Today I tried for the second time to observe a meeting of York University’s Board of Governors, and for the second time it didn’t work out: they did it by phone instead, and no one was allowed to listen in.
As I wrote in February, my first attempt to observe the Board stopped at the doors to the Kaneff Tower, where they were meeting. This was just before the CUPE 3903 strike began (today is day 58), but they were protesting outside about how negotiations were going. I had emailed to be put on the observer list, but in the end I didn’t get on it. I couldn’t get upstairs.
This time I talked to two different people (by phone, email and in person) to make sure I got on the list. I did. I was looking forward to observing the meeting and seeing how the other half of York’s bicameral governance structure operates. (I sit on the Senate.)
The co-ordinator sent an email to me and, I guess, other observers, saying that there would be an in camera session when the meeting started at 1330, and that it would open up to us at around 1400. We should be at the meeting no earlier than 1345 and no later than 1400. Perfectly reasonable—with the strike on, they’ll have a lot to talk about, and labour issues are confidential.
This morning at 0948 the co-ordinator sent us all an email saying the meeting had been moved to 280N York Lanes. The location was a bit surprising, but I know the room well (I sit on the YUFA Stewards’ Council, which often meets there), and it’s pretty large, so there would be lots of room for everyone. That seemed promising.
I headed down to York Lanes with lots of time to spare, enjoying the warm sunny day. Outside there was a small protest.
Across the street a few people were standing around watching, including two uniformed security guards. The protest wasn’t really in the right place to prevent anyone from getting up to the second floor of York Lanes, so I didn’t think much of it, just that they’d be making noise outside and we might hear them inside.
When I got to the second floor of York Lanes I was surprised not to be stopped by guards. There are two separate entrances to that part of the building, and I though they’d be blocking each, but there was no one there.
A couple of dozen people (all young, at least to me) were milling around outside 280N. Its door was locked. A young man jumped up and looked over the frosted section of the glass walls and reported that he could see coffee and water set out, but there was no one there.
Without guards protecting the room it was clear it was useless as a meeting place for the Board.
I checked my email and discovered the co-ordinator had just sent a message, at 1344: the meeting would be held by teleconference, and so observers could not attend.
I recommend scanning the agenda package for the Board meeting, which as always is full of interesting stuff, including giving $850K to Osgoode (the law school) to improve a space it has downtown, $9.2M to Lassonde (engineering) for more space (including housing grad students in modified shipping containers?!), $6.6M for Lassonde to rent space on the other side of Keele, $2.8M so the finance department can extend their lease where they are also across Keele, $10.7M more (making $61.2M) for the construction of a new School of Continuing Studies building, and $4.7M for repairs and improvements to Atkinson. I assume the Continuing Studies building will make its money back in time, and I certainly understand the need for Lassonde to expand and for Atkinson to get improved (I think there’s over $500M of deferred maintenance that needs doing on campus)—but as seen on Reddit (good work /u/RandyFord), I wish they’d spend money on the Scott Library, which leaks even when it isn’t raining.
Naturally I wondered when the decision was made to do the meeting by phone. Probably not after 1330, minutes before the email went out. Later I saw some discussion about the protest on Reddit, and this tweet with a video clip of the police escorting a board member to another building, I assume to take the phone call. I don’t know when all that happened.
And I don’t understand why the meeting was moved out of Kaneff in the first place, given that security was tight the last time and the meeting went off without a hitch for the Board. (Did protesters get inside in the morning?)
Maybe the Board will try holding an open meeting and encourage observers to attend. Because our Senate Chambers are being occupied by students, the last two meetings of Senate have been held in lecture halls, where there’s lots of room of visitors. It’s worked out well. Decorum is gently enforced and mostly upheld. Instead of angry people banging doors and shouting from outside, everyone is inside, and gets to talk. It’s a small step but an important one.
UPDATE (Wednesday 02 May 2018): Turns out Richard Wellen, the president of YUFA, had requested to make a statement to the Board, and managed to do so by phone even with all the mishegas.