Senate Summed Up: Fall reading break passed, equity updates at May 27 meeting

With technical difficulties at the beginning of the meeting and prolonged discussion throughout, the ninth regular meeting of the Vancouver Senate ran for four hours over Zoom.

Senators discussed fall reading break, COVID-19 transcript notation, the final report from the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Academic Diversity and Inclusion (SACADI) and the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP), and other topics.

Fall reading break passed, withdrawal deadline change

After what Student Senator Max Holmes called “basically … decades” of work, UBC will have a fall reading break starting in the 2021/22 school year.

The break will take place around Remembrance Day (November 11), with two extra weekdays added to the one day students, staff and faculty already get off.

The motion changed policy V-125 on Term and Formal Examination Scheduling by compressing the winter exam period from the current 16 days to 12 consecutive days, including Sundays.

“It was mentioned in Senate minutes going all the way back to the 1930s,” said Holmes. “I think it does actually point to a much larger governance problem that we do have as a body is that we aren’t very proactive. We are often very reactive.”

Also in the motion were changes to course add and withdrawal deadlines. Now, one-term courses can be added up to the 10th teaching day of the term, and two-term courses can be added up to the 15th day. Dropping a course within these periods won’t leave a W on students’ transcripts.

For drop deadlines, students can withdraw from a course with W standing up to the 8th teaching week for single-term winter session courses and the 12th week for two-term courses.

Though Senator Carol Jaeger raised instructor concerns that a single add/drop deadline is not necessarily suitable for all types of courses, she and the majority of senators voted in favour of the fall reading break and withdrawal deadline changes.

“When you set your teams and the teams are off to the races, and then somebody drops, all of a sudden you’ve got a project set for six people and you end up with a fewer number of students,” said Jaeger.

COVID-19 transcript notation

Senator Peter Marshall presented for Senate approval a note to be printed on student transcripts describing the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 that may have impacted their grades. The initial proposal reads as follows:

“As of 16 March 2020, the University of British Columbia modified its instructional and assessment modes in response to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students completed courses in the 2019 Winter Session that are normally graded on a percentage basis for either Pass/Fail or Credit/D/Fail Standing.”

Student senators had immediate objections to the wording of the notation. Student Senator Dante Agosti-Moro said that he did not feel that the statement accurately represented the “hardship felt by students,” an idea echoed by many other student senators.

Holmes said that the statement said “nothing, other than COVID happened” and cautioned against passing this simply because it was similar to transcript notations from McGill University and University of Toronto.

The motion was sent back to the curriculum committee to be reworded. Suggestions for re-wording included having a link to a website for more information, omitting the pass/fail and credit/D/fail portion and potentially developing program-specific notations.

Equity updates

Student Senator Julia Burnham presented the final report from the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Academic Diversity and Inclusion.

The report includes four major findings and three recommendations. First, students, staff and faculty with disabilities feel less like they belong on campus than those who do not report disabilities. The report also identifies limited data on historically marginalized groups and the graduate student experience, also noting that “issues of equity, diversity and inclusion are broad and complex” within the Senate.

The report recommends the endorsement of the Inclusion Action Plan, the “creation of a structure or committee” to address academic diversity and inclusion and that the Senate to work with the Board of Governors to establish a “statement on UBC’s values of equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Notably, there was a lack of discussion on the report.

“I’m surprised there’s no hands up yet, seeing as this is an issue that I think has historically been pretty poorly addressed by the Senate,” Holmes said, also pointing out the struggle that this committee had getting feedback from other committees within the Senate.

Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot and Dr. Margaret Moss also provided an update on the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP), for which the second draft is now out for consultation.

“This plan is intended as a guide to help individual faculties and units and portfolios develop their own plans for implementation, taking into account their unique context and capabilities,” said Lightfoot.

Moss emphasized the extensive consultation done on the plan, with “15,000 data points” collected.

Three major goals have been identified in the new draft: moving research forward, Indigenizing curricula and recruiting Indigenous people.

Both the SACADI report and the ISP will be up for approval at the next Senate meeting.

This article has been updated to clarify wording around the withdrawal deadline changes and Senator Jaeger's comment about add/drop deadlines.