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April 13, 2014 | by  | in Features Online Only | [ssba]

Interview with the Chancellor

Salient sat down for a chat about uni council reforms with the university’s big cheese, Chancellor Ian McKinnon. Here’s what he had to say:

I think the first thing to say to you is that there are two aspects to this. One is the agreed position of council and the other was my personal views. The agreed position of council is one I support and I have no difficulties with that, as an extension of that I’ve got some thoughts anyway.

Let’s start with views of council. Now how did we reach that view? One is we wanted to make a submission. B, there were fairly extreme views among a minority of council members. There are some who said we should remain at 18 or 19, there are some who would not have been uncomfortable with the polytech model of 8. I think the majority of us were quite comfortable to accept the fact that there would be reduction but that we wanted stakeholder representation to remain. In the end there was agreement to allow the submission to go ahead on that basis. I thought this actually showed a degree of good sound governance on the behalf of the governors, because if those at the extremes are going to hold out it means you effectively end up with no submission and you effectively end up with no influence on government thinking. I’m quite comfortable with our submission anyway, so that’s where we stand. We accept the reduction in numbers although our reduction was 14 and we certainly committed ourselves to stakeholder representation.

Now, where do we go from here? I think it’s important to note I have my personal views. 14 is slightly better than twelve, because you could end up with your stakeholder representation – your ministerial appointees and then your alumnus, court of convocation, staff, student, what have you, but you won’t have certain skills. I’ve chaired a number of boards and these days you’ve really got to have a lawyer and an accountant, this is a $350 million turnover. You probably also want someone in engineering or architecture, I mean the Hub cost $67 million, Te Puni cost $50 million, that’s been in my chancellorship. You don’t use them, because otherwise they’d have a conflict of interest, they can’t be used professionally, but they bring their advice to the board which has a degree of expertise. We use law firms but we’ve got Victoria Heine sitting there as a lawyer which can just give us a bit of informal advice. We use chartered accountants and auditors, but Roger Taylor’s an accountant, Graham Mitchell’s an accountant. If I wanted another one – and this would be probably not as essential – it would be someone involved in promotion and marketing, you know we want to attend the best students we can get but they’ve got to know about it. I worked in Auckland for about twelve years, we’ve got to keep reminding them this is a compact, workable city. You’ve got to be able to tell people things without showing off. We keep our light under a bushel, I think that’s the Wellington way.

So therefore if you’ve filled up these skills, if you’ve filled up your stakeholders – I’ve got it here, we said a couple of academic, one general, one or two students, two or three Court of Convocation, and we got up to twelve pretty quickly. I also happen to believe we should have the vice chancellor, we’ll come to my personal views in a minute. Now you get up to twelve, if you haven’t got the skills, I wanted to have at least two co-option places which you would reserve in case we were short of those skills. So that was the difference between the twelve and 14. We ended up with about twelve stakeholders of various varieties. We did indicate that the minister should reduce his representatives from four to three. I think the vice chancellor should belong, that’s a debatable point. Why? Because I think that means that he has – it’s a debatable issue, this one, does your chief executive also act in governance, he wears two hats – I just believe it imposes upon your chief executive a buy-in of governance decisions. I think that, in a complex organisation like this you don’t want to add to the complexity by having a chief executive who may disagree with the decisions. These are complex, diverse organisations, if the chief executive is part of governance, you’ve got a buy in from the senior management. He can debate them, he can vote against them but once you vote, as you know with collective responsibility, you buy in.

When you’re on a board of something, you’re there for the betterment of that institution. You bring your experiences to the table, but when you vote, you vote for the betterment of that organisation not the stakeholder. Why do you do that? Your experience as a stakeholder might mean you do vote against the majority, it’s a subtle difference, but you’re actually doing it driven by the fact that your experience in life says it would be a bad decision, you’re not just doing it because the academic staff tell you to do it. That’s because you are liable, you have directorship liability so you’re very silly not to do what is best for the institution. When I came on council, I was pretty anti stakeholder representation, because part of the trouble is getting stakeholders to realise that when they sit round that table they’re there for the betterment of that institution. Doesn’t mean to say they’ve got to vote for everything. When I sat there for a while and there were one or two who just kept quoting their stakeholders – if it’s best for their stakeholders they should do it, but only if it’s also best for their institution.

If you didn’t have stakeholder representation, and you had a whole lot of people like me, there would be a perception of a disjoint, and you would end up with a credibility issue. There would be a disjoint between governance and the people who are part of the university. This is a diverse, positive organisation and stakeholder representation gives credibility.

I accept staff and student representation, I also believe some representation from alumni is important. If you have stakeholder representation, should it be legislated? Now, I don’t agree with that, and I’ll explain to you why. THe 8 universities are all different and I think if we legislate for it I think there would be an imbalance. Every area is slightly different in demographics, and history. What I would do is put it in the constitution. Now changing the constitution of a university. I’d rather have a commitment that we put it into our constitution, this is the makeup for Victoria. I just think putting it in legislation, you run the risk of one-size-fits-all legislation. I’m giving you personal views here.

I support the 14, one can live with the twelve but I just think there’s a slight risk that you might end up short of some of the skills you require on a governing body. I think if you legislate for representation on your governing bodies, they’ll come down with a bloc coverage and I don’t want the government telling us everything we’ve got to do. I want to reflect what suits Wellington and what suits Victoria.

I don’t get as hung up on [ministerial appointees] as other people. THe government is our major funder, they give us forty percent of our funding so one third of governing is perhaps not unreasonable. I was fearful that Minister Joyce would come down with the polytech model, I was very concerned he would come down with that, I was very concerned he would bar stakeholder representation. I’m saying don’t underestimate the power he has to tell us what could happen. I honestly expected he would replicate that polytech model. We’ve suggested we reduce the ministerials to three, I’m not going to get hung up on that in case they throw their toys out of the cot. I know that sounds a bit pathetic but I’ve been in the game of politics a long time and politics is the game of the possible. This government is going to make a decision, is four a big deal?

The only thing that I think is the requirement for Maori on council, I am very very supportive of that. The only thing I wonder is whether one of the ministerials shouldn’t be Maori rather than one of the eight stakeholder representatives. The commitment to the treaty is with the Crown anyway. I certainly want to see Maori on council, I’d be very pleased if a person of Asian or Pacific origin stood for council, but in terms of a definite position, Maori are the indigenous people of the country. I do wonder whether that shouldn’t be part of the ministerial appointment process. The University didn’t sign the treaty.

I was very relieved we got more than I expected. I also felt that our council showed a degree of sound governance by not going to extremes, we held out to find a road that all of us could be satisfied with. I think there’s merit in reduction. I’ve chaired this council for nine years. In the private sector, the ideal board is about eight. I think in our sector, not least because you want stakeholder representation, I think the ideal board is about 12 to 14. If you go too far and your numbers are too great – this is a personal view – it can become unwieldy. One of the things that’s important is the balance between governance and senior management. If it’s unwieldy, the balance of power goes towards senior management because your council becomes almost an advisory body not a governance body.

There will certainly be a student, the number is whether it will be two or one. All representation has to be reduced pro-rata. We’ve already indicated that, we think the minister should go to three, court of convocation should go to three, staff should go to two. I think [Sonya] underestimates her own ability. We’re very fortunate with the calibre of student we’ve got on council at the moment. I don’t buy that we need two student representatives, Sonya could paddle her canoe in there with the best of them. All I know is if it does go to twelve we have to accept pro-rata reductions. There will doubtless be a debate.

I would [add student representation to the university constitution] even if not to appease people. I think it’s important to have it documented so people know where they stand.



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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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