The Board of Governors, Dr. Husbands, and A Series of Unfortunate Events (Mars' Hill Feature)

by Syd Dvorak

Jan. 19, 2022


ABOUT THE BOARD

"Recently, a lot of significant decisions have been made and enforced in the Trinity Western University (TWU) community, especially with respect to the Institutional Prioritization Process (IPP). Behind these decisions, the name Board of Governors looms like a shadow. Even with so many whispered conversations about the Board and its recent decisions echoing around campus, most in the community do not know exactly who the Board members are, what role they play, and why they make the decisions they do.


In an effort to clarify its role, we reached out to request the current and updated by-laws by which the Board of Governors operate. Unfortunately, we received no comment. Instead, research into what has defined the Board in the past has proved fruitful. Though specific by-laws are ever-changing, the essential functions of the Board have not changed.


According to “Active, Dynamic Governance: A Statement of the Role and Responsibilities of the Board of Governors of Trinity Western College,” a document outlining the functions of the Board that was revised in 1982, the Board has four functions: “Appointment or recall of the President,” “Establishment of University policy,” “Representation for public and community relations,” and “Financial support.”


According to the TWU Archives’ “Board of Governors Fonds,” the responsibilities of the Board have included:

  • Approval of changes or additions in objectives and major programs

  • Authorization of capital expenditures

  • Approval of plans to finance the University operations

  • Establishment of controls essential to the protection of the rights and interests of contributors, the church, the staff, the faculty, the alumni, and the students

  • General (external) supervision of the University's Business, Academic, Student, Public Affairs, Seminary matters, approval of faculty hiring and faculty tenure

  • Establishment and revision of Constitution and By-Laws

  • Approval of long-range plans

  • Fixing charges and tuition/residence fees

Long story short, the Board of Governors is TWU’s policy-making body.


According to TWU’s website, “The Board of Governors is comprised of distinguished Christian leaders from across Canada and the United States.” Historically, this has included members appointed by both the Evangelical Free Church of America and the Evangelical Free Church of Canada, as well as other elected members and committee chairs.


Today, the Board of Governors is composed of 16 members, including Board Chair Frederick Fleming, Board Vice Chair Matthew St. John, Board Treasurer Leighton Friesen, Board Secretary William Francis, the Executive Director of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada William Taylor, and University President Mark Husbands. In addition, the President of the Trinity Western University Student Association and Vice President of TWU Alumni and Families also play roles in Board proceedings.


In the past, Board members have been appointed by the Governance Committee and voted on by existing board members. They serve terms of five years, which can be renewed. However, faculty does not submit recommendations for board members.


It should be noted that while it makes decisions directly affecting the daily lives of TWU students, the Board does not reflect student demographics. Only four of 16 members are women and there is a distinct lack of people of colour. The Board is also not entirely representative of TWU’s academic make-up, with almost all of the members holding degrees or training in business, theology, or the sciences, and almost none are arts-oriented.


The Board has consisted of more alumni in the last few years than previously, but not many of the members are full academics. This is a concern for those who desire for the university to be more academic and less business-oriented.


In the world of industry or business, where board meetings are closed, the chair is the only member to speak publicly, and therefore the board is less likely to be criticized for its decisions. University boards of governors are the highest positions of authority, but they are still there to function as representatives of the community.


Constituency positions (Chair of Senate, faculty association, TWUSA, staff association, alumni association) were added under Bob Kuhn’s presidency in order to include more areas of TWU community in the Board’s process. Kuhn’s time as president was characterized by more open communication between the Board and the university community.


Dr. Husbands, who was hired by the Board, began his tenure as president at TWU in July 2019. Two faculty sources, who will remain anonymous because they are not authorized to comment directly on the circumstances, have provided some information for this article. Source one noted that “it seems that the Board is now closing avenues of communication between it and faculty that had been opened when Bob Kuhn worked to create the constituency appointments on the Board.”


THE BOARD AND IPP

Dr. Husbands mandated the Institutional Prioritization Process (IPP), supported by the Board of Governors, and it was underway throughout 2019-2020. On June 29, it was officially announced that TWU was “sunsetting” its BFA Acting, BA Theatre, and the MA TESOL. It was then revealed that more programs would be closed or suspended, including the BSc Mathematics and Computing Science, BA Religious Studies, BA European Studies, and BA World Languages.


According to the Institutional Prioritization Process Provisional Summary of Conclusions document provided by the second anonymous faculty source, “The IPP was intended to generate accurate information to inform the development of a financial model that will strengthen the University’s ability to deliver academic and co-curricular programs of excellence.”


These decisions have sparked outrage and confusion in the TWU community, especially considering that the announcement of these closures came on the heels of assurances of the University’s financial prosperity. This leaves many students and faculty debating the necessity of program closures.


Many in the community are questioning the intention behind the IPP. Faculty and students are asking: at what point does it end? Faculty source one stated: "The concern of some faculty is that TWU will become a collection of professional schools supported by liberal arts programs."


The Provisional Summary goes on to explain that the IPP “is consistent with our stated promise to ‘unite reason and faith through teaching and scholarship’ in the service of developing students with ‘thoroughly Christian minds’ capable of ‘learning to think with accuracy, depth, creativity and humility from a thoroughly biblical perspective.’”


However, when asked how the Board defines Christianity and how this definition contributes to the running of the University, the Board declined to comment.


According to faculty source one, "Observing changes at TWU in the past two years, some faculty believe that the Board hired Dr. Husbands to 'clean house.’”


After the IPP, TWU Faculty Association submitted a vote of non-confidence in Dr. Husbands, with 71 percent in favour, only 20 percent opposed, and 9 percent abstaining. The Board’s response to the 71 percent of Faculty that voted non-confidence was that the Board of Governors has full confidence in President Husbands, despite faculty concerns.


A schism seems to have formed between administration and the rest of the TWU community.


DR. HUSBANDS AND TWU

Aside from the IPP, Dr. Husbands’ time at TWU has not been without controversy. This is exhibited by a student-written petition to fire him that has been circulating the TWU community since November 29. The original petition cites a variety of unproven allegations as sufficient grounds for the Board of Governors to let him go. It should be noted that any mention of Dr. Husbands has since been removed from the petition. In its current form, the petition now focuses largely on the closure of the Theatre department. The petition quotes a question Carter Sawatzky wrote in their September 22 Mars’ Hill article “Theatre Belongs”: “TWU is a not-for-profit charitable organization, so why is profitability a make-or-break criteria for some of the smallest programs to continue?”


Husbands’ treatment of LGBTQ+ students on campus has also been a point of contention.


One anonymous queer student at TWU stated: Being a queer student at TWU is to be in a constant state of concern for your emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical wellbeing. It is constantly fighting to prove you belong, and wondering who will and won’t accept you for who you are.


This is where One TWU, an organized safe-space for LGBTQ+ students, alumni, and allies, steps in. One hosts events, Bible studies, study sessions, educational talks, and provides a much-needed place for queer students to be themselves.


In 2019, One hosted a Stories Night, in which current students and alumni could share their experiences being queer and Christian. To prepare for this evening, One leadership spent months leading up to the event building relationships with Student Life. One leadership specifically requested that Dr. Husbands not speak at the event, because it had not been able to form a relationship with him, and therefore did not feel comfortable with him doing so. Husbands attended the event and spoke anyway, opening the night by advocating for celibacy when it came to “homoerotic inclinations.”


The same anonymous queer student said Dr. Husbands entered an intentionally crafted safe-space for queer students and made it feel unsafe.


Refusal to respectfully engage with One TWU is concerning.


While it is unlikely that this petition will have any effect on the future of the University, some of the points made in it reflect what has been on the minds of many in the TWU community. When asked if they were aware of the petition, the Board of Governors declined to comment.


STUDENT CONCERNS AND HOW WE CAN DO BETTER

Perhaps the greatest frustration surrounding recent administrative changes, the IPP, and “sunsetting” of programs, is a lack of transparency and the very little information provided by the administration. The TWU community is desperate for information, and the university has declined to provide it. When asked if President Husbands and/or the Board would be open to a town hall to discuss student concerns, particularly with regards to program closures and the IPP, the Board declined to comment.


At some universities across Canada, boards of governors are more in-touch with their students. McGill University’s board offers town-hall sessions with students and gives anyone the opportunity to ask questions at board meetings twice a year.


Sarah Kate Davis, President of Trinity Western University Student Association, was asked about her involvement as a member of the Board and how she thinks the relationship between administration and students can be strengthened.


“I think one aspect that could be improved,” Davis responded, “is the communication link between admin and students. Explaining the ‘why’ of decisions or giving more of a direct/detailed explanation would help bridge a connection of transparency, respect, and trust. Not knowing what comes next or having information is okay but communicating that builds a foundation of trust and understanding.”


Reaching out to the community to ease anxieties about the future, to answer questions, or even just to share its reasoning for the process in person would demonstrate a willingness of the administration to communicate with students and mend a relationship in danger of breaking.


Grace Giesbrecht, a fourth year student, observed that “The administration currently operates with neither care nor concern for the community that students on this campus care for so deeply—in the face of this situation, it is our responsibility to look out for one another and the parts of our community that are threatened.”


If you feel strongly about supporting the Theatre Department after it has been scheduled for “sunsetting,” check out @TheatreBelongs on Instagram and Facebook, join over 1500 others in signing their petition, and help them fight to keep theatre alive at TWU.


As One TWU explains, “The situation at TWU is not ideal for the flourishing of queer students—that is why we exist. We intend to educate all people within TWU and the extended community about the existence of LGBTQIA2S+ people, advocate for our queer students and alumni, and create community where we relate with one another.” If you are a student at TWU who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or an ally looking to support, check out One TWU on Instagram @OfficialOneTWU for more information about getting involved.


Students at TWU, a smaller university, have ample opportunity to be community-centred. Continue to check in on your friends, dorm-members, and classmates. As a liberal arts university, TWU should be a place in which you expand your bubble and challenge your beliefs.


However, as students, we can only be responsible for so much. Being in an enriching, Christ-like community is a two-way street. Now is the time and this is the place to be vocal about your concerns as a student at TWU. As a governing body of this university, the Board should be hearing student, faculty, and community concerns. It seems that, lately, the administration has been running the university like a business without communication or transparency.


Communication between the Board, the President, and the other members of our community is essential. Trust is built on communication."