Shah: We took questions about Board seriously

Paul Mayne // Western News file photo

Released today by Board of Governors Chair Chirag Shah, the 'Board of Governors Chair Update' highlights actions taken by the Board since news regarding the President’s compensation last April “gave rise to a number of issues around how Western is governed and, in particular, the way in which the Board of Governors operates.”

Western Board of Governors Chair Chirag Shah felt the time was right.

“There was a fair amount of activity with respect to the Board of Governors raised in April. We went through a process shortly thereafter to determine a direction we felt appropriate,” Shah said. “Through the summer, we were able to strike a committee and define its scope. That took some time. But we now have a direction we are taking.”

Released today, the Board of Governors Chair Update highlights actions taken by the Board since news regarding the president’s compensation last April “gave rise to a number of issues around how Western is governed and, in particular, the way in which the Board of Governors operates.”

The three-page report does not outline specific measures; instead, it serves as a roadmap, outlining the task force and working groups responsible for reporting back findings to inform future actions.

“We took very seriously the questions that were raised about the Board of Governors in the spring,” Shah said. “We’ve had a strong history of governance in the past. But in order for us to take a look at our existing processes, we wanted to address the issues properly. This wasn’t done in a knee-jerk fashion; we took this very seriously.”

At its last meeting, June 23, the Board took its first step toward promised self-reflection as members voted to strike the Board Governance Review Task Force charged with a governance review of the university governing body in the wake of a turbulent spring.

“The task force wants to ensure Western is at the forefront of university governance,” the report stated. “Using universal board governance principles as its template, the task force will review and assess the Board’s governance processes and procedures, and make recommendations.”

The report further defined three areas of focus for the task force:

  • Relationships and communications with larger communities, including Senate, the university community and the wider external community;
  • Structure of the Board and its delegation of authority, including an examination of how members are selected and the role of the Senior Operations Committee; and
  • Role of the Board and of Board members, especially as it relates to its current orientation/on-boarding processes and overall Board.

“Those were the three areas we felt were of primary interest to the broader community, as we heard in the commentaries provided to us,” Shah said. “We also felt those were the most important issues for our task force to get their hands around.”

Chaired by Matt Wilson and Brian Timney, the task force is only comprised of Board members and former members, including Rick Konrad, Michael Lerner, Jeremy Adams, Paul Jenkins, Hanny Hassan, Susan Grindrod, Jonathan English and Brendan Power. Task force members divided themselves into three working groups, each one assuming responsibility for a focus area.

Although no external university community members sit on the task force, that doesn’t mean external voices cannot be heard, Shah said.

“The task force itself has the mandate to go ahead and carry out consultations they feel appropriate to answer the questions they have defined,” he continued. “I have every confidence that task force will carry out a very thorough consultation process.”

In addition, Shah, along with Board Vice-Chair Hanny Hassan, have conducted their own ‘listening tour’ by meeting with deans with the goal “to better understand opportunities and challenges their faculties have and, in particular, those that apply at a governance level.”

“We’re really pleased with the communications,” Shah said. “Our outreach is very much a process that we’ve initiated so there is a regular dialogue between the Board, the deans and the broader community. It is important for us to maintain that open channel.”

In that spirit, all faculty deans have been invited to attend the Board retreat later this month.

“I don’t think it’s necessary unusual or new – we have had those points of communication. But it was important to us to continue to emphasize and re-enforce those so we specifically move forward with this ingrained in our process.”

For those not consulted in person, ideas and opinions can be shared through the Board Governance Review Task Force website, accessed via the University Secretariat’s website,

Shah hopes to see some “milestone for discussion” from the Board Governance Review Task Force in time for the annual Board Retreat, scheduled on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 21 and 22, with the open portion of the meeting beginning at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 22.

The findings would then be shared at the Board’s November meeting, Nov. 19, in open session.

Officially, four committees are addressing issues that arose from the presidential pay controversy, and its ensuing fallout. In addition to the Board Governance Review Task Force, the University Research Board Task Force, Provost’s Task Force on University Budget Models and Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Renewal are charged with examining the operations of both governing bodies.

All committees are expected to have some findings available this year.

When you add in the independent Goudge Review investigation into the university’s presidential compensation practices, the process seems awash in committees.

“I think we have the right balance between the breath and the time for us to get through the heavy-lifting. But you have to put some timeline on this. We don’t want to be in this activity for a 12- or 18-month period,” Shah said.

“Our goal is a standing list of recommendations, that fall into each of these categories, that will be adopted by the Board. I cannot speak for that task force – I have not seen the preliminary findings. But we really do hope to end up with substantive recommendations of that that will provide full clarity.”

Shah has already promised the Board is “committed to implementing (Goudge’s) recommendations.” The report is expected at some point this fall.

The Board of Governors Chair Update comes five months after Western figures showed the university president was paid $924,000 (plus $43,244.88 in taxable benefits) in 2014 as a result of invoking a clause in his contract. Chakma’s number is somewhat deceiving as his annual base salary remained at $440,000. However, the Board approved a ‘double-payment’ to the president in lieu of a one-year administrative leave included in his first five-year contract, which concluded June 2014.

The Board re-appointed Chakma to a second five-year term extending to June 30, 2019. That contract also calls for a year administrative leave or payment in lieu of that leave.

That number sparked almost immediate outrage from the campus community, and culminated in the university Senate conducting an unprecedented pair of non-confidence votes on the leadership of both the president and Board chair on April 17. Neither vote passed, however both the president and Board chair committed to taking action on a series of concerns.

On April 10, Chakma outlined to Senate a listening tour, promising widespread engagement and he has since been meetings with faculty, staff, students and alumni. On July 22, the president released his own update, Engaging the Campus Community – Progress Report.

“I am pleased with the progress we are making,” Shah said. “We have a lot of good things to be proud of at Western; we also have some challenges that we have dealt with. I think we are moving forward in a lot of positive directions.”

The Board has remained publically mum on the issues. The governing body’s June meeting represented its first opportunity to act on Shah’s April 23 promise “to take a harder look at our governance, our transparency and our communications channels.”

However, when presented with that opportunity for “additional thoughts” in open session, only seven Board members opted to participate in the discussion with three of those speaking on anything beyond the logistics of striking a task force.

“We have tried to be as transparent as possible on dialogue, input and content. We do reserve certain discussions identifying specific individuals or sensitivities. There are certain commentaries reserved for the in camera sessions,” Shah said. “We have maintained as much as we can in open dialogue.”

He pointed out that all Board decisions are available online, but not often sought out.

“One of the challenges we face is how to disseminate that decision-making process to the larger constituency. Although it is available, it might not be as digestible, quickly available or searchable as people may like. As much as we maintain full transparency, that has to change.”

The fall promises to be active across the university. Shah is embracing the possibilities.

“I am pleased the Board and our campus are this engaged in our governance. I think it is wonderful we have a lot of passionate individuals,” he said. “We may not always agree on individual decisions, but we always agree on our love for Western. As I look to the fall, we will be bigger, better, faster, stronger. We’re doing a great job of moving toward our strategic goals and I think that’s exciting.”

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Officially, four committees are addressing issues that arose from the presidential pay controversy, and its ensuing fallout. According to the University Secretariat’s Office, membership of those committees is comprised of the following university community members.

Board Governance Review Task Force. Chaired by Matt Wilson, city appointee, and Brian Timney, faculty appointee, the membership includes Rick Konrad, Board appointee; Michael Lerner, city appointee; Jeremy Adams and Paul Jenkins, alumni appointees; Hanny Hassan, Vice-Chair of the Board; Susan Grindrod, staff appointee; and Jonathan English and Brendan Power, student appointees;

Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Renewal. Chaired by Betsy Skarakis-Doyle, Health Sciences, membership includes Steven Lupker, Social Science; Alison Hearn, Information and Media Studies; Lorelei Lingard, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry; Sheila Macfie, Science; Heather Bishop, staff; Greg Kopp, Engineering; Tom McMurrough, graduate student;  and Arjun Singh, undergraduate student;

University Research Board Task Force. Co-chaired by Andrew Nelson and Charles Weijer, membership includes Jacquie Burkell, Information and Media Studies; Cathy Benedict, Music; Jonathan Vance, Social Science; Julia Emberley, Arts & Humanities; and John Capone, Vice-President (Research); and

Provost’s Task Force on University Budget Models. Chaired by Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), membership includes Bob Andersen, Dean, Social Science; Margaret Steele, Acting Dean, Schulich; Stephen Jarrett, Legal Counsel; Glen Tigert, University Registrar; Matt Davison, Science; Helen Fielding, Arts & Humanities; Ashraf El Damatty, Engineering; Angie Mandich, Health Sciences; Krys Chelchowski, Health Sciences; Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President (Resources & Operations); Tom Sutherland, graduate student; Craig Dunbar, Ivey; and Arjun Singh, Undergraduate Student Senator (Observer).