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Reviewing the reviewers: TRU professor questions the university's transparency

Dr. Alan Shaver is the president of Thompson Rivers University
March 30, 2015 - 7:29 PM

KAMLOOPS – The issue of transparency at a Kamloops institution is under the microscope after a professor who requested survey results on the university’s president was denied.

An email to faculty and staff from the university's board of governors chair, Brian Ross, earlier this month suggested their 300 survey results reviewing Dr. Alan Shaver, the university’s president, were positive. Following that email Shawn Thompson, a journalism instructor at Thompson Rivers University, submitted a request to obtain the survey data.

Thompson said the email from Ross offered no statistical results of the survey data but rather the board’s opinion of it. Because the survey was compiled in a report intended to review Shaver and renew his tenure for five years, he felt the need for the information’s transparency.

“I didn’t ask for the whole report. I didn’t ask for the comments. I just asked for the statistics,” Thompson said. “I’ve always been sensitive to citizens having information they need and citizens being able to assess the truthfulness of information.”

Thompson said he doesn’t suspect the board is trying to cover up any nefarious content. In this case, Ross suggested the results were mostly positive, which is why Thompson doesn’t see any issue with the data’s release.

“I’m not asking (them) to release harmful information about the president; I’m asking (them) to release positive information about the president. And I’m asking them to complete a process that (they) already started,” he said.

Ross said while most responses were positive, the survey was not all 'wine and roses.'

"Most of the negative information in the survey was made public by Tom Friedman. He chose to answer the letter in an open letter to all faculty," Ross said.

He added the process would be 'destroyed' if the university released all or part of an employee’s review to the public.

“There’s no public interest in releasing performance reviews of any employees, professors or presidents, or anyone else,” he said. “You just destroy the process by letting go of the confidentiality of it.”

Thompson argued Shaver’s public profile negates the privacy of his review and makes it the public’s interest to know the statistical data which led to the renewal of his contract.

“There’s an essential difference between the president of the university being at the head of the institution and having that power and influence (compared to) a faculty member,” Thompson said. He added the public has a right to know about the leader of a public institution. “The university is an aspect of the government and we often lose sight of that.”

Last week, Thompson received a letter from Ross who declined releasing the statistics based on the Freedom of Information Act's legislation to protect Shaver’s personal information. Ross referred Thompson to the Province’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner if he chose to dispute the denied request.

A freedom of information request is a bypartisan transparency process which allows a member of the public to file a request to view government documents.

“The issues (Thompson's) raising are legal issues,” Ross said. “He’s couching them in terms of transparency. It wasn’t really a board decision to make. The public when they filled in these surveys were specifically told their (responses) would not be made public and in order to conduct a full performance review of any position at the university, those people answering the questions have to know that their responses are kept confidential.”

Ross said Thompson requested information that is protected by privacy legislation so it was treated that way, but Thompson says he never actually filed a request to the university’s freedom of information officer. It is unclear whether anything was filed on Thompson's behalf.

“It seems to me, requesting that the survey be released is a freedom of information request but he did not refer to the freedom of information and privacy legislation (in his letter)” Ross said. “I suppose some interpretation can be put there.”

Thompson conducted a survey poll of about 150 campus members, faculty and students alike to ask if Shaver’s survey results should be made public. Ninety per cent responded the survey statistics should be made public.

Shaver was offered another five years at the university, but chose to stay for a little over three years.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at gbrothen@infonews.ca, or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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