Presidential Search Committee taking shape

Senators chose five representatives from more than a dozen candidates this week to represent the governing body on the universitywide Presidential Search Committee, tasked with finding a successor to President Amit Chakma. Senate members cast electronic votes in order to select its half of the search committee, ahead of today’s Board of Governors meeting.

Last Friday, Senators spent the bulk of its meeting debating the constituency breakdown of its half of the search committee, arriving at a breakdown of one student, one staff member and three faculty after an hour of discussion, with varied suggestions on how to ensure diverse representation.

“This is a committee that doesn’t have a lot of instructions, relatively,” Wendy Pearson, who chairs the Senate Nomination Committee, told Senators at the outset of the Jan. 19 meeting.

“We all know it is a very important search committee. It is also a very complicated one, precisely because there aren’t a lot of guidelines. It’s five people, elected by Senate, one of whom must be a student. We operate on a number of selection principles intended to spread committee membership as widely through the university community as possible,” she added.

Prior to the Senate meeting, 33 nominations were received. Ten student names were put forward – six undergraduates and four graduate students – alongside other faculty and staff nominees. Beyond one slot mandated for a student by the UWO Act, the remaining four spots are negotiable, Pearson explained.

“We recognize there are a lot of people who want to serve, especially as we try to achieve a number of things, including gender parity and representations across various roles. We strive for equity and fairness,” she noted.

A number of choices and combinations are available anytime Senate needs to strike a search committee, she added. Does the ballot include the top-ranked student and the top-ranked nominees, regardless of their constituency? Does the committee want to designate a spot for a staff representative? Does it want to designate one for a graduate student and one for an undergraduate student?

Yet, if you put everyone into one pool, you could end up with four people from one faculty, or five men or five women, noted Janice Deakin, Western’s Provost and Vice-President (Academic). A discussion is necessary at Senate to ensure equal and fair representation, she said.

The makeup for this committee, as determined by Senate, is applicable on an ad-hoc basis for this committee only, added University Secretary Kathleen Kwan. While the only restriction Senators have is including one student, there are no restrictions on whom Senators wish to nominate or see included on the committee. The Board will strike its half of the committee from its members; Senate can nominate anyone, Kwan explained. The next time a presidential search committee needs to be struck, the process of determining constituency breakdown will repeat again.

Senator Arzie Chant, an administrative assistant in the Department of Biology, echoed a number of Senators who wanted a spot on the committee designated to staff. Student Senators briefly debated the merits of designating a spot for a graduate student and an undergraduate student, but consensus arrived at this option being too restrictive for faculty representation.

While some Senators voiced concerns about over-prescribing the makeup of the committee, others wanted to ensure no duplication was permitted. If there is a faculty member from Social Science, does that mean there can’t be a student from Social Science, as well? Should Senate be trying to avoid any duplication in representation?

“There is absolutely opportunity for various constituencies to engage with the selection committee; that’s a really important part. Voices are not lost and they have an opportunity to provide written submissions and meet with the committee as well,” Kwan said, addressing concerns of the potential lack of diversity or constituency representation.

Chakma noted it is possible to have a somewhat diverse committee, even within the restriction of five members. His search committee was comprised of one dean, one student and three faculty members from Arts & Humanities, Social Science and Medicine, making up a relatively broad campus representation.

Chant and Senator Sam Trosow, a Law professor, suggested Senators wait to elect its committee after the Board named its half in order to best complement the selection. Kwan noted after today, the Board would not be meeting again until April and the timeline for a rigorous international search committee would be crunched. It is also customary for the Senate to elect its committee first, she added.

In the end, Senators passed a motion to mandate one spot for a staff member, in addition to the one spot reserved for a student. The remaining three spots would be filled by faculty, with no other restrictions attached.

The original nominees brought to Senate included Erik Mandawe, an undergraduate student in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry; Robyn Masters, a graduate student in the Faculty of Education; Louise Koza, a staff member in Human Resources; Bipasha Baruah, a faculty member in Arts & Humanities; and Alison Hearn, a faculty member in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. Eleven additional names were nominated from the Senate floor, including Chant, Economics professor Audra Bowlus, Education professor Brent Debassige, Arts & Humanities Dean Michael Milde, English professor Manina Jones, Health Sciences Associate Dean (Research) Kevin Shoemaker, Health Sciences Dean Jayne Garland, as well as a handful of students.