Re: Feds Board of Directors Closes Meetings, June 28, 2014

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I was surprised and disappointed to learn that the Federation of Students’ chief decision-making body, the Board of Directors, decided on April 30 that all its future meetings would take place behind closed doors, without an audience.


When governing an organization, transparency is often more difficult than not. Apart from the obvious wealth of personal and privileged information that managers and boards deal with, the act of being open to scrutiny often makes certain tasks difficult, creating a trade-off between openness and efficiency. However, at times transparency must be a priority — especially for organizations like Feds, which are funded primarily off of mandatory fees from a (largely involuntary) membership.


A student union like Feds has a special moral duty to be directly accountable to its members — even if it means they have to sacrifice some efficiency. The need for this should be self-evident, as they are using our money to provide us with services.


The Feds board has power over more than $2.5 million of student money. Simply publishing a copy of their meeting minutes on the organization’s website is not enough — the meetings themselves must be open. Especially in Feds where a separate elected representative body (council) is responsible for organizational policy, it is crucial that the act of observation not be underestimated — the board must be seen to meet, and seen to adhere to Feds’ policies.


I would be more understanding if they made this change in order to protect confidential information;  but that’s not why they did this (after all, they are still publishing their meeting minutes online).


 In the words of former vice-president Adam Garcia, the decision to close the doors was made in order to “create a safe environment, [with] less scrutiny [that] results in better decision-making.”


So Feds wants to be accountable, but it doesn’t want to be accountable right away? All for the sake of creating ‘a safe environment’ for directors? A puzzling decision, to be sure. Was the previous arrangement — where the gallery sat silently and patiently off to the side — somehow tantamount to an ‘unsafe environment?’


I encourage all students on campus to bring this issue forward to their student councillors, and to bring it up at the next Feds general meeting. If the board believes that less transparent governance is in Feds’ best interests, that’s their choice; if students choose to accept that choice, then it’s the students’ fault — not the board’s — when Feds fails to understand or serve student needs.


Quite frankly, if the Feds directors feel that meeting in front of an audience —  consisting of the people who elected them to sit in the boardroom in the first place, no less — will hurt their ability to make good decisions, then perhaps they shouldn’t have stood for election to begin with. Immediate accountability in a student union should not be optional.


 

Sacha Forstner

Former Undergraduate Senator

 
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