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Openness and Transparency in Post-Secondary Institutions

CAUT Policy Statement

Post-secondary institutions that receive public funds either from provincial governments or the Government of Canada through direct grants, student loans, scholarship programs, or other means of direct or indirect transfers have an obligation to use those funds in a responsible way. Post-secondary institutions must be accountable for their trusteeship of these public monies. Accountability demands openness and transparency. Post-secondary institutions must be open to public scrutiny, open in their accounts, open in their governance, policies and administration, open in their debates, and open in their decision-making processes. Openness and transparency must be the normal operating procedure for post-secondary institutions.

The decision-making structure and the financial operations of post-secondary institutions, as well as all of their governing boards, constituent bodies and committees, should be open and transparent. In camera sessions should be exceptional and highly limited in use. The results of such closed deliberations should normally be reported in a public session as soon as possible.

Openness and transparency is a fundamental principle of research at universities and colleges. This precludes contractual relationships with corporate or other research partnerships that seek to impose secrecy on the research funded through such relationships, except where contracts require a limited waiting time (no more than 60 days) prior to publication in order to secure patent protection. Research results must be open and publishable as quickly as possible.

All contracts, protocols and investigator agreements for sponsored research or clinical trials should expressly provide that the investigators shall not be prevented by the sponsor, or anyone, from informing research participants, co-investigators, research ethics boards, regulatory agencies, and the scientific community of risks to participants that the investigators identify during the research study or clinical trials or after the completion of the study or trials.

The principle of openness and transparency must also apply to all contractual/business relationships that are entered into by the university or college. All donor agreements should be available for public scrutiny. In cases where entering into the contractual relationship is likely to raise ethical concerns or controversy, details of the proposed contractual relationships should be made public prior to their finalization.

Academic staff, support staff and students elected to decision-making bodies are expected to report to their constituents and should not be prevented from doing so by any rules of secrecy that may be enacted by the decision-making body. Any requirement that members of Boards of Governors sign secrecy agreements or abstain from public comment on the affairs of the institution is inimical to openness, transparency, and academic freedom.

Governments and post-secondary institutions should not use either freedom of information or privacy legislation as a cloak of secrecy in which to shroud government and institutional policies.

Approved by the CAUT Council, April 2016.