Senators quiz Board rep on Gouge Report findings

Western’s Board of Governors is not playing semantics with the university community in its response to the Goudge Report and remains committed to implementing its findings, assured Matthew Wilson, one of two Board representatives on university Senate.

“The words used by the Board – ‘being reviewed’ – do not imply that the Board is not committed to making changes with respect to administration and administrative leave,” Wilson told Senators last week in response to a question about the wording.

“We have looked at the recommendations; we are looking at adopting the recommendations. It’s important to take the proper time to make sure this is implemented right for the betterment of the entire university. We are all here because we care about this university; we want to make sure it is done right.”

On Friday, Senate had its first opportunity to discuss the findings of the Review of Presidential Compensation Practices at the University of Western Ontario – or what has become popularly known as the Goudge Report – during the its regular meeting.

Released Oct. 1, the independent investigation into Western’s presidential compensation practices called for, among other items, an end to monetizing administrative leave for university presidents. That practice, and the process by which it came about for Western President Amit Chakma, was the focus of the report conducted by Stephen Goudge, a former Ontario Court of Appeal justice.

Wilson, a London attorney appointed to the Board as a city representative, fielded questions from Senators. During the half-hour exchange, he shed little new light on the events leading up to the controversy, instead opting to put the report’s findings in context of Board actions, including repeatedly echoing Goudge’s words that the deal was done “in good faith.”

Seven Senators posed written questions concerning the Goudge Report – many clustered around only a handful of topics.

On the subject of consulting external counsel on Chakma’s contract, Wilson stressed the diverging paths between what Board Chair Chirag Shah did, and what Goudge believed he should have done, were a matter of interpretation, and not ill intent on the part of Shah.

In November 2012, the Board re-appointed Chakma to a second five-year term extending to June 30, 2019. That contract also called for “the administrative leave you have earned in respect of your first term shall be carried forward to the end of the Term including your additional year of service pursuant to Section 5.6(a) Special Executive Pension.”

A year later, however, Chakma and Shah discussed changing that clause to allow the president to take his administrative leave in the form of cash payment rather than deferring to the end of his second term. As a result of those discussions, Shah sent Chakma a letter on June 30, 2014, amending the renewal contract. It now said “the administrative leave you have earned in respect to your first Term will be paid in cash, less applicable deductions.”

Before making the decision, Shah requested the advice of an external legal firm, Hicks Morley. Based on the advice received, Shah believed that because the option to monetize the leave was contained in Chakma’s original contract, it was not necessary to seek Senior Ops approval. Goudge believed the decision to monetize needed to go back to, at least, Senior Ops, if not the whole Board, for information, Wilson said.

“Even though the positions of Justice Goudge and outside counsel differ,” he continued. “I think it is important to remember that it is entirely possible for two different experts in the legal field look at something and you get two entirely different views on it and for them to not necessarily be right or wrong.”

While Goudge considered the contract “amended,” outside counsel said it was a “contractual right that the president had that was being triggered; it wasn’t an amendment,” Wilson continued.

“There are two different views on it. But no matter which view we adopt, the Board recognizes Justice Goudge made some very good recommendations, there was misunderstanding in the take and the Board is committed to implementing the recommendations he outlined,” he said.

Sen. Nick Dyer-Witheford, an Information and Media Studies professor, questioned why Shah didn’t bring the contract – be it triggered or amended – forward in the name of transparency.

“If one is going to make an adjustment to a matter over which the Senior Ops has oversight, why not simply tell them? Why ask external counsel ‘should we do it,’ unless for some reason you did not want to do it,” he said.

“You cannot answer that question and that is the problem with how this issue is being addressed. I recognize fully you don’t have the knowledge to address that, but it is a pivotal question that goes to the judgment and the character of those who were involved in this process.”

Calling the consultation of outside counsel “standard practice,” Wilson admitted his limits in responding to the question. “We can’t change what has happened in the past, but we can look at how to go forward from here,” he said. “But you’re right; I cannot give a better answer than that, unfortunately.”

Despite media reports, Shah was not formally invited to Senate.

Two Senators asked if the chair could be invited as part of the preamble to their questions; Shah was aware of those requests, said Irene Birrell, University Secretariat.

Senate can invite whomever it wishes to speak, but there would have to be a formal invitation either through a resolution or the Operations and Agenda Committee, which has the ability to invite individuals to speak on a matter of Senate business. The action is not a common practice and it would be completely unprecedented to have the Board chair attend Senate and speak.

Wilson, not a member of Senior Ops, said there are no similar deals for monetized leave in existence at the university.

Chakma stepped down from his Senate chair post during the discussion. No questions were directed to him; he did not speak during the exchange.

The Goudge Report is expected to cost $79,000, although Wilson said the final cost was not fully known at this time.

“Part of our commitment coming out of this entire process is to have a good, hard look at how things are done – part of that is this report that was commissioned, part of it is the (Board Governance Review Task Force) we are currently undertaking,” said Wilson, who is task force co-chair. “Results of that task force will be reported back in open session at the Board and made publically available to each and every single one of you.

“I am confident that, moving forward, we can find a way to build the trust, rebuild the transparency, openness and collegiality that is a hallmark of postsecondary education. While I cannot speak for every one of my colleagues, I am sure they would agree with me that they want to find solutions to these questions and find a way we can move forward, as an institution.”

In other action:

Senate adopted, in principal, Sen. Nick Dyer-Witheford’s motion to create a 30-Minute Enquiry Period during Senate meetings that would allow for direct question and debate of administration and fellow Senators not currently allowed by Senate by-laws. The idea now goes to the Senate Operations and Agenda Committee for recommendations on the period’s structure/rules and how it should fit into the current meeting structure.

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Senate approved, in principal, exploring a pro-Chancellor position, an idea brought by Sen. Jane Toswell in September. The idea now goes to the Senate Operations and Agenda Committee for consultation with university legal counsel and the Convocation Committee on its feasibility. Currently, the UWO Act would only allow a member of the faculty to sit as a pro-Chancellor. Toswell’s intention was to open the position to broader members of the academic and intellectual community; that would not be allowed under current rules. However, Sen. Stephen McClatchie, Huron University College principal, pointed out affiliate principals sit as pro-Chancellors during Convocation, yet are not members of Western’s faculty.

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English and Writing Studies professor Mark McDayter will replace Engineering professor Greg Kipp on the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Renewal.