OTTAWA – A group representing university teachers is backing a Carleton University professor who was given until Monday to sign an agreement that he says would suppress his academic freedom.
Professor Root Gorelick, one of four faculty representatives on the school’s board of governors, has refused to sign a revised code of conduct that sets out the duties and responsibilities for the university’s governors.
The biology teacher has drawn the ire of university officials by publicly criticizing some board decisions in a blog. He is the only one among Carleton’s 32-member board who has refused to sign the revised undertaking.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers calls the revised policy egregious, claiming that it runs contrary to principles of openness and transparency needed for governing a public institution.
Canadian Association of University Teachers executive director David Robinson said it appears there is a “vendetta” against Gorelick from about a year ago, when the professor wrote a blog critical of a board committee proposal to disallow student union or faculty union members from sitting on the board.
“It’s pretty outrageous that a public institution like a university would prohibit any discussion on the part of any board member of public meetings,” said Robinson.
“This is basically, I think, a university board that doesn’t like what Prof. Gorelick has to say, and are just trying to shut him up.”
Carleton’s statement of general duties, fiduciary responsibilities, and conflict of interest prohibits board members from reporting or commenting on board meetings.
It also requires board members to “publicly support” all board decisions, and to maintain the confidentiality of all private discussions. Gorelick has signed two undertakings to that effect in the past.
But the revised code of conduct, adopted by the board in September, also deems any board member comments about board meetings in print, electronic or social media “inappropriate and not in the best interests of the university.”
The university maintains that personal blogs voicing dissent on matters the board has decided are not consistent with the role of a governor.
And some of Gorelick’s blog posts have included false or inaccurate information, said Carleton’s general counsel.
“When you’re a member of a board, you have an obligation to act within the best interests of the university,” said lawyer Steve Levitt.
“If you’re a member of any board, your duty is to act in the best interests of the corporation…. That duty includes the duty of loyalty, honesty and good faith.”
But the blog posts are meant as constructive criticisms to improve the university, not “a fight against an enemy,” said Gorelick.
A lockdown on information coming from board discussions in the corporate or private sector is understandable, given the sensitive nature of some information such as trade secrets, said Robinson.
“But (Carleton University) is a public body,” and almost every post-secondary institution in Canada is governed by statutes that include provisions that call for board meetings to be open to the public, he said.
“And board members are allowed to say whatever they want.”
A decision on Gorelick’s tenure on the board isn’t expected until the new year. The board is next scheduled to meet in late January.
Should he be dismissed from the board, the Carleton University Academic Staff Association representing teachers at the school said it will launch a formal grievance on Gorelick’s behalf.
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