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UNB Act revisions released to public this week

Transparency is once again the buzzword around the UNB campuses as the revisions to the UNB Act enter the public consultation stage.

This week, a draft of the proposed new UNB Act enters the community feedback process, a step that the chair of the review steering committee, Roxanne Fairweather, hopes will ease the tensions surrounding a review process that has been marked by controversy.

“We will put [the Act] out into the public and we’re really excited about this stage in our work because now it’s the work of the university community,” Fairweather said, adding that the university community includes students, staff, faculty, the government and the tax-payers.  “So we want feedback,” she said.

The UNB Act is a piece of legislation that outlines the university’s structure and how it operates. Efforts to modernize the Act began in February 2013 under a five-person review steering committee. It soon became evident that, as the first major revision since 1984, there was more work than had been initially thought.

“We appear to have elements of our Act that date back to 1785 when we were first created. I think that really some of the things [the committee] discovered at a very close examination of the Act did take them a bit aback,” said UNB president Eddy Campbell.

The length of the review process is only one of the causes of concern within the university community.

“[The revision process] has been …  largely shrouded in secrecy with committee members having been instructed that they cannot disclose anything important unless authorized and not much was disclosed until the past week or so,” said Jon Thompson, professor emeritus at UNB.

But Campbell said the committee wasn’t prepared to release anything until recently.

“I guess my understanding of where those concerns arise is the provisional timetable that had been proposed for the committee was proved to be way too aggressive,” said Campbell.

“I think some people read more into that than was actually occurring but it’s just as I said, the committee was doing work and they have not been ready until now.”

The biggest area of contention surrounding the Act revisions is the items within the Act that will, should the public accept the draft, be placed into by-laws.

Because by-laws can be changed without the approval of the government, some faculty are concerned it will mean more power invested in the Board of Governors.

“The new proposals essentially remove all of the several important but circumscribed measures of public accountability,” Thompson said. “The new proposal would basically destroy that balance in effect by giving the board pre-eminence to ultimately control everything.”

Some of the items proposed to be moved into by-laws are the leasing of the university’s lands and leadership changes in the University Management Committee.

But Fairweather said the changes would simply allow for more flexibility in matters that can be easily resolved by the university’s internal governing bodies.

“By-laws can be changed, I won’t say at will, but there’s a lot more flexibility in a governing document which is a by-law because the body itself, like the deans’ council, can change the by-laws,” Fairweather said.

“It’s the more weighty, complex things that should be in the act which it takes more time to go through Legislature to do things, versus something in by-laws that a governing body can deal with themselves.”

Being released to the public are the old draft, the new draft, sample by-laws, two concordance documents, which are texts that compare and contrast every line of the old Act with the proposed new Act, and a summary document.

The sample by-laws are only notional and may not reflect what items will finally be placed into by-laws.

Once the public has a chance to read the documents and provide their feedback, the review steering committee will go over it and present a new proposal for face-to-face consultations that are set to begin in Jan. 2015.

“After that process we’ll put together a recommendation that will go to the senates and will go to the board of governors and obviously then have to go to legislation to be approved,” said Fairweather.

Despite the backlash from the community, many of whom are concerned their feedback won’t be taken into account, Fairweather said she is looking forward to finally having the proposed Act open to the public.

“When you see backlash, I think it indicates that people want to be a part of the process, and they will be and I’m really excited about that,” she said.

It is in this way, by providing feedback, that Campbell hopes the greater UNB community will have a part in shaping their university.

“In the best of all possible worlds we create a modern act for our university that will guide us long into the future and everybody associated with the university at this particular time will be rightly able to claim to be a part of a very important legacy for the people who come after us at this school,” Campbell said.

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