Apologies, task force talk dominate Senate

The first signs of the future for the university Senate had a lot to do with signs from the past.

Prompted by a question from Senator Kelly Olson, Janice Deakin, Western Provost and Vice-President (Academic), apologized to faculty for campus security seizing protest signs from a handful of faculty at both the April 10 and April 17 Senate meeting. Signs from students and community members were also seized at the meeting.

The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) questioned the action as it related to academic freedom.

“Decisions to disallow signage were made, not on the basis to limit freedom of expression, but from the desire to ensure that all attendees could be assured their rights to attend and view the proceedings unimpeded by those who were protesting using signage,” Deakin said during Friday’s Senate meeting in the University Community Centre. “While the administration did respect peaceful protests outside the Senate meeting room, it may have acted too hastily in removing the signs before they proved to hinder Senate’s activities or the rights of others to view the proceedings.”

This represented the university administration’s second apology on the issue in a handful of days. Earlier in the week, the following the statement was issued to faculty:

 

Recently, UWOFA raised concerns that the University administration had not properly respected the tenets of academic freedom when, during the Senate meetings of April 10 and 17, signage criticizing the employer or members of the administration was taken from some faculty members by security personnel.

Western’s leaders confirm the University’s commitment to Academic Freedom as articulated in the Faculty Collective Agreement, and agree to uphold and protect its principles. These principles, however, must be balanced with the university’s obligation to ensure the rights and safety of all persons attending campus events.

In the Senate meetings of April 10 and 17, decisions to disallow signage were made, not on the basis of a desire to limit freedom of expression, but from a desire to ensure that all attendees could be assured of their right to attend and view the proceedings, unimpeded by those wishing to protest through showing signage. While the administration did respect peaceful protest outside of the Senate meeting room, it may have acted too hastily in removing the signs before they proved to hinder Senate activities or the rights of others to view the proceedings.

For reference to the conditions under which picketing, distribution of literature and related activities may occur, please refer to Board Policy MAPP 1.5 at http://www.uwo.ca/univsec/pdf/policies_procedures/section1/mapp15.pdf .

The Academic Freedom Article of the Faculty Collective Agreement may be found here: https://www.uwo.ca/facultyrelations/pdf/collective_agreements/faculty.pdf .

The administration wishes to extend an apology to faculty who felt their voices were not heard because their signs were removed during the Senate meetings of April 10 and 17.  While consideration of the rights of all attendees will remain part of decision-making in such cases, the administration respects the right of faculty, librarians, and archivists to exercise academic freedom and criticize the employer publicly.

 

On Friday, Olson questioned if the apology was extended to students and community members, in addition to faculty.

Deakin was clear that “the apology was to all academic faculty and in response to concerns expressed by UWOFA concerning the academic freedom of the individuals it represents. Academic freedom applies to faculty members.

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Other Senate actions included:

The University Research Board Task Force presented an initial report to Senate, outlining its mission and work plans after meeting three times over the summer.

The task force has defined its mission as:

 

The social sciences, arts, and humanities are central to Western’s vision and mission. Indeed, world-class researchers in these disciplines are found across the university in eight of Western’s Faculties and Schools. Changes in both the internal and external contexts make it timely to examine how social science, arts, and humanities research is valued and funded. The Task Force will recommend strategies and concrete action plans that will better support success, growth and leadership in research in these disciplines across the university.

 

The report outlined three main objectives for the task force; each of these areas will become a standalone working group. Those groups will include, at least, one member from each of the eight faculties in which social science, arts and humanities research is conducted. Members of the steering committee have been assigned to act as coordinators for the working groups.

The objectives include:

How do external entities, including funding agencies and professional organizations, define leading edge scholarly activity in social sciences, arts, and humanities disciplines?

Andrew Nelson and Charles Weijer, task force co-chairs, will coordinate the work in this area.

As a first step, they will be consulting directly with the major funding agencies in Ottawa and professional organizations to fully understand the external context. Once that consultation is completed, the group will examine where Western fits currently and how it might best position itself for the future;

What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities of and threats to social science, arts and humanities research at Western?

Jacquie Burkell, Information and Media Studies (FIMS), Cathy Benedict, Music, and Weijer will coordinate the work of this group.

They will conduct a document review, and, in consultation with the assistant deans of research, develop a list of individuals and groups with which to meet within each faculty/school. They have begun to develop a series of questions that may be put to individual researchers and groups and are considering whether to conduct a common survey of all researchers in the social sciences, arts, and humanities disciplines at Western. They will also take part in a town hall to be held later in the fall to which all researchers in the related disciplines will be invited.

How is research in the social sciences, arts, and humanities supported at Western and how can this be improved?

Jonathan Vance and Nelson will coordinate the work of this group.

The individuals to be consulted across campus will vary depending on the question. For example, a review of administrative practices and processes will require targeted consultations with those in Research Development Services who do the work that supports those processes; understanding promotion of research activity will require consultation with the Department of Communications and Public Affairs, staff in individual faculties with responsibility for promotion and celebration of research, and individuals at other universities to understand best practices here and elsewhere. The group will also want to understand how researchers promote and communicate their own work and how they can be encouraged to do that more effectively.

One change was made to the task force’s membership. Alison Doherty, Health Sciences, replaced Julia Emberley, Arts & Humanities, in the group.

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The Provost’s Task Force on University Budget Models will hold two town hall meetings between now and the end of the calendar year. Dates are forthcoming.

The task force assigned a subcommittee to explore the graduate funding portion of its mandate. Karen Campbell, Vice-Provost (Academic Planning, Policy and Faculty), will chair that committee, which will report its findings through the overall task force.

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The fifth round of Western’s Interdisciplinary Development Initiatives program (IDI) is currently underway with proposals due to Deans on Nov. 1 and to the Office of the Provost on Dec. 1. At that point, a selection committee will be struck to evaluate the projects, Alan Weedon, Western’s Vice-Provost (Academic Planning, Policy and Faculty), told Senate colleagues.

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Deakin announced that while first-year student applications to the university remained flat compared to last year, the incoming first-year class is projected to be 5,160 students. Most programs hit enrolment targets; some blew past those. Engineering, for example, targeted 550 students this fall, but is welcoming an incoming class of 680. Deakin said the university is eyeing an expansion of Engineering enrolment from its current 550-student target to 580. The 20-year plan will allow the university to self-fund a new building, renovations and increases in faculty. The incoming class boasted an 88.5 per cent midyear average upon acceptance.

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FIMS professor Nick Dyer-Witheford proposed a motion calling for a ‘question period’ to be incorporated into future Senate meetings. The motion goes to the Operations and Agenda Committee for consideration.

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English and Writing Studies professor Jane Toswell proposed a motion calling for a “pro Chancellor” at the university. Toswell’s hope was the new position would open the Chancellor position up to a wider, more diverse talent pool and not just those “with a lot of spare time, which means you pretty much have to be rich.” The self-defined “wacky” idea goes to the Senate’s Convocation for consideration.

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Minutes from the meeting will be posted to the university Senate site in the near future.