Winders: Get a machete – Senate deep in weeds

Paul Mayne // Western News

Someone had to say something at some point, right?

Senate has been in an odd place since the events of last year. It is working through its transparency issues – still somewhat clumsily, not yet in lockstep. And that is OK. It is never easy to see the bureaucratic sausage being made – but it will be a better body when finished with its process.

In the meantime, however, floor discussions this year are dominated by a handful of voices. Particularly, student voices have risen in prominence. While I’ll argue some of their interjections don’t offer much beyond just getting themselves on the record, they are representing their constituents by being present and engaged. They have no fear in questioning administrators from the president on down. Here’s to them – not sure I had that level of chutzpah at their age.

However, this rise in prominence is changing the focus of Senate, as the body is bending more toward ‘experience’ issues than the academic policy of the university. Increasingly, Senate is burying itself beneath a mound of minutiae it is neither prepared, nor possibly equipped, to handle.

Already tired, cranky and uncomfortable after a series of long discussions, Senators were confronted late in the meeting last week with a concern submitted by a student representative:

Recently, several out of province and international students have reached out to me regarding their final exam schedules and their inability to return home for religious holidays. One of them said that in some aspects they felt “forgotten by Western” and are at the point where they “can barely afford the fare” to travel home over the break.

Given that internationalization is a priority at Western, what steps will the university take to help both international and out of province students, of all financial backgrounds, be able to spend the break with their families?

After about 10 minutes of discussion on this issue, again pushed by student Senators, Ivey Business School Dean Bob Kennedy raised his hand and said, in only the most wonderfully irritated way possible:

Seems like we’re way, way down in the weeds in terms of what Senate should be handling. We have 33,000 students on this campus. There is no way every scheduling inconvenience should be a matter of Senate. My sense is 99.9 per cent of these things get handled at the faculty level. We don’t need to change the policies of the university because somebody had conflict. We’re spending a lot of time on a very small thing.

Amen.

Listen, exam schedules are among the most complicated machinations undertaken by this university. They cannot be perfect for everyone – the fact they work at all amazes me. To think they can, in any way, be tailored to the individual is extraordinarily myopic. To say you have been “forgotten by Western” because of the schedule is the definition of overly entitled.

Like exams, life can be inconvenient. Let’s just say this is a good lesson to learn early.

I love a strong student voice on the Senate. But their inexperience shows in their inability to vet constituent complaints. Lesson in leadership: Not everything that comes to you is valid.

Cheers to Kennedy. In the last year, we have created a beast that thinks every issue needs the highest level of attention. Nice to see someone assert there are some concerns that just need to be handled elsewhere.