Statement by CUPE 3903 and YUGSA on the BoG’s Reappointment of Rhonda Lenton

The York Board of Governors (BoG) held a closed meeting on May 4th to secretly vote on the reappointment of Rhonda Lenton as York University’s President. The vote was carried out despite serious concerns voiced by students, staff and faculty about Lenton’s reappointment, and taken without any regard for meaningful consultation within the community.

The BoG, an unelected body composed of individuals who predominantly hail from the corporate sector, continues to remain unaccountable to any official body at York University. An unelected body voted behind closed doors to secretly reappoint the York President. Let. That. Sink. In. The Chair, Paul Tsaparis, a former corporate CEO from Hewlett-Packard, steamrolled the entire process, brazenly defying one of the university’s most cherished practises: democratic procedure. He disallowed debate on such an important matter, and proceeded to announce their handpicked appointee to the flabbergasted attendees. Professing several times to have carried out community consultations, yet unable to substantiate where and how, he lauded Lenton’s exemplary work on equity issues before declaring the reappointment. Yet, when the expected challenges to this antidemocratic proceeding started to roll in, the host immediately closed off the Zoom chat. It was obvious that their hurried move anticipated many challenges, and debate was swiftly shut down to avert any scrutiny of the consultative process or Tsaparis’ incredible declaratives. Shutting down the democratic process means that the current BoG deems itself to be above all accountability to the York community, who they claim to value.

Yet, our community – students, staff and faculty – wants to ask what the BoG’s response is to Professor Aimé Avolonto’s allegations of Lenton’s botched and abusive treatment of him. The news report of Lenton and her administration’s horrific treatment of the professor broke on February 26, 2021, on the CBC’s The Fifth Estate. Given this national scandal, Tsaparis’ claims of Lenton’s exemplary work on equity issues are clearly unfounded, and therefore, problematic. What work on equity, should we politely inquire? Another blow was served by Vice-President, Equity, People & Culture, Sheila Cote-Meek, who was in attendance but did not utter a word. This silence from upper administrators, hired and tasked to actively address institutionalized racism, flies in the face of York’s “Framework to address Anti-Black Racism.” It’s certainly not the community that is served by this deafening silence.

After the chat was closed off to all of us who make up the York community (and remained open to BoG members who are not part of the community), inquiries to University Secretary, Pascal Robichaud, about community input were fended off with, “Members of the Community are welcome to attend to view proceedings, but do not partake in deliberations of the Board.” This would mean that the community is welcome to hear the BoG’s deliberations on us, substantiated or not, but prohibited from providing critical feedback or from voicing concerns. By what authority does the BoG operate that it can speak so plainly of its antidemocratic process?

Robichaud’s response is wildly different from his online biography which states that “the inclusion of the student’s voice and perspective in University Governance remains near and dear to his heart.” When pressed further as to who in the community they consulted, and how the community could in fact provide input, his written response was, “As per the process to renew the President’s term, Community input is provided through a consultation of Senate and consultation of Board Members.” While he has not earned a doctorate, he does hold an MA degree, and Robichaud must have at least some knowledge that circular logic does not make for a good argument, especially for people who do hold doctorates and actually teach at the university. The university is definitively not corporate culture, and for those of us who teach, learn and serve here on a daily basis, we do not seek to ape it either. Who do these chiefly business, banking, legal and financial consultants serve, and what are their principles? Who among them is the historian, philosopher, environmentalist, visual artist, literary scholar, physicist, nurse or musician? Or, are these intellectual pursuits and artistic vocations, the very foundations of university education, to be surrendered to the bloodless vision of corporate doyens? As part of their regime of autocratic self-governance, BoG members remain unaccountable to the York community they serve; their secretive, opaque appointments of newer members, propagate further the antidemocratic, corporate world they have become masters of.

Article VII of their own Bylaws states that:

The Governance and Human Resources Committee will have the responsibility of proposing candidates for election to the Board as external members who will best serve the needs and interests of the University and who broadly represent the public community. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing such candidates shall be reflective of the Arts, Business, Industry, Labour, Professions, Sciences and the community at large.

Where is this broad representation of the public community? They must be responsible to the community, yet, currently, their actions suggest otherwise; they regard themselves as beyond the reach of the York community. Soon after the chat was closed down, several members of CUPE 3903 were booted off the Zoom meeting; others followed. And so, they proceeded, unconstrained, unilaterally, repeating their hollow, unsubstantiated claim of conducting community consultations.

The CUPE 3903 Executive and the York University Graduate Students’ Association do not recognize the legitimacy of Lenton’s reappointment. For Lenton to claim legitimacy as President there needs to be transparency: first, the breadth and depth of the consultations need to be provided by the BoG; second, the community’s concerns about Lenton’s record on equity need to be publicly addressed. The entire process has been highly secretive, irregular and antidemocratic. By any measure, Lenton’s reappointment has been an abject failure of the democratic process.