Hearn: Where are the promised changes to Senate?

Senator Alison Hearn submitted the following notice of motion that she intends to ask Senate to speed up implementing revisions to the governing body’s representation, at Senate’s regular meeting April 13:

I am disappointed to see that there is no update from the Ops/Agenda Committee about the implementation of the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations.

As many of you know, a few years ago, in the Academic Year 15-16 and in the wake of the controversy surrounding President Chakma’s decision to take an additional salary in lieu of admin leave, an Ad Hoc committee on Governance was struck by Senate. I was a member of that committee, chaired by Betsy Skarakis-Doyle, along with some excellent faculty, staff members and students. The mandate of the committee was to examine the state of collegial governance, specifically Senate processes, at Western, and to make recommendations about how to improve them.

We spent a year interviewing many stakeholders across campus, researching faculty governance structures at other universities, and writing several drafts of our final report. The report and its recommendations were submitted in the spring of 2016 and unanimously accepted by Senate.

One of the issues of concern we heard during our consultations was that Senate was not adequately representative of Western’s diverse academic community; there were too few seats for staff, no seats for contract faculty members, or clinicians for example. Many pointed out that too many of the designated faculty seats were held by people who also held administrative posts, chairs, assistant and associate deans, and that these people might be in conflict on many issues.

Two years out from the adoption of the report, implementation of many of the recommendations seems to have stalled. Many are languishing somewhere between Ops/Agenda and the university’s legal counsel. Updates on progress appear to have stopped entirely, and yet concerns about the representativeness and democratic nature of Senate linger.

A case in point is the recent election held for the Presidential Search Committee. The nominations committee brought a carefully considered slate of nominees and this slate was then challenged by nominations from the floor, which is right and proper. The problem came with the outcome.

Now, I should note that I was a candidate for the committee, and I lost in the general election. I am not at all concerned about the fact that I lost; I was quite prepared to lose, as anyone who lets their name stand should be. My concern, and that of many others, is that the deans won two out of the three designated faculty seats.

Fair enough, you might say, that is what Senate chose. And you would be right, it is what Senate chose, but it needn’t have been what Senate ended up with.

I know I am not alone in wondering how both of these deans, or any senior administrators for that matter, could have looked at the result of this election and not for a second thought: “Hmmm, two out of three of the faculty positions on this very important committee are deans. That is not representative. That is not democratic. Given that there has been so much concern about Senate not functioning collegially, not providing adequate representation for people in the Western community, perhaps one of us should step aside and create a chance for a rank and file faculty person to have a voice, in the spirit of collegiality, in the spirit of fair representation.”

But this did not happen. When I inquired about the possibility of it happening, I was told it was unnecessary – that “deans are faculty members, too.”

But are they really? I ask because that is not what my colleagues and I were told during our recent dean search at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS). After it was revealed that our final candidates would not be giving job talks, some of us inquired as to why this was so. We were told that it was because they were not being hired first as academic colleagues, but were, rather, being hired primarily as ‘leaders.’

So, you can understand my confusion. When are deans administrative leaders and when are they are faculty members?

It seems pretty clear that the ambiguity in the definition of their position generally works in the favor of the administration; they are leaders when it suits and faculty members when it suits.

All of this by way of saying that, two years on from the Ad Hoc Committee’s report, I do not feel any better about the state of collegial governance at Western. I do not feel better about the attitude of senior administration toward the consultative potentialities of Senate or toward individual faculty members who are quite rightly doing their job of questioning and trying to hold them to account.

I understand that running a university is a complex and often frustrating task. I certainly understand that consultation and collegial governance can be slow and infuriating.

All this was acknowledged in the Ad Hoc Committee report.

In our recommendations, we sought to strike a balance between the need for speed and flexibility in decision-making and the need for consultation and collegiality. We proposed a consent agenda, for example, to help streamline decision-making, which is one of the few recommendations that has actually been implemented. Meanwhile, the recommendations that deal with enhancing representation, fairness and accountability have not yet been addressed.

I am not an extremist, but rather a political realist. I simply want an institution who takes the concerns of its community members seriously and treats them with respect – whether they are TAs and post-docs asking for a fair deal, or food services workers looking for a small modicum of job security, students looking for explanations about discontinued services or rising tuition fees, or faculty members looking to protect their scholarly values by having a reasonable share of voice on a hiring committee.

Two years on from the Ad Hoc Committee’s report, I am very disappointed to say that I do not see this happening at Western. I do not see any evidence of the change the Ad Hoc Committee worked so hard to outline and inspire. I cannot help but feel that, like the situation about the Dean’s role I just described, the Ad Hoc committee recommendations are adopted when they suit the interests of senior administration, and are left to languish when they pose even the smallest challenge to those interests.

Because of these concerns, I want to give a notice of motion today – that Ops Agenda be charged with redoubling its efforts to implement the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee as adopted by Senate, and have the implementation process completed by December of 2018.

Thank You.