Board members cover a variety of topics before extended closed session

The University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors (BOG) had its first meeting of the 2016-17 year on Sept. 26, featuring new university president Jacques Frémont. The meeting covered a wide range of topics, from finances to the recent Student Academic Success Service (SASS) security breach.

Finances

The meeting opened up with a presentation on the university’s finances, led by the U of O’s vice-president of resources, Marc Joyal. The discussion began with an overview of the major projects on campus, including the new Learning Centre building and the university’s STEM project, which looks to replace old science buildings on campus with newer facilities.

Joyal said that the finance committee recommended taking on more debt to pay for the infrastructure, and increasing the university’s borrowing capacity by around $180 million, excluding ancillary fees.

BOG member Victoria Barham took issue with the decision to increase the debt capacity, citing concerns that the move was “putting buildings before students,” and asked for more details on the risk of the maneuver.

Joyal responded that the committee had weighed these options and for a number of reasons, including favourable interest rates, they had decided to move forward with the recommendation.

Graduate student representative Robert Head also voiced displeasure with the committee’s recommendation.

At the end of the finance presentation, the board passed a motion to adopt the recommendation. Most members voted in favour, though Barham and Head did not.

University rankings

During his president’s report, Frémont addressed the U of O’s standing in the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings, saying that two other prominent rankings of world universities, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Shanghai, did not show a decline in the U of O’s ranking.

Frémont then challenged the methodology of THE’s list, saying that the drop was largely due to a decline in the U of O’s score in research, and that no change at the university had taken place to warrant such a drop.

According to Frémont, this ranking is a problem for the U of O, especially as students and parents take it into consideration when choosing destinations for their post-secondary education.

Frémont also said that he has commissioned Mona Nemer, U of O vice-president of research, to look into the methodology of THE’s rankings and report back.

BOG member Michelle O’Bonsawin asked Frémont whether or not the university should seek damages for the ranking’s negative impact on its reputation. Frémont responded that for now the university would only investigate the ranking’s methodology.

Board member Michel Picard suggested a media offensive to counteract the negative ranking’s effect on the university’s overall image.

SASS breach

Very little was said in public to address the recent SASS data breach, which saw external hard drives containing information on 900 students go missing.

Frémont said the SASS breach was of great concern, and that the university was working to find answers.

The BOG meeting went in camera approximately 90 minutes after its commencement.

Other business

Joyal and vice-president academic and provost Michel Laurier gave a presentation on the replacement of the university’s Student Information Service (SIS), which is designed to “manage student records containing information on admissions, registration, transcripts, finances, graduation, timetables, and courses,” according to the university’s website. Joyal said this would mean changes to Rabaska as well.

Joyal said the SIS replacement is “on track and on budget” for its Nov. 7 launch. Staff who are being trained to use the new system are adapting well, according to Joyal.

Joyal also noted that there could be interruptions to students’ Blackboard accounts during the time of the SIS launch.