Benevolent dictators, with rules

The Quebec government is planning a new law that would impose minimum requirements on university boards of directors/governors/regents/Imperial Senate. They include ridiculous things like gender quotas, and things that seem to make sense like requiring community consultation before big decisions.

One of the provisions requires that at least two thirds of the boards’ members must come from outside the university and be chosen from the “community”

That sounds great, in theory. Universities are government-funded, so they should belong to the people.

But in practice, there’s a major problem with these boards that the law doesn’t fail to address: How they are appointed.

Currently, board members are chosen out of applications from the community by a committee set up by the board, who then make recommendations to the board which are then approved by the board.

In other words, these boards are self-appointing. They literally dictate their successors like some sort of monarchy.

Fortunately, the boards of universities (which, in theory, can be overruled by the Quebec government) are benevolent dictators, take their responsibilities seriously and work to better the universities out of a sense of civic responsibility.

But these boards also have a very strange sense of what “community” really means. They’re predominantly business elites, CEOs of large corporations and their friends/wives/tennis partners. You won’t find many plumbers, community activists or artists here unless they bought their way onto the board with huge donations to the university. Though there’s never a formal quid pro quo, the reality is that your chances of being appointed to a university’s board are much greater when you’ve given a substantial amount of money in donations.

This is what the Quebec government has to deal with, this idea of informal shareholders who buy a stake in a university in exchange for a bit of control over it. But the government won’t do that because they rely on these donations to offset the huge cuts the government made to education over the past two decades.

All this makes the new law seem a bit silly, don’t you think?

Leave a Reply