George Brown College and indeed much of the entire college sector, has a long way to go for basic transparency and accountability. As a public institution the college is funded predominantly by government grants and students’ tuition but remains an opaque, even secretive, institution.
Basic documents from their board of governors meetings are not supplied to the student press without a long back-and-forth, and have even required Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
In contrast, many institutions in the university sector publish the agenda and supporting documents of their board of governors on their website for the public to read.
As a publicly-funded institution there’s absolutely no reason that documents such as the college’s annual budget shouldn’t be publicly available on the GBC website, as many other colleges and universities in Ontario already do.
Recently, there was even a bizarre request from James McPhedran, the chair of GBC’s board of governors, that student journalists not take photos in the public session of the board of governors meetings “without express permission.”
Imagine if the speaker of the House of Commons, Ontario Legislature or Toronto city council made such a request of journalists covering their meetings? It would widely be criticized as anti-democratic and an attempt to muzzle the freedom of the press reporting in the public interest.
George Brown College, with its $306 million budget, should be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability that we expect from other public institutions.
Another area that the college could improve on transparency is in how information about safety and security incidents are communicated to students. Or more accurately, not communicated.
George Brown’s safety and security department‘s safety messages webpage was only updated twice last year, with information so general that it is practically useless.
Telling students to “respect your community” by not littering, not smoking in undesignated areas, and reporting prohibited behaviour to security, does little to inform students and help keep them safe.
According to a statistical report obtained by The Dialog through an FOI request, there were 246 criminal incidents recorded by campus security between September 2014 and March 2015. The majority of them were theft but there were also 14 incidents of assault, 23 incidents of harassment, 14 threats, and one weapons incident.
None of these incidents were communicated to students at the time they were happening.
In contrast, Ryerson University regularly emails all students safety alerts of serious incidents and the University of Toronto and York University update their websites with security incidents on a daily basis.
George Brown College needs to do better at being open and transparent because students who fund it, and rely on timely information for their personal safety, deserve better.