Mark Jones, Actual Attendance in Queen’s Senate, 2010 and 2011: Analysis (8 February 2012)

Posted 8 Feb. 2012; corrected 16 April 2012 (the original posting under-represented   ex officio attendance for 2010).

Senate attendance is not what it should be, analyses for 2010 and 2011 show.[1]  The official history of Queen’s Senate and authorities on Queen’s governance agree in emphasizing a longstanding “principle” of faculty majority in Senate.[2]  In practice, however, faculty senators have recently been in the minority.  Student senators, too, are often fewer than they should be. On the other hand, ex officio senators, mostly administrators, have been edging up in numbers and are generally well in excess of their prescribed ratio.

What are the prescribed ratios?  According to the Senate Operations Review Committee (SORC), the “following proportions which were presented to Senate in March 1996” ought to be followed:  that

  • Faculty members never be less than 54%;
  • Ex-officio members never be more than 19%;
  • Student members never be less than 23%;
  • Staff members never be less than 4%.[3]

Actual attendance figures for recent meetings of Senate fall short of this prescription:

  • Faculty had an average presence of 46% in 2010 and 48% in 2011.  Overall, there were only four out of 16 meetings where faculty had over 50%.  In only 2 of these 16 meetings were they, as prescribed, over 54%.
  • Ex officio positions are supposed to be held to 19% or less of the total, but the actual ex officio presence averaged 23% in 2010 and 26% in 2011, and was in the 30-33% range in 4 out of 16 meetings.  In fact, of these 16 meetings for 2010 and 2011, there were only 4 in which  the ex-officio ratio was in the recommended range.  None of these occurred in 2011.
  • Students, who are to “never be less than 23%,” averaged 26% in 2010, but only 21% in 2011.  In 9 out of 16 meetings, their presence was below the recommended 23%.
  • Staff are averaging 5%, but on some occasions they dip as low as 2 or 3%.

The areas of concern are, in sum, the excess in ex-officio (mostly administrative) voices and the deficiency in faculty and student voices.  Together, these are serious concerns because Senate is meant to be the authority on academic matters, and faculty and students are the experts in academics.  Administrators have power apart from Senate, and even within Senate they wield influence far out of proportion to their numbers because administration is their central concern and business and because as ex officio members they are not tied to rotations of three-year terms.  Maintaining the numbers and power of the academic specialists within Senate is therefore critical to the balance of power in the University.

For faculty, the problem has multiple causes.  One is the vacancy of two positions to which faculty are entitled.  Another is the gradual expansion in ex officio or administrative numbers without proportional expansion in other areas.  As recently as last November, for instance, an ex officio seat was created for the Deputy Provost.  The ex officio complement is currently 17 / 72, or 23.6%, though SORC suggests that it should not be over 19%.

Given a Senate of 72 members, the SORC ratios suggest that it would be proper to fix  ex officio seats at 13, faculty seats at 39, student seats at 17, and staff seats at 3 (as opposed to the present figures of 17, 36, 16, and 3).

But another aspect of the problem for faculty and student attendance is that the recently increasing stress on faculty and students may affect actual attendance rates.  This seems most demonstrable in  the student figures, which fell from 26% in 2010 to 21% in 2011.  If this is part of the problem, then legislating a set number of seats may not be the whole solution.  Arrangements may need to be made to ensure that members, once elected, can actually attend.

One reform that would help greatly here would be earlier release of minutes and agendas so that members of Senate who are stressed on other fronts do not have to read and prepare for Senate in two days.  Members who do not have time to prepare properly may well feel it is pointless to attend.

It would also be useful to introduce new senators properly with workshops conducted by experienced senators in their contingents (e.g., students by students) to ensure that they know the protocols and customs and feel fully confident to speak and act in session.  One might even wish to talk about making active Senate membership a real work/study job or assigning academic credits to students for it (e.g., under political studies).


[1] I have compiled the attendance records as reported in the Senate minutes for 2010 and 2011 (see Attendance by Senate Members 2010-11), and analyzed them person by person on Excel spread sheets (see here for 2010; for 2011).  Scroll down to see the month-by-month totals and percentages for each of ex officio, faculty, student and staff contingents.  I am no whiz with spread sheets, and I re-used the fields for 2011 in 2010, so there are some empty rows that do not necessarily reflect Senator absences (blanks may indicate that a Senator’s term had not begun yet or had ended).

[2] Margaret Hooey, “The Queen’s University Senate Evolution of Composition and Function 1842 -1995” (March, 1996).  Hooey notes that this principle was never “in jeopardy” until 1970-71, and then only owing to a “sharp increase in the number of students on the Senate.”  See also W.R. Lederman and R.L. Watts, “The Governance of Queen’s University” (rev. 1991), pp. 2a, 3b, and 6b, and Mark Jones, “The Principle of Faculty Majority” (6 October 2011).

[3] SORC, “Report on the Composition of the Senate” (24 Sept. 2009), p. 2, referring to an earlier SORC “Report on the Composition of the Senate” (June 1995).  Hooey also quotes the 1995 Report but notes that it “was rejected by Senate in March, 1996.”  But SORC seeks in 2009 “to follow, as closely as possible, the […] proportions which were presented to Senate in March 1996” (op. cit., p. 2), and invokes the 1995 proportions again in 2010 (“Interim Report on the Composition of Senate (April 22, 2010)“).

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