What are reasonable expectations that the public can have of administrators and boards of public institutions?


Examples are provided from documents of the University of Lethbridge. These are generally not substantially different from other institutions.

The question is to what degree such standards become the guiding principles of administrations and boards.




 

Procedural Fairness

One might expect that procedural fairness would be a goal in our institutions. Indeed, public institutions often will make an explicit commitment to the matter. The University of Lethbridge (where I teach) has a fine definition of procedural fairness (taken from Article 2.19 of the 2004 Faculty Handbook):

  1. 1. the adjudicator or adjudicators shall, within reason, ensure that adequate evidence is presented or collected to meet the standard of proof appropriate to support the decision and shall give due consideration to such evidence.

  2. 2. the parties to the procedure have a right to know all the relevant evidence presented in the decision making process.

  3. 3. the parties to the procedure have an opportunity to respond to all relevant evidence presented in the decision making process.

  4. 4. the parties to the procedure have a reasonable opportunity to present their case to the adjudicator or adjudicators.


BUT THERE COULD BE A CATCH...

The above description is prefaced by the following qualification: “‘Procedural fairness’ shall, in any Article of the Handbook in which the duty to act with procedural fairness is expressly declared, mean.”

The question is whether this qualification can be taken to mean that unless the Handbook specifically requires “procedural fairness,” the administration and Board can act in whatever way they wish, and that they have no obligation to due process or fair play. It would seem that the Board at the University of Lethbridge recognizes that a general level of integrity must be maintained. The “Code of Conduct and Ethics for the Board of Governors” states that “The reputation of the University for honesty and integrity among its stakeholders is key to its success” (1.0). That seems to indicate that the board agrees that the general principles of due process and fair play should be the goal in all its actions, as it must be in a civil society, whether expressly commanded or not.


Openness and Transparency

As Boards and administrations of public institutions, there is an obligation to conduct the business of the institution in as public a manner as possible. Some of the business of a board must remain confidential, and board procedures often list what those kinds of matters are. The Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge has three categories of meetings: open session, closed session, and in-camera session. The difference between a closed session and an in-camera session is that administrators serving on the Board are not part of the in-camera sessions (unless invited because the business at hand requires them). Although closed and in-camera sessions of the Board are not open to the public, there is a requirement that minutes be kept, thus ensuring that a record of the meeting is on file.

It is important that whatever information can be made public be made readily accessible to the public. The University of Lethbridge’s website states: “the University of Lethbridge is accountable to many stakeholders: students, parents, alumni, Government, granting agencies, donors and the community. Therefore we believe we need to be as transparent as possible with information and data related to our University.” <http://www.uleth.ca/accountability/>

It is important that secret, undocumented meetings of a Board not be permitted, particularly when such meetings hide conduct that fails the test of natural justice and due process.


Accuracy

The information provided by administrations and boards must be accurate. We cannot permit the release of partial or wrong information that would lead the public to a conclusion different from the conclusion the public would have reached with full or accurate information. The giving of such incomplete or inaccurate information can only be viewed as manipulative of the public. No administration or board of a public institution has the right to do this.



EXAMINING ADMINISTRATIVE PRACTICE IN PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS