Winders: Depth-breadth discussion shows Senate shortcomings

Paul Mayne // Western News

After spending most of his journalism career in The States, most recently as executive editor of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, Winders joined Western’s Masters in Environment and Sustainability program in 2009, and then the Western News as its editor in 2010.

The Senate isn’t even interested in the Senate. So why blame the rest of us for not showing up.

Publically presented on Friday, the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Renewal Interim Report painted a somewhat unflattering portrait of a governing body removed from its constituency with an ambiguous, if not mysterious, role in the university. These sentiments have led to an erosion of trust among some that Senators are acting in the best interest of constituents.

That’s quite an accusation – and one I was interested to see debated at the Senate’s regular meeting this past Friday. However, that discussion never came. Instead, Senate focused on what some perceived as a lack of participation that comprised the report’s findings. Led by two deans, Senators pressed on if the report’s findings properly reflected the feelings of the entire campus community.

And they had a point.

Despite the committee reaching out to every faculty, numerous campus groups as well as several individuals, the engagement was shallow. For instance, the smallest town hall meeting had one person; the largest had 22. The committee received only 18 written comment submissions and conducted 40 one-on-one interviews.

Could it be better? Yes. The committee admitted that. But that should not discount what was heard – which reflects what we have been hearing for almost a year now.

Listen, I understand the desire for a deep data set. But at what point do you quit penalizing the engaged for the apathy of the masses? Is that number a majority? A super majority? Perhaps we should not discuss this thing until every last voice is heard on campus – even if those voices have no desire to speak?

We can always go deeper. But what do Senators expect to find? Does there exists some hidden wellspring of Senate fandom down there?

The report found some members of the Western community believe “some Senators are not prepared prior to meetings and appear not to take the job seriously” and that “multiple groups believe that they are not represented (or not adequately represented) in the Senate and feel that the current makeup of Senate needs to change.”

How would we ever get that idea? Well, on average, Senate is missing about 30 per cent of its membership at the start of every meeting. I say ‘at the start,’ because if attendance was taken at the end, that number would be far lower.

On Friday, the Senate lost more than a dozen voting members who snuck out as the meeting crept closer to 4 p.m. What does it say when the Senate’s own membership doesn’t feel the need to stick around to participate in a discussion about how they are not engaged?

Who could blame the committee if they rolled their eyes at such lectures on a lack of community engagement when the Senate has difficulty sticking around?

This made the Senate’s chastising of the committee for its efforts too much to bear.

There is hope. Although Senate vacancies often outpace nominees for the spots (requiring a whole slate of selected-not-elected Senators), there were actual elections last year. And this year, there have been a record number of interested parties – 30 nominees for 25 faculty seats and seven nominees for one staff seat.

Here’s to the possibility of a new era of engagement. Just so long as they stick around long enough to hear the debate about it.