An update on the CIGI-York Agreement Reply

This is the text of an email distributed to York faculty on March 28, 2012. It updated on the Open Letter of Concern regarding the CIGI-York University agreement, at that time signed by 295 full-time faculty members and librarians. It included full list of signatories, as well links to documents and media reports.

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An update on the CIGI-York Agreement and Senate’s meeting last week

APOLOGIES FOR CROSS-POSTING

Dear Colleagues,

Last week, hundreds of faculty expressed deep concern about the Agreement that was signed last August between York University and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a think tank created and chaired by Mr. Jim Balsillie. An Open Letter of Concern signed by 273 colleagues was delivered to the Administration and to Senate before its March 22 meeting. The letter has had a strong impact, with substantial coverage of our campaign in major media. And, while the agenda for the March 22 Senate meeting did not mention the CIGI Agreement, most of the meeting’s time was dedicated to the topic. Remarks from President Shoukri were made to assuage faculty concerns, and Provost Monahan made a formal presentation on CIGI.

Although there was a clear effort to emphasize that the Administration is attentive to faculty and senator concerns, Senate did not assume any defined role or make any decisions on the matter. York Provost Patrick Monahan announced that he had already decided that morning, with the Senate’s Academic Policy, Planning, and Research Committee (APPRC), that the APPRC would develop an “academic governance framework” for the CIGI Agreement, which would address concerns and be brought next month for Senate’s endorsement. At the Senate meeting, Senator Craig Heron presented a motion supported by 16 other Senators calling on the Administration to bring the CIGI Agreement to Senate “for formal approval.” Senator Heron’s motion sought to allow Senate an opportunity to decide on its own role and process for reviewing the Agreement. However, rulings by the Chair of Senate, William Van Wijngaarden, prevented any discussion of this motion. If you would like more detail on these matters at Senate, please see below. Links to background documents, statements and analyses are also provided at the bottom of this email.

We remain deeply concerned about the “governance” process that is unfolding. In recent days, the Provost circulated informally to selected faculty members of his own choosing a draft “governance framework”. We do not know who wrote this document, but it seems to have originated with the Provost himself. We have also learned that the document is to be presented at APPRC for approval as early as tomorrow! There is no evidence that Senate or its committee, APPRC, are taking an active or deliberate role in developing these rapid-fire protocols and frameworks. The governance of the CIGI issue at York appears to us to have become embodied in a single individual.

We obtained yesterday a copy of the draft governance framework, but have not been able to review it properly. On a quick perusal, it is a major disappointment. For example, like York’s earlier protocols, the draft governance framework still lacks any enforcement mechanism for CIGI’s obligations. In contrast, the CIGI Agreement itself – signed last August and still the basis for the whole initiative – makes the University’s unprecedented commitments to CIGI enforceable through binding arbitration. This one-sided approach to enforcement casts doubt on all of the assurances from the York Administration that it has protected academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

It is only by your support that we have come this far. But the process is far from over and, although we have let York Administration and Senate know of our deep concern, nothing has been resolved. We continue to be dismayed by the top-down “governance” process that has unfolded, wherein York Administration seems to take the lead in all important respects and where issues of academic freedom, institutional autonomy, enforcement, and university governance are far from resolved. Clearly, the vigilance of hundreds of colleagues is still needed.

There are currently 295 full-time faculty and librarians signed on to the Open Letter of Concern (see list below). You may still add your signature by sending your name, rank and department to <cigi.letter@gmail.com>, or contact Malcolm Blincow <blincow@yorku.ca>, or Jody Berland <jberland@yorku.ca>. Of course, we also appreciate any comments or information you can provide.

Current aims and expectations

  • The Administration must state that the CIGI Agreement will not be implemented until it is evaluated carefully by a wide group of stakeholders and amended to address its flaws. The foundational text for this Agreement must be the Osgoode Protocol approved by Osgoode Faculty Council.
  • The Administration has taken the position that the Board Policy on Acceptance of Gifts does not apply to the CIGI Agreement. Whether or not this is defensible, Senate itself requires a policy to direct the Administration on the acceptable terms of external funding arrangements.
  • Senate must develop and approve a policy on external funding against which the CIGI Agreement can in turn be evaluated. The policy must not be developed to fit the current CIGI Agreement.
  • Based on the Senate policy, the CIGI Agreement can be evaluated by an independent process that is not designated or controlled by the Administration, especially by those who negotiated or signed the CIGI Agreement.
  • For this to happen quickly, the Administration must make available to the York community all relevant documents about the CIGI Agreement, and agree to a fair process to develop the Senate policy and then evaluate, independently, the CIGI Agreement against that policy.

A summary of the Senate meeting

Three issues emerge from last week’s Senate meeting. First, in the face of our campaign, the Administration pulled back from its plan to rush the Agreement through Senate. Instead, the Provost announced on that morning that the Agreement would be referred back to the APPRC. This use of the APPRC is not reassuring. The Administration continues to assert control over whether and how Senate can discuss and review the Agreement. The Open Letter compelled the Administration to retreat from its plans at Senate, so that members of the York community have more time to consider the implications of this Agreement. We thank you for this.

Second, the motion by Senator Craig Heron – seeking to give Senate an opportunity to decide what role it should play in reviewing the Agreement – was blocked from discussion and a vote by a series of procedural decisions of the Senate Chair. First, Chair Van Wijngaarden ruled out of order a motion to move this motion forward so that it could be discussed. Then, with only a few minutes left in the meeting, the Chair announced that Senator Heron’s motion was in “conflict” with another motion from the Provost proposing to refer the CIGI Agreement back to Senate APPRC. He then quickly adjourned the meeting. It was disappointing to see these procedural devices used to frustrate the attempt by Senators to discuss the appropriate role of Senate.

Third, based on how this process has been orchestrated by the Administration, we lack confidence in the APPRC. The APPRC unanimously endorsed the CIGI-York Agreement in spite of its grave encroachments on academic freedom and institutional autonomy, and without hearing from Osgoode Faculty Council representatives who approved a detailed protocol on academic freedom. The APPRC heard only from a representative of the Osgoode Administration before it rejected the Faculty Council protocol. Rather than referring the matter back to the APPRC, the Provost should have developed a process with integrity that could independently assess the Agreement. The Provost has shown no willingness to adopt such a process.

The ongoing disregard for the role of Senate is deeply troubling. The CIGI Agreement is complex and requires careful study. It raises broad questions for the University as a whole. The attempt to bring the matter to Senate has led to a flurry of protocols and other documents from the Administration without reference to CIGI’s evident rejection of the safeguards approved by Osgoode Faculty Council last November.

Additional background

The CIGI Agreement was signed by President Shoukri in August 2011. It raised $60 million, mostly public money, for a collaboration in international law with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, chaired by Jim Balsillie. The Agreement was kept from Senate and the wider York community for over six months. Since being revealed to Senate in February, the Administration claims to have fixed problems with the Agreement by releasing new protocols on academic freedom and academic governance. The Administration has downplayed CIGI’s failure to sign a much stronger protocol developed at Osgoode Faculty Council in November 2011. If the Agreement does not receive full and careful scrutiny by our academic governance institutions, based on processes that have integrity, then any steps to implement the Agreement will lack legitimacy. We need robust checks and balances to stop the Administration from signing external funding agreements that sell the academic soul of the University for money that is conditional on research outcomes.

Links to documents and media reports

[see media and document links here]

Open Letter of Concern: Update on Signatures – March 28

[The original email contained a list of 295 signatories to the letter. The final list of 310 signatories is available here]

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