Plenty of Et Cetera’s column space has been used in the past to talk about IGNITE, and with good reason.
The non-profit has a budget of more than $13 million paid into by students and has historically had a tenuous relationship with the media, barring students from attending meetings last year unless they committed to not attending as journalists before closing those meetings entirely.
But with the elections held last year to appoint the new board of directors (an election in which just over 16 per cent of eligible students voted), there was hope this lack of transparency would change.
Eli Ridder, a second-year journalism student and chairman of the board, ran on a message of transparency, and in interviews with Et Cetera leading up to the election, both Anthony Grguric, a director from North Campus and Gabi Hentschke, a director from Lakeshore, said they supported open board meetings.
“Students should know what is happening, what decisions are being made and why they’re being made,” Hentschke said in an interview with Et Cetera last March. “Yes, sometimes they’re tough decisions, but students should be able to know.”
The election of candidates who were vocal about open board meetings was encouraging to the media, hoping we were moving into a new, more transparent era of IGNITE.
This is why it was so disappointing that at the Nov. 18 meeting of the board, it voted to keep meetings closed to the public.
The news was relayed in the meeting’s executive summary, a new feature introduced in June and the method of communication the board opted to go with over open meetings.
“The Board of Directors had two options on the table from the Governance Review Committee in regards to changing our policy,” the summary said. “Option 1 was to formally establish Executive Summaries after every Board meeting and Media Days. Option 2 was to formally re-open board meetings with a few limitations.
“The board voted for Option 1,” it said. “Four voted in favour, three voted against and one abstained after several rounds of voting and much discussion.”
The three who voted against, who wanted their decision noted, were Ridder, Hentschke, and Aashi Jhunjhunwala, the board’s vice-chair.
Grguric abstained, citing the need for a circumstantial system which would, in a normal year not plagued by COVID-19, institute open meetings.
This means the four in favour of option one were a combination of Keithtian Green from North campus, Shay Kedroe from North campus, Ryan Stafford from Lakeshore Campus, Megan Roopnarine from Guelph-Humber, and Stefan Thomas from Guelph-Humber.
Kedroe, Stafford and Roopnarine were all vice-presidents of IGNITE in 2019, a position now defunct after the February by-law changes. The 2019 BOD were the ones who voted to close the meetings, citing uncomfortableness having hard conversations in front of an audience including the press.
The decision brings up a variety of questions. The first is whether Ridder and Jhunjhunwala represent the best choices for chair and vice-chair respectively.
Historically the chair has been the mouthpiece of the board, communicating its message to the students and the media. This decision points to the simple fact that Ridder or his vice-chair may not support that messaging.
The second is what will the IGNITE Media Days look like? Even if we ignore the uncertainty COVID-19 presents, the final media day last year was attended by a single journalist.
The low attendance was for the simple reason that newsroom executives found them ineffective. Journalists were not permitted to record conversations, and television and broadcast students were not permitted to film.
If these events exist in the same form they did previously, students may have to rely entirely on summaries for their information.
Which leads to the final and most pressing question, one this publication has asked before: what does transparency mean to IGNITE?
In Et Cetera’s eyes, transparency does not mean a curated list of talking points, or a meeting where an organization attempts to dictate the coverage of it.
It means being open to answering questions. It means understanding the media is not out to get you, it is out to report the news. It means understanding we decide what we cover in our paper, not the sources.
In a December 2019 editorial, Et Cetera said IGNITE was making it impossible to do our job effectively.
It’s incredible that in a year where everything is changing, that still being true seems to be the one thing we can always count on.