New Kwantlen conflict of interest policy may restrict elected board reps

Board chair says policy isn’t new, but is now just better defined.

Board chair says policy isn’t new, but is now just better defined.

By Sarah Schuchard
[associate news editor]

A new Kwantlen policy may put major restrictions on the elected student and faculty representatives who sit on the board of governors. At their Nov. 14 meeting, the Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s (KPU) board of governors adopted a new code of conduct manual, which outlined new restrictions on elected representatives and conflicts of interest.

Both student representatives on the board of governors, Jared Penland and Iman Ghahremani, declined to be interviewed for this story. (Matt DiMera/The Runner)

The manual now specifies that friends of elected board members are a cause for potential conflicts of interest.

This polished definition of friends, could result in board members being disqualified and barred from voting on or discussing certain issues that pertain to a department or faculty that the supposed friend works for or attends at Kwantlen, according to Christopher Girodat, a student representative on Kwantlen’s senate.

Under the so-called one-off definition of conflict of interest, the manual states that a decision of the board that affects a specific institution that an elected member is enrolled in, is employed in, or an associate is enrolled or employed in. Under section 26.2 of the manual, an associate is defined as “a friend of the board.” For elected members who are a part of the faculty or the student body, the definition could be a problem.

“Everyone agrees that [a] Board of Governors’ [representative] that’s involved in the university in what it does and what it stands for, that’s going to mean that everyone is going to have a friend in every faculty,” said Girodat.

Gord Schoberg, the chair of KPU’s board of governors, doesn’t believe the code of conduct is problematic, and feels that it is the best decision for the university. He said that a test of reasonability could take place where adjustments can be made in future.

“In my view it gives more freedom for elected board members to know when they’re in a conflict,” said Schoberg.

Girodat, who was present for the Nov. 14 meeting, noted that although there were talks of a test of reasonability by the chair, there was no clear indication of that test in the board manual.

“The (test of reasonability) doesn’t come up in the text at all … I think it’s very problematic. The way it reads is so black and white that we risk disenfranchising student governors from a big part of the decision making,” said Girodat.

Under the definition of duty of constituency, the manual also states that if elected members are involved in and exercise the voice of their other duties or constituencies, they are in conflict, that they will no longer be able to serve on the board.

In such a situation, the board representative must either resign from the KPU Board or from his or her position with the constituency. Elected members can also be voted off the board by a two-thirds majority vote, if they are seen as being in a conflict of interest by the board. Elected faculty and student representatives only comprise one-third of the board, while members appointed by the provincial government make up the other two-thirds.

What will this mean for student representation through the elected members on the board of governors?

“What the student reps need to do, is rather than sit around the table and just act as representatives for the constituency, they need to listen to the broader perspective of the university,” stated Schoberg.

Girodat disagreed with Schoberg’s take.

“Elected members don’t have nearly enough influence on the board… and [the revised conflict of interest policy] is just one more way that it institutionalizes that second tier of representation,” said Girodat.

Schoberg insisted that the conflict of interest guidelines are not new to the university, but are now better defined, and put forth with the “collective wisdom of the board.”

Neither of the two current student representatives on the board of governors agreed to be interviewed for this story. Iman Ghahremani did not respond to multiple phoned and emailed requests, while Jared Penland referred The Runner’s questions to the board’s chair, Gord Schoberg.