Presidential review disclosure request denied by university

In a letter sent to TRU president Alan Shaver and the university’s board of governors on March 6, assistant professor Shawn Thompson requested that the statistics yielded by Shaver’s performance review survey be released to the university community.

Thompson’s letter contains a legal argument based on sections 22 and 25 of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The request argues that Shaver “has a very visible and public function that affects the well-being of faculty, staff, students and the institution in very serious ways.”

The request mentions a Nov. 28 email sent to university staff and faculty by Brian Ross, chair of the committee that conducted Shaver’s review, concerning the results of the survey. The email said that “Alan scored strongly,” and that “there were many accolades for his achievements and constructive suggestions on improving internal communication and creating stronger ties with the faculty.”

Alan Shaver was re-appointed as president last year. (www.tru.ca

Alan Shaver was re-appointed as president last year. (www.tru.ca)

A copy of Thompson’s letter, the survey results and anonymous comments were posted in the agenda for the March 27 board of governors meeting.

On the morning of March 25, Thompson said he received letter from the board of governors signed by Brian Ross and dated March 20, which outlined the board’s refusal of the request based on the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The letter cited Order F07-04 of the act as a refutation of Thompson’s arguments, and stated that Thompson’s only recourse now is an appeal directly to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C.

The administration is treating Thompson’s request as an information request under the provincial privacy legislation, asking him to direct any further questions to the university’s privacy officer. But Thompson said his letter was not a freedom of information request, and instead a “direct request to both the President and the Board of Governors on behalf of the faculty.”

Thompson feels that he is speaking for the faculty because of a survey he conducted. The survey posed the question: “In the interests of transparency and accountability, should TRU president Alan Shaver and the Board of Governors release to the campus the statistical results of the survey on the president?”

Two consecutive surveys were conducted because the online survey tool he used is limited to 100 responses in its free version. The surveys yielded a combined 154 responses from staff and faculty members, in which 90% of the responses were in favour of releasing the results of Shaver’s performance review. Thompson said that he sent a link to the online survey by email to all staff and faculty more than once.

When asked about the request’s denial, board of governors chair Brian Ross said via email that to comply with Thompson’s request “would be in breach of privacy legislation” and that “TRU does not release results of performance reviews of any employee as it would destroy the review process.”

Thompson claims that the release of the survey results would not constitute a breach of privacy and referred to that statement as Ross’s “legal opinion.”

Ross is also a lawyer and Queen’s Counsel.

Thompson said that he did not think that releasing the survey would destroy the review process because there is no job consequence for Shaver, who was appointed to another three-year term in November.

Earlier this year during the review process, TRU Faculty Association president Tom Friedman sent a letter to Ross in October. The letter said that he “is perceived as someone who does not engage effectively with students, faculty or staff.”

Thompson made it clear that he is “not aligning himself” with that letter or with the critical comments yielded by his survey and published alongside his letter to the board.

He maintains that his request was motivated by the “desire to create a public debate and a public forum about issues of transparency at the university … and also to test the limits and reveal the limits of transparency at this institution.”

–With files from Alexis Stockford