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Message to the university community

Board of Regents chair, Iris Petten, addresses board resignation

Campus and Community

By Iris Petten

I want to provide an update directly to the university community regarding the recent resignation of Brittany Lennox, one of the student representatives on the Board of Regents.

On Monday, I received her letter of resignation which contains allegations of bullying and intimidation at the Board of Regents meetings. I was both surprised and dismayed by these allegations and that she had not raised them with me during her time as a regent.

Let me be clear: Prior to the letter, I did not see nor was I made aware of anything that I would characterize as bullying, intimidation or gas lighting — I would have very swiftly and definitively dealt with that.

Yet Brittany says she experienced harassment and I don’t want to dismiss her experience. I want to understand it so that we can address any barriers that may exist inhibiting student board members’ full participation.

My board colleagues and I all take these allegations of intimidation seriously and are committed to ensuring that we address any issues that are brought to our attention. We value students’ opinions and contributions and that is why I still want to meet with Brittany to get her advice as to how we can improve the board experience for students. I have already raised this with the board’s executive committee and it will be an agenda item for discussion with the full board at our next meeting.

At the same time, I do want to speak to the notion that the Board of Regents is acting in secrecy. Boards of public bodies, like a university, always have to balance their commitment to public accountability and transparency with the need for confidentiality during the decision-making process. This is imperative to protect the financial and legal interests of the university. For example, information related to a major tender or purchase of real estate would need to remain confidential until the decisions and subsequent actions have been taken. Information pertaining to these decisions is made public at the appropriate point in the process through the publication of board minutes, release of audited annual financial statements and numerous other university communications. This is similar to the vast majority of other North American public universities.

The commitment to confidentiality expected of each board member is not meant to quell discussion or quiet opposing viewpoints. Quite the opposite; knowing there is a standard of confidentiality allows all members to speak frankly. It is the explicitly stated responsibility of all board members to actively engage in listening, questioning issues and challenging administrators and board colleagues during meetings. That is at the core of how we operate and written directly into our by-laws.

Are there diverse viewpoints expressed at meetings? Certainly; we have a large board with widely varying experience, backgrounds and perspectives. Are there passionate and frank discussions of some topics? Of course; but these take place in an environment of collegiality and respect. I have every confidence that the volunteer board members and the senior administration of the university are working together effectively and appropriately, within the legislation and by-laws that govern the board, and with the best interests of students and the university as a whole at the forefront of every decision.

I regret that one of our student representatives felt her only recourse was to resign before allowing the board to know about and address her concerns, provide supports and work together for a solution. In my view Brittany made significant contributions during her time as a regent and I hope to speak with her so that at the very least we can learn from her experience. The board’s governance committee is tasked with continuous improvement and this information would be valuable to them in those efforts.

As someone who has served on numerous boards of both public and private organizations, I am confident that both the senior administration and the volunteer board members are serving Memorial’s best interests, and I thank them all for their ongoing dedication to this institution.

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