IGNITE Board of Directors meetings that have previously been open to students at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber are now closed to students, The Avro Post was told on Wednesday when a reporter was denied access to the meeting.
Reporter Kristy Lam was at Lakeshore Campus to cover the Board, made of up of paid, elected students from all three campuses. However, she was informed by IGNITE staffer Kristine Gavlan that the rules had changed: students are no longer allowed access.
The Avro Post has sent reporters to cover Board of Directors meetings in previous academic years. Gavlan did not explain further, but said that the policy change was noted online.
An initial scan using a website catalog service found that IGNITE removed the section of the Governance page that specified that students were allowed into the Board meetings.
A paragraph that included “progress is made through open and honest conversation” and “you are invited to attend Board of Directors meetings” was removed sometime between Aug. 14 and Wednesday.
Later on Wednesday evening, after backlash began over IGNITE’s cut off, the student union updated the page again with a legal note explaining that under provincial law governing corporations, only directors on the Board have the right to attend meetings and view meeting minutes.
These gatherings occur every month where the 10 Directors have their say on financial matters related the student union’s typical $11 million budget. Never before has the IGNITE Board cut off in-person access to a student or made the meeting minutes private.
It was not immediately clear in any official statement why the status quo changed seemingly over the summer.
The new policy comes into play during a critical time. The Student Choice Initiative mandated by the provincial government comes into play for the first time this fall, allowing students to opt-out of funding certain aspects of the student union.
Since IGNITE was founded in 2016, there has been a growing group of students that questions the student union’s transparency, following a re-brand that was highly criticized for its secretive process and the amount of money used.
Earlier this year, IGNITE barred another reporter from entering a Board of Directors meeting but for a different reason. A journalist was present to report on the May meeting but was not allowed to enter because he was starting Humber College only in the fall.
Executive Director Ercole Perrone said earlier this year that the student union was under no legal obligation to allow students access to the Board meetings but that they were open as an effort of transparency on IGNITE’s behalf.
It is standard practice for board of director bodies at student unions across Ontario to allow students and student reporters into their meetings, including at George Brown College, the University of Toronto and dozens of other institutions.
There are still two other times during the school year where students can have input on the direction of the student union: the Special Meeting of the Members in October and the Annual General Meeting in the spring.
The Avro Post has reached out for comment from the public relations spokesperson for IGNITE.
Director responds to criticism
Board Director Erika Caldwell responded to criticism posted by students on her director Instagram page Wednesday night, the first response after this story broke.
Michel Figueredo, who works on public relations for The Avro Post, replied to a photo that Caldwell posted of the meeting asking if students will hear about what took place at the Lakeshore Campus gathering.
Caldwell replied, saying that the meeting minutes will be posted on IGNITE’s website. Up until now that would be the case but apparently not any longer.
The new legal notice posted by IGNITE on Wednesday night adds that past meeting minutes can now only be accessed by emailing the executive director.
Figueredo asked “when will students be permitted to attend student body meetings again?”
“Unfortunately I don’t have answers to those questions but if you want to DM me I can send you the appropriate contacts for you to get more info from IGNITE,” she responded.
Over the summer, Vice President Shay Hamilton of North Campus asked that all inquires from The Avro Post to executives or the Board of Directors go through Communications Coordinator Peter Seney. Since August, over a dozen requests for comment have gone unanswered.