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Report sees room for improvement in MUN governance

Memorial University students could be faced with paying more fees next year.
Memorial University students could be faced with paying more fees next year.

The Memorial University Board of Regents is promising swift action to improve transparency and governance at the highest levels of the university.

On Friday morning, MUN released an independent assessment of the Board of Regents policies, ordered after the controversial resignation of student representative Brittany Lennox.

In her resignation letter and in interviews with media, Lennox said the board was wrapped up in extreme secrecy, and that behind closed doors she was subjected to bullying and gaslighting by other regents.

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But lawyer Harriet Lewis, who was brought in to study the situation, said that MUN’s board situation looks solid.

“It is my conclusion that Memorial University is well governed by a group of very committed regents, led by a highly professional and dedicated Chair,” Lewis wrote.

She also found, “Memorial’s governance practices are in keeping with most of the best practices of Canadian universities.”

All the same, she offered 33 recommendations dealing with how regents are appointed and how the board conducts itself.

Notably, she said that the Board of Regents can be more transparent. Until recently, all discussion at meetings has happened behind closed doors, and if a person wants to attend the very limited open sections of meetings, they had to seek approval from the university several days in advance.

Board agendas aren’t posted online, and the decisions made at meetings aren’t communicated to the public. Minutes of meetings are supposed to be posted online but that only happens months after the fact.

Dennis Mahoney, who’s chaired the steering committee of the Board of Regents for this whole review, said that changes are coming.

“The board is fully committed to improving the transparency of our work, recognizing that there may be some limits, but we’re definitely committed to improving that process,” he said.

One notable section of the report suggested that Lennox herself didn’t properly understand the way the board was supposed to function.

In another section, Lewis suggested that the MUN Students’ Union (MUNSU) having a representative on the Board of Regents creates an untenable situation, because they’re required to voice the positions of their union, while also maintaining a fiduciary responsibility to the university as a regent.

“In this context it would have been difficult for Ms. Lennox to serve comfortably as an independent fiduciary,” Lewis wrote.

“I am of the opinion that being both on the executive of MUNSU or any of the student unions and on the Board of Regents constitutes a clear and irresolvable conflict of interest and commitment, a situation which is not easily addressed except in the manner chosen by Ms. Lennox (i.e. resignation).”

Mahoney said that this is something which the university is going to need to look at.

Neither Advanced Education and Skills Minister Gerry Byrne, nor anybody from MUNSU was available to respond to requests for comment Friday.

Mahoney said the Board of Regents is committed to enacting all the recommendations within their purview by the end of the year.

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

 

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