Senate OK’s second look at Convocation process

Two longstanding groups charged with overseeing Convocation – the Convocation Board and Honorary Degrees Committee – will work together to propose improvements to the process surrounding the biannual event.

University Senate approved a plan Friday that will see the two groups talk together about next steps, after two recent Convocation ceremonies resulted in apologies from honorary degree recipients for inappropriate comments.

“We’re going to work together to have a Convocation that doesn’t have those moments” – and at the same time update and modernize the process in time for implementation during Convocation next June, President Alan Shepard said.

The decision was a softer response to a recommendation from English and Writing Studies professor Jane Toswell, who proposed the governing body consider an ad hoc committee be formed to revamp Convocation. She asked such a committee consider the number of honorary degrees and ceremonies; what instruction is provided to honorary degree recipients; improved equity, diversity and inclusion among recipients; and other options that would help ceremonies centre on graduates.

“I love Convocation and I particularly love Western’s Convocation,” Toswell said. “I love it for the dignity and respect with which we treat everyone who crosses the stage.”

But she lamented what she called the events’ change in focus away from graduates and towards honorary degree recipients. She also said the increasing number of ceremonies has become “worrisome,” noting 14 honorary degrees were granted in 2010 and 26 conferred or to be conferred in 2019.

“Everybody’s on the same team with needing to address some of the issues of Convocation,” said Senate Vice-Chair Michael Milde.

A second motion to have the Convocation Board and Honorary Degrees Committee discuss next steps and report back to Senate passed by a 37-27 vote.

Milde noted both those groups ultimately report to Senate, which has jurisdiction over Convocation.