Board promises ‘harder look’ at its processes

Paul Mayne // Western News

Western’s Board of Governors backed the future-focused plans of both President Amit Chakma and Board Chair Chirag Shah at the Board’s regular meeting Thursday. In unanimous votes, Board members approved two separate motions, each reading:

  • That the Board of Governors expresses its full support for the president’s leadership in consulting with the university community on a range of important issues; and
  • That the Board of Governors expresses its full support for the Board Chair’s leadership in calling for a review of a range of governance processes, including improved communication with the larger community.

“We are pleased with the president’s outreach as he is meeting with faculties, as well as some key, interested parties. We have already seen some results yielded from that,” Shah said following the Board meeting. “The Board has also, internally, taken on a project to take a harder look at our governance, our transparency and our communications channels. We are looking at some opportunities for change, as we go forward.

“We are going to be stronger for this. We are going to be more responsive to our community for this.”

No Board members offered thoughts on the controversy in open session. However, Shah described the behind-closed-doors debate as “a very open dialogue on what has transpired, what we need to learn from that and how do we respond and change for the better for Western.”

He continued, “I think this whole exercise will allow us to be stronger as an institution. There are many positives to come out of this.”

The Board had been silent on the presidential compensation controversy since April 1, when it announced an “independent and impartial review of the university’s presidential compensation practices,” led by Stephen T. Goudge, former Justice of the Court of Appeal of Ontario. Only Board members Jim Knowles and Matthew Wilson have spoken publicly and that was in their roles as Board representatives to the university Senate.

On April 17, university Senate members voted down separate motions of non-confidence in Shah and Chakma at a specially called meeting. Senators voted 30-49, with five abstentions, against a motion of non-confidence in the president, and 20-46, with 21 abstentions, against a motion of non-confidence in Shah. Knowles and Wilson rose to defend Shah during the debate of non-confidence.

Shah, personally, had been silent on the issue until today out of “respect for the Senate process.”

“The Board and Senate are distinct entities,” he stressed. “Senate was going through a deliberation and, I think, my speaking out, prior to engaging Justice Goudge and interfering in the process Senate was going through, would have been inappropriate. It would have marred the independence of what Senate was going through.”

Although, Shah continued, his silence did not mean he was deaf to the debate.

“I have heard the clear message from across campus that they are looking for some opportunities for better interactivity and change in how the Board operates,” he said. “And we’re willing to listen to that.”

What exactly those opportunities might be, Shah would not say. He shied away from questions related to Goudge’s review, while renewing the Board’s commitment to the eventual findings.

“We are committed to implementing (Goudge’s) recommendations. We continue to stand by the fact we believe the Board in 2008-9 negotiated, in good faith, a competitive package for our president in line with his peer institutions. There are, clearly, opportunities for us to improve. And that’s what we’re looking for as the result of this review.

“Success here is the institution being stronger. I look at our connectivity; I look at the opportunity for our Board to improve its processes. All of these things amount to a great deal of success for this institution. If we can leave it stronger than the way we found it, we have achieved success.”

Recruited by Western’s Alumni Association, Shah, BSc’89, joined the Board in 2010. He has chaired its Property and Finance Committee and served as vice-chair in 2013. He became chair in January 2014.

“I, personally, value Western quite a bit. I really care for this institution. I would not give my time, effort and capital to the institution if I wasn’t passionate about it,” said Shah, London market leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “I have taken a lot of benefit from my learning years at Western. For me, it is a labour of love.

“But this has been an interesting exercise as a volunteer. I come to this board to try and give back to this community. We all share the best interests of this university at heart; we all try to make the best decisions for Western. I look at this as a passionate, engaged community. I am encouraged to see that passion does manifest itself in a broad-based dialogue.”

On April 10, Chakma stood before the university Senate an apologized for his role in recent events. “I stand before you profoundly humbled by – and deeply sorry for – the events of the past two weeks,” he said. “And I am grateful for this opportunity to express my deepest regrets and most sincere apologies to you for the disruption the issue of my compensation has caused for our community. I ask for your forgiveness.”

Shah, however, spoke more broadly of the Board’s roles and responsibilities.

“We try to maintain full transparency in our decision-making,” Shah said. “This process has brought to light that we are not as transparent as we need to be.”

He continued, “We have committed, as a group, to look at our processes as a result of this. I am very happy to have received the full support from the Board of Governors with respect to the range of governance processes I want to take a look at – including our improved communications plan and our plan going forward with the president.”