David Mullan, Comments on March 25, 2011, Draft of Functions of Senate (2 April 2011)

This commentary was solicited by Queen’s University Faculty Association and is reprinted here by permission. It refers to two successive proposals from the Senate Operations Review Committee (SORC) for revising the 1982 Functions of the Senate. The first is attached to the Queen’s Senate Agenda for 25 November 2010 as Appendix Nb. The second, together with the legal opinion of Diane Kelly, is attached to the Senate Agenda for 24 March 2011 as Appendix G. See also Professor Mullan’s analysis (posted in January) of SORC’s previous proposal, and his Discussion Paper on the Governance Structure at Queen’s (November 2009).

1. The presentation of this Draft is supported by a legal opinion from Diane Kelly as well as a clause-by-clause summary justification of the proposed changes. This and the January 20 informal Senate discussion of its Role and the previous Draft in themselves amount to a recognition of the importance of Senate and contribute to the transparency and democratic nature of the process.

2. In general, this Draft is a significant improvement over the previous November 25 version.

3. For reasons identified in my original Report, I was pleased to see that the first clause of the latest Draft has been relabeled as the “Central Function” of Senate and is no longer simply a “Senate Purpose.”

4. I was also pleased to see new draft Function 3 and the restoration of a sense of responsibility (legitimately shared with the Board and the Administration) for “the living and learning environment” of the student body.

5. Similarly, draft Function 5 now makes it clear that Senate’s responsibility for approving the establishment of units, centres and institutes includes responsibility for the closure of those same units, centres, and institutes. (Ditto, draft Functions 6 and 7, respecting named and funded chairs and professorships, and programs of study.) It is also significant that the responsibility (as opposed to the previous draft) will again extend to departments (as included in the term “academic unit”).

I have read Diane Kelly’s justification of the use of the word “approve” rather than “establish” in relation to this function and certainly take the point that the effective work has all been done before such matters come to the floor of Senate, and that “approve” therefore more accurately reflects the reality of what Senate does. Nonetheless, “establish” does carry with it a sense of proprietorship over the decision, which “approve” does not. However, I am not sure whether the semantic issues are worth a serious challenge.

6. Draft Function 10 has also been amended to make it clear that Senate’s ability to delegate disciplinary powers to student organizations is restricted to matters of non-academic discipline.

7. Function 13 restores part of what was taken away by the previous draft: Senate’s authority over the procedures to be followed for the appointment of vice-principals and deans, though not heads of department. I am not sure why heads have been omitted. Does this have anything to do with the collective agreement?

9. Perhaps most significantly, the latest Draft does not specifically link the role of Senate to that of the QUPC. Rather, draft Function 11 states starkly that it is the function of Senate to “approve the Academic Plan and the Strategic Research Plan.” Though the devil lies in the detail, this is symbolically very important and reaffirms the primacy of Senate in such matters. Aside from concerns about Senate’s capacity to fulfill this role in practice, I did have one concern – the dropping from the previous draft (Function 9) of responsibility for approval of the annual enrolment plan developed by the University Registrar. Is this wrapped up in Academic Plan or draft Function 8 – the approval of “university level policies relating to the academic mission and academic services”? If not, given the centrality of student numbers to the quality of academic life at the University, I would be concerned if Senate lost this role.

10. I also remain very concerned (notwithstanding Diane Kelly’s reference to the “realities” of today’s Senate) about the removal of existing Functions 9 and 10 respecting Senate’s involvement in the budgetary process and giving advice on the academic need for buildings and other capital facilities. Those functions were diluted in the November 2010 draft to giving advice on the “University’s budget development process” (proposed Function 8(b)), but even that has disappeared in the March 2011 draft. Of course, it is clear that these matters formally rest with the Board and the Administration, but without at least a consultative role in budgetary matters including major capital expenditures, Senate’s role in relation to the academic side of the University’s enterprise is diminished or compromised in the sense that any Senate major initiative will be highly contingent on the stance taken by the Board and the Administration. In my view, there should continue to be a formal recognition of the stake that Senate has in these matters and of the importance of interaction with the Board and the Administration. As in my original Report, however, I leave it to others to judge how far removed this aspiration is from current operating processes and whether there is any real prospect of a genuine Senate role.

11. My last comment is simply to reiterate (in terms of the devil lying in the detail) that a critical part of this whole exercise is the concurrent consideration of Senate’s committee structure. These two exercises are integrally related and should almost certainly be proceeding in tandem.

David Mullan
2 April 2011

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