Who is running the show?

‘[U]nless the Queen’s constituency has a majority of seats on the board [of trustees], there won’t be meaningful decisions made on our behalf’

Peter Saczkowski, ArtSci '07
Peter Saczkowski, ArtSci '07

Surely, most, if not all of us, want a say in the institutions that shape our lives. We may even be crazy enough to want to control part of those institutions. We assert this control, to a limited extent, in our
political system through voting; and this, we’re told, guarantees that we are properly represented.

This is what we call a democracy, and, flawed as it may be, we find solace in knowing we can dismiss our representatives if they exploit their power. (We like to call this accountability.)

Clearly, if we are to have rule by the people and for the people, the people must have decision-making power.

However, it’s not merely the government that shapes our lives, but a host of mechanisms, most of which we have little to no control over. But, never fear, our provincial and federal government haven’t
slashed all corporate taxes, so we still have a little revenue to give to entities we can control—public
institutions-—which, sadly, are rapidly nearing extinction.

Strangely enough, all universities in Canada are public institutions, and they certainly shape our futures. We think public institutions like the government play a role in shaping our lives and should be subject to democratization; shouldn’t universities, as public institutions, be subject to this as well? Shouldn’t universities atleast have effective representative mechanisms constituted by those who are most affected by the decisions being made?

Unfortunately, Queen’s does not, generally, allow decision-making power to rest in the hands of its most important constituency—students, faculty and staff. Rather, the governing structure is similar to an oligarchy: a small cadre of elites that are only superficially accountable.

These people sit on the Queen’s Board of Trustees. The governing structure at Queen’s is, at the very least, quite the bureaucracy, and we cannot pretend that it’s a simple hierarchy. But, for our purposes we need only focus on the places where power is most concentrated—the board and the senate.

Both these governing bodies occupy one of the top rungs of the ladder, which means they presumably have similar amounts of power. However, presumptions can be misleading.

A statement published by Queen’s says the board “oversees the management of University finances and property, frames statutes [and] is responsible for the appointment of the Principal, staff and officers of the University.”

Translation: the board has control over financial decisions and the appointment of those in positions of power. The senate, on the other hand, “determines all matters of an academic character which affect the University as a whole [and] participates in planning the development of the University (italics mine).”

Translation: the senate has little to no say in financial matters, and merely participates in other aspects of the University. This distinction is important since the board is mostly comprised of people not in the most important Queen’s constituency (students, faculty and staff), whereas the senate is almost completely comprised of people who are.

So, we know the board has most of the power over final financial decisions, and that it has little constituency representation. Who the hell is running the show here? There are 44 people on the board; only six are elected by students, faculty and staff; 15 are elected by the existing board, six by graduates, six by the University Council and six by Queen’s benefactors (which sounds eerily Orwellian to my ear).

The board members are mostly comprised of people who are notimportant stakeholders in the University; the majority are not students, faculty or staff. Moreover, this is quite different than what we expect a public board to look like. Being public means you are accountable to your constituency, but, as we saw, the board is not. We need only look at student representation for an example.

At a Board of Trustees meeting last May, Society of Graduate and Professional Students President Andrew Stevens said: “While [the students] contribute millions of dollars to the University’s budget and clearly constitute a majority on campus, there are only three seats allotted to [them].”

And, this is not only true of students, but of faculty and staff as well. Because faculty and staff do not contribute monetarily, they are also excluded from decision making, even though it’s clear that their general non-monetary contributions make the University the institution it is.

But we should have faith that the board takes the Queen’s onstituency seriously, right? As far as I know, the board does care about the quality of the University. Granting this, we can safely assume they take constituency input into consideration. Indeed, Principal Hitchcock has open office hours and is constantly engaging the world, and students can sit in on open board meetings. However, there’s a fundamental and irreconcilable difference between input and representation.

The board can open endless channels of communication, but unless the Queen’s constituency has a majority of seats on the board, there won’t be meaningful decisions made on our behalf.

If we believe in democracy and its virtues, and we are the true and most important stakeholders at Queen’s, a public institution, we should be outraged by our abysmally small voice. Many of you may think Queen’s is a good school, and our futures are secure with the board, but think about it like this: sure, we’d rather live under a beneficent despot than a tyrannical one, and the former may even be enlightened and dedicated to justice.

But democracy has prevailed to guarantee that our interests be fulfilled; given our predicament, we have no such guarantee.

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