Senate external review recommends senators receive anti-racism training and better establish goals

At the March 19 Senate meeting, senators discussed a 2023/24 external review which called for several improvements in its academic and governance practice.

The review was conducted by Dr. Julia Eastman and Cheryl Foy from the Strategic Governance Consulting Services Ltd. The review was meant to provide recommendations on how the Vancouver Senate could more effectively fulfill its job.

The report begins by noting numerous strengths of the Senate, most of which revolve around its strong membership.

The reports states that senators serve for “excellent reasons,” with 88 per cent of respondents identifying with the statement, “I wanted to contribute to UBC’s academic mission by serving.” The report also highlighted the role that students play within the Senate, allowing student senators to advocate for issues of importance to the student body. The report said that this strength stands in contrast to many other universities.

The report articulated 10 key recommendations, broken up into two overarching sections.

Increasing governance effectiveness

The first section’s recommendations surround increased governance effectiveness. This included the Senate better clarifying the roles and responsibilities of its members while adequately equipping people to fulfill them.

Student Senator Kareem Hassib highlighted a recommendation for annual Senate orientation.

Reflecting on his own experiences in joining the Senate last year, he said it can be challenging for incoming students to navigate the organizational structure and mechanisms of the Senate. He said a more robust method of orientating incoming senators could be very useful.

Senator Joanne Fox said a large theme in the review was the lack of clarity and explicitly around expectations.

Fox urged senators to think about the question, “How can we make expectations more explicit so that we make our work much more effective?” within their respective committees.

Another recommendation in the report showed attendance in the Senate's 13 standing committees ranged from 53 to 82 per cent in the past year.

The average attendance rate across all committees were 67.9 per cent. The report noted that although the Senate has no established attendance targets for committees, attendance should stand “at a minimum” of 75 per cent. Only 3 of the 13 committees exceeded this number.

Broad strokes

The second section of the review encompassed broader recommendations for the Senate.

Notably, the review called on the Senate to rethink and reform its appeals structure and processes. This involves appeals on student discipline, re-admissions and transfer appeals and academic standing cases. In place of the Academic Standing and Discipline Committees, the review recommended the Senate create a single Appeals Committee in charge of overseeing both these appeals processes.

Senator Steven Pelech spoke against this recommendation. Having been on these committees before, he said that having more people to judge these difficult cases is better for students than streamlining the process into one body.

The eighth recommendation was for the Senate to build its capacity for advancing the Indigenous Strategic Plan and equity, diversion and inclusivity at the university.

Amongst the comments that the Eastman and Foy received, they noted that “Senate is not a place where Indigenous engagement takes place.” A recommendation was made for Senators to receive training on Indigenous matters and anti-racism.

In addition, the review recommended that the Senate Office work with the Equity and Inclusion Office to track the demographic evolution of its membership, drawing on information from UBC’s annual Employment Equity and Inclusion Survey.

The ninth recommendation was for the Senate to improve communication within faculty, students and administrators. This came from several survey comments that said the majority of the university population does not know or care about the Senate’s activities.

The final recommendation was for the Senate to improve the work practice of its office and curriculum services. The reviewers noted that the Senate governance function is “under-resourced” and that there is insufficient support for the Senate Clerk and the office.

In the report’s final section, it noted that without additional resources, “much of this review may be unachievable.” The reviewers wrote that they do not expect all the recommendations to be adopted and that it is up to the university to decide which recommendations to implement.

“UBC is a very important university – for BC, Canada, and beyond,” Eastman and Foy concluded.

“It is vital that its academic governance be sound and strong.”