Feds announces measures to improve Board of Directors transparency

In the aftermath of the failed Feds Annual General Meeting (AGM) motion to reopen Feds board of directors (BoD) meetings to the public Oct. 22, Feds president Danielle Burt has proposed an ad hoc committee be formed to look at ways to improve the transparency of these meetings without reopening them.

BoD meetings have previously been closed to the public and Feds have recently experimented with open meetings. Burt officially commented Aug. 1, 2014 on the closure on Feds’ blog.

The terms of reference for the ad hoc committee have yet to be passed by the BoD, but so far Burt is proposing a five-person committee consisting of the BoD chair, two directors, a councillor, and a student-at-large.

“We’re going to be posting the at-large student that’s going to be sitting on the committee mid-to-end November because we have to wait until our November board meeting to pass the terms of reference for the ad hoc committee, then I expect to put in the terms of reference to say ‘report to board by the end of the [Fall] term,’” she said.

When asked about the low number of at-large representation, Burt said it is up to board to decide whether they want more of a voice from non-council and non-BoD members.

“So we usually don’t have at-large students on our board committees just because of context, sometimes it doesn’t always overlap. But this one, we definitely want student input so we are putting a student-at-large there. If board thinks they want more, we haven’t voted on [the terms of reference], so, if board wants more, that is something that could happen at the board meeting.”

Burt sat on the BoD prior to being elected Feds president in 2014 and was a seat member in the committee that suggested that BoD meetings be closed.

“So last year, when I was on board and the committee was created to look at procedure, … [we] ended up closing the board meeting as a recommendation to the main board. I was just a committee seat member on that. And once it was closed over the four months, it was kind of a trial period to see how that went and then now that it’s actually [official], with the motion at the general meeting and just the results of that, it’s a good time to do that six-month review of that procedure,” she said of her decision to create the committee.

Burt believes BoD meetings should remain closed and spoke to that in blog posts and at the AGM. In the platform she ran on, transparency of the BoD was not a point: “Improving the functionality [of the BoD] by empowering the directors to actively participate in the research and education of discussions. Currently the BoD relies heavily on the capabilities of the exec and a disconnect remains between the three parties: executives, directors-at-large, and the board members who are also councillors.”

However, she did pledge to “research how we can… better capitalize on mediums of communication,” “[promote] community involvement,” and to “[create] opportunities for students to be engaged and participate in the decision-setting processed by conducting effective focus groups within the societies.”

Burt also said that closed board meetings run shorter than open ones. “[If] I look at the comparison, we’re a lot more efficient with the closed meetings. As well, the directors have freedom to say their opinion on whatever matter, whether it be right or wrong… sometimes we had gallery members who would speak on behalf of things and it would kind of confuse directors or change the tone of the meeting,” she said.

The sudden interest in BoD affairs has caught Feds off-guard and Burt is “not particularly sure” as to why students have vocalized their concern against closed meetings.

“I think it was just because of how public it was when it was…when it went from open to closed. I think that hadn’t happened [before] because historically it had always been closed. The students hadn’t seen [it switch from] open to close so that kind of switch, was ‘hey that’s not okay’ kind of thing. I think that’s where it came from, but I can’t speak to why all of a sudden,” she said.

She hopes that this interest will, however, translate over into student council affairs.

“…I would like if there was this much interest in our council because that’s open and public and a lot more student discussion. Frankly the board meetings are usually pretty boring. We don’t talk about student issues; we talk about the business side of things. So I think students would absolutely love to attend our council meetings, so I would prefer to switch that over,” she said.

The next BoD meeting is not listed on the BoD section on the Feds website. Minutes for the October meeting are not posted.