisions were being made and useful information was being shared that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else, especially around budgets and librarian and archivist complement. I got curious about visiting a Board of Governors meeting to see how the other part of the system worked.
The Board meeting agendas and synopses are openly available, and the page says, “Members of the community may attend Board meetings; however, since seating is limited, please make arrangements in advance with the University Secretariat at (416) 736-5310.” A couple of weeks ago I phoned the number but got voice mail, and, since personally I dislike voice mail, I switched to email, and sent the person at that phone number a note saying I planned to attend the Board meeting on 27 February.
I didn’t hear back, and it was my fault that I did not follow up. I will do a better job for the next meeting, in May. Still, what happened yesterday was interesting.
Not figuring there would be a problem, I went down to the Kaneff Research Tower (where the Board meets; it’s also where the president and vice-presidents have their offices) about 13:45, having seen they were in camera until about 14:00.
There was a small CUPE 3903 rally—50 people or so—going on outside. They may go on strike next week. I knew this would be a topic at the Board, and reckoned this was what they were talking about in private before the meeting opened up. I didn’t expect what happened next, though.
I went past the rally to the Kaneff doors, which were locked. Inside was a security guard, who asked if I was there for the board meeting. I said I was, but she had a list of names to check, and I wasn’t on it. I explained who I was and that I’d emailed. She let me into the vestibule and I went through to the next door, also locked, which another security guard opened.
He was texting with someone upstairs, and took my name and title, plus the name of the person I’d contacted, and sent this information upstairs. He explained the meeting was packed and there was very little space, so they were seeing if something could be arranged. While I waited, two deans came in and went up. They used the left-hand elevator, which was controlled by a security guard. Other people going to other floors used the right-hand elevator, which was unguarded. The rally outside broke up.
Eventually the security guard heard from upstairs: I couldn’t come up. He apologized. I said I understood and went back to my office.
Two things struck me. First, I was surprised to be kept out of an open meeting by security guards. They weren’t armed, and they were friendly enough, so this was nothing like the terrible situations that have happened at other campuses over the decades, but I don’t like it. If a meeting is “open,” it’s open.
Second, the list the first guard reviewed had the usual names seen on the Board meeting synopses. The Board has 30 members, and it looks like some others regularly attend to stay informed. Nevertheless, its regular meeting room apparently gets so crowded that people need to give advance notice they’ll be going so they can squeezed in—and that’s for average meetings, not ones days ahead of a potential university-closing strike. Meanwhile the Senate has 167 members, and meets in the Senate chambers, which is designed for a large body of people to talk and discuss.
Why don’t they meet there? It’s clear the Board is hiding away.