Western President Amit Chakma said his initial meetings with groups and individuals, part of his Listening Tour to engage the campus community, have been filled with “tone and substance” and he remains “very optimistic” about the ability to resolve the challenges facing the university.
“I feel energized because of the level of engagement – not necessarily because of the concrete ideas we have been able to come up with, but with the level of engagement, which is very, very rewarding to me personally,” Chakma told university Senate members May 8.
“When I announced the 100-day plan, the intent was to focus my attention on the next several months. The feedback I got was that (timetable) would not be sufficient. I accept that. So, this consultation process will continue well into the fall and beyond. In fact, some of it should be ongoing.”
At the end of the initial 100-day period, Chakma will report back to Senate with ideas related to how to move forward, and, hopefully, offer concrete action items that need to be dealt with quickly. The president also said a review of senior salaries will be undertaken as soon as the Goudge Review is complete.
On April 1, Western’s Board of Governors announced an “independent and impartial review of the university’s presidential compensation practices,” led by Stephen T. Goudge, former Justice of the Court of Appeal of Ontario. Chakma said the review is anticipated to take about 90 days.
“Once we launch that, I will advise (Senate) and the results will be made public,” he said.
Alison Hearn, University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) president, said a review of senior salaries is a positive step, but one which may be better served externally.
“Trust takes time to rebuild. I think an independent review would be more likely to garner the support of the majority of, at least, UWOFA’s members, rather than an internal review,” she told Senate. “Not to say that an internal review can’t happen.”
During his Listening Tour, Chakma also heard requests for a stronger presence from Senate members and its committees.
“What this consultation process revealed is, we have not used our Senate committees as effectively as we could have,” he said. “We clearly do lots of good work, but perhaps there are other opportunities for us to make broader use of those committees. I would like our Senate committees to engage in a dialogue as to what more might be done.”
Chakma offered a few suggestions to get the conversation started.
“Take the budget issue. Hindsight is always 20/20 as you reflect on what it is we have done well and what it is we have not done well,” he said. “Maybe what we do is keep SCUP (Senate Committee on University Planning) in the loop, and bring the budget development process to its attention, on a more frequent basis. There are opportunities for engagement with SCUP and I hope that will be a positive step we can take.
“We can’t change budget models overnight, but it doesn’t mean we can’t improve what we do along the way.”
Chakma added there are opportunities to engage the university research board more broadly in various activities and, on the academic side, work on the challenges in supporting more interdisciplinary initiatives.
“We are impressed with the various initiatives underway at Western. The list is very impressive, but there is a desire to do more. One can always do better,” he said. “These are areas where collective reflection and decision-making is required to remove some of these barriers that exist at faculty levels or at administrative levels.”
Other topics discussed included Senate make-up, in particular the over-representation of administration should be addressed.
“I believe in Senate, possibly more than I believe in the union,” Hearn said. “The Senate is the governing body of the academic mission of this university and its needs to be enlivened and lively, and have lively debates, and one of the major concerns I’ve heard from members is it tends to, in its makeup, over represent administration, associate deans and deans. It’s felt too many of those are placed in a conflict between their administrative obligations and, possibly, their obligations to their colleagues and to the faculty at large.”
Chakma said while some on campus want immediate results, he cautions any substantive changes will take a collective effort and won’t be instant.
“One thing I’ve learned, in spite of your good intentions and good will, it is dangerous for you to come too quickly to a conclusion on anything,” he said. “The key message is it is a work in progress.”