Red River College tells me to ‘play fair’


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/02/2015 (3021 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Red River College told me last night to ‘play fair’.

What ethical boundary had I supposedly crossed?

Well, after the short public portion of the monthly meeting of the college’s board of governors, I asked vice-chair Kathy Knight, in the absence of board chair Lloyd Schreyer, if she’d step out in the hall with me to answer a few questions before the closed-door session started.

Knight initially agreed, out I went, and then the doors closed for the in camera session, with Knight still inside. An aide told me that I could go back to my office, submit questions in writing, and Knight would look at them later in the evening and get back to me.

And when I said no, I wasn’t going to do that, that Knight is an empowered, educated adult, and she could listen to my questions and decide how and if she would answer, that’s when I was told to play fair.


It was obvious after sitting through the 45 minutes of a pretty uneventful monthly board meeting that the whole scandal over the spending and firing practices of former president Stephanie Forsyth, the enormously-critical provincial review of the college, and the public questioning of the board’s actions, or lack of action, in the whole affair, that the scandal is just a minor blip, a blip that would go away, if only the media would let it go. No crisis of confidence here, nothing to see, keep moving.

The board of governors meets in public session, but that comes with a large but.

The board’s website advises people that they have to let the board know ahead of time that they want to come. That, says RRC, is a formality to ensure that there will be space for visitors, and that the access doors will be open. Same thing at U of M, said the college, though that’s never been my experience.

Board meetings are held on the seventh floor of the executive suites in building C, that big tower back behind the bus loop, the floor on which Forsyth’s former office has a magnificent view of the airport and a lot of prairie.

The elevator runs to the seventh floor, but the access doors get locked, so you can’t just wander in to sit and watch your tax dollars at work. And you can’t just decide to head up at the last minute to watch the governance of your education, if you’re a student.

I’d been asked several times why I was coming, and forgive me if it wouldn’t have been obvious. Nor did I see any reason why I had to explain to anyone why a member of the public wanted to attend a public meeting. Yes, I know that’s being disingenuous.

Inside the boardroom, there were two extra chairs and agenda packages set out along the wall, for me and for the communications staff person who accompanied me. The other three spectators were union reps, who appeared to have had dinner with the governors and executives. I was offered cheesecake, which I declined.

Only eight of the 12 governors were present.

What didn’t happen in the public session was far more interesting than what did happen.

The public session lasted all of 45 minutes, most of it taken up by acting vice-president academic and research Christine Crowe’s walking everyone through what sounded to be a very successful academic year last year. I was taking notes, and have a couple of story ideas to pursue.

The other featured speaker was chief advancement officer Kim Jasper, the only one of eight executives without the word interim or acting ahead of her title. Jasper advised the governors that the overall media coverage of the college was ‘slightly negative’ in January, an anomaly, and that was all due to three days of coverage of the provincial review.

It seems that Jasper reports every month on media coverage, which is almost invariably positive. Her report includes a thermometer-like graphic, with red and green sections, and a needle tipping last month just a hair into the negative side.

Red River has also worked out something called Earned Media Value, which places a dollar figure on what the media coverage is worth to the college. In January, it was $104,230.

No one had any questions.

Elsewhere on the agenda, there was a printout of a story in the student newspaper The Projector, which reported how the governors were co-operating with the province in implementing the review’s 45 recommendations. Nary a syllable of any other media coverage, in which the WFP would be prominent.

Interim president David Rew reported that the college is making good progress on those recommendations, and hopes to have them all in place by June.

Did any governor have any questions?

Questions such as, which ones have been implemented, which ones haven’t, are any proving to be difficult to implement, is anyone balking at any of them, have you come across any necessary changes that go above and beyond what the province has mandated? Has there been any contact with or from the minister?

Um, anyone? Any governor curious how the acting/interim executive is cleaning up the scandal?

Apparently not.

I’m just speculating here, but I’m pretty sure Rew is not putting golf shoes on his expense account. Nevertheless, given the furore over Forsyth’s spending — above and beyond her generous allowance, her discretionary no-questions-asked account, her claiming expenses often without receipts, or filed under someone else’s expenses — I would have thought that Rew might have been required to have a public report on his own spending, if any, and there might be some indication that the governors were keeping an eye on it.

Silly me.

Neither was there a single question for interim vice-president finance and administration Maura Leahy.

Given that so much of the Forsyth saga involved finances, a multi-million-dollar deficit among other things, one might have thought that a governor or two would ask in public session how things are going.

Again, silly me.

Maybe all of this got discussed in the closed-door session.

The governors are, after all, only stewards of a $179 million-a-year extraordinarily-valuable public institution. Why would the governors have anything to ask in their one public opportunity of the month?


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