TRU president says transparency 'well served' despite his own efforts to hide information from view

TRU says it's transparent

Despite concerns raised about a controversial new protocol that aims to keep important information about Thompson Rivers University out of the hands of reporters and the public, TRU's president says transparency and accountability are being “well served" at the university.

The new protocol was introduced by TRU President Brett Fairbairn last month. It keeps agenda packages out of the public eye until three hours before TRU board of governors or senate meetings. The agenda items and supporting materials had previously been made public one week in advance of each meeting.

Kamloops Coun. Dale Bass brought up the new protocol during a city council meeting earlier this month, saying she’s heard concerns from many in the community, including TRU employees.

“We partner with TRU and it’s a public institution that has a responsibility for accountability and transparency,” she said during the April 9 meeting.

“That bothers me as a public official here, and I don’t know if there’s something we should be doing there.”

Byron McCorkell, the city’s acting CAO, suggested to council that a meeting between the university’s board and city council could be arranged to “stimulate conversation and get a little more familiarity between the two.”

Transparency 'well served'?

TRU senator and faculty member Juliana West brought up the issue during Monday’s TRU senate meeting, asking if Fairbairn had any comments on what was said by Bass.

“I would say that transparency and accountability are well served by the fact that all of our senate documents are made available to the public and all of senate discussions and debates occur on public record and, in fact, are live streamed for people to observe them,” Fairbairn said in response.

“To me that's a very considerable kind of transparency and accountability.”

TRU governance meetings are steamed live, but recordings are not published and the video is not posted publicly after the fact. The university also has rules on the books outlawing audio recording at meetings.

'Not the least bit accountable'

When asked by Castanet, Bass took issue with Fairbairn's reply, saying there is value in the public knowing what is being discussed ahead of time.

“A public institution, it gets public money. It has an obligation to tell the public what it's doing, not what it did,” she said.

“He's talking about history, not transparency.”

When he announced the policy change in March, Fairbairn said the written reports included in the agendas were found to be a “convenient way to obtain quotable information about what’s going on at TRU” and said the media wasn’t the audience the reports were written for.

“If I were looking to write a media release, I would write a media release. Those reports are for you as senators,” Fairbairn told senators in March.

Bass, who worked for decades as a news reporter, also took issue with this suggestion, saying “that is not how it works” and the university deciding for itself what should be newsworthy "isn’t the least bit accountable.”

“As an independent reporter, you have the obligation to monitor and report back to the public on what you know, and what you see and what you hear,” Bass said.

“It’s better for the public if they get a heads up, rather than, ‘Oh, sorry, already happened.’”

When he announced the protocol, Fairbairn said reports in the media of agenda items before meetings were "disrespectful" towards TRU senators and detracted from the "gravitas and the dignity" of a governing body.

West had previously raised concerns, saying she didn't believe the decision was "in line with collegial governance" and made the university appear more opaque.

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