Monthly Archives: January 2016

Honourary degree nominee

Open session at senate began with a long discussion of lack of debate about the honourary degree nominee. The chair of senate said that this matter would be discussed in open session because the honourary degree nominee had been publicly announced. I remained silent during the debate, having already weighed in with two long blog posts on this subject in the previous three days (here and here), wanting to give others the space to speak. Senate voted today on whether to endorse the electronic vote from earlier in the week, the electronic vote that was devoid of debate. All but three member of senate who voted today endorsed the original vote, hence the honourary degree was conferred. It was good that debate finally occurred.

But proper procedure was still not followed by the clerk and chair of senate. The proper course of action would have been to (1) hold a vote waiving the 10-day notice of motion requirement, (2) nullify the e-mail vote that occurred on 22-25 January, and then (3) vote de novo on the nominee. The clerk and chair never allowed a motion to waive the 10-day notice requirement and never nullified the original vote.

The chair of senate (aka university president) discussed how to hold future debates electronically by using social media. This is a shocking proposal given the Board of Governors’ antipathy to social media. I am also not sure how secure of a platform social media would provide, especially when discussing the politically sensitive issue of honourary degrees. Nonetheless, I am open to the use of social media for senate debate, even though ironically I do not use social media. The clerk of senate mentioned that the Senate Academic Governance Committee will be discussing the need for debate in senate motions and possibly how to implement that in-between in-person meetings of senate. The clerk also mentioned how Sturgis’s Rules of Order discusses the tradeoff between speed and adequate debate in electronic votes. I am glad that those discussions of the need for debate will occur, especially for electronic votes.

As an aside, I want to highlight how behind-the-times our governance gurus seem to be. The last time that the rules of order originally published by Alice Sturgis used her name in the title (“Sturgis Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure”) was almost three decades ago. Since the third edition was published in 1988, the code has been calledThe Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure” or the “American Institute of Parliamentarians Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure”. But I like honouring Alice Sturgis, so will gladly tolerate this anachronism.

As a more consequential aside, I wonder whether Carleton is starting to print honourary degrees like the Venezuelan central bank prints bolivars (see here). Eventually you print so many that the value of each honourary degree and your currency becomes almost worthless.

An hour into the session, senate took a presidentially-imposed half-hour hiatus for the conferral of the honourary degree. This started with a ten-minute costume change for the senate celebrities, while they were adorned with regalia. All this occurred while approximately 50 members of senate had to sit around and wait to resume their governance duties. That seems like a waste of time and an arrogant action by the administration. The honourary degree pomp took sufficiently long that it actually displaced items on the senate agenda. In particular, the report from the Board of Governors was displaced from the senate agenda by the honourary frivolities. Judging from the media (see for example here and here), there was a lot for senate to hear about the Board of Governors and maybe a good missed opportunity for senators to then ask questions. The only consolation is that the board has now sufficiently gagged its members that they are supposedly not allowed to report back to senate!

Second language requirement in journalism

There was extensive discussion of a motion to remove the second language requirement for bachelor of journalism students. In Canada, journalism seems to be one of a few fields where it would be extraordinarily valuable to speak both English and French. My recent board-related involvement with journalists showed how important this can be. My monolingual status made some interviews more cumbersome and made me not able to understand some of the stories written. However, at senate today, the provost justified this change by arguing that the second language requirement means that we attract fewer applicants to our flagship journalism program.

At first I thought this might be an economic argument because fewer applicants means lower enrolment. I therefore mistakenly thought that we could compensate for this diminution in journalism applicants by kicking out less than half of the students after the end of first year. Apparently, this would be hard to implement because Carleton’s upper administration, not the school of journalism, dictates this anachronistic approach of filtering out half the program’s students. In an age when we supposedly care about retention and our student’s mental health, why do we act like such Neanderthals? How much money are we losing by the forced removal of a hundred journalism undergraduates per annum after the first year? Are there gender, racial, or ethnic biases in this forced removal? If forced removal was the preferred course of action by the school of journalism, I would be more sympathetic because academic units should have academic freedom. But I have problems when the upper administration – who tells faculty members how much more money we would get by retaining even one more student per academic program – then turns around and mandates the removal of a hundred journalism students at the end of the first year.

The motion to remove the second language requirement from journalism passed, but 17 senators either voted in opposition or actively abstained, which is a lot.

Closing remarks

As always, this blog posting reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of Senate. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting. I welcome your feedback.


My previous Senate blog posting provided a due process critique of the administration of university senate. While the nominal topic was about awarding of honourary degrees, the leitmotif was that the chair and clerk of senate failed to follow rules of order in approving an honourary degree recipient. In particular, I had reported the chair and clerk did not allow for any debate of the motion and did not obtain a waiver of the 10-day notice requirement.

Let me start today by discussing substantive issues. First, my heartfelt thanks to the chair of senate who conceded that the opportunity for debate can occur before the nominee’s honourary degree is conferred. That is a truly gracious gesture on her part. Thank you. Second, to my naïve eyes, the nominee seems like a superb candidate for an honourary degree. Based on substance alone, I support their nomination. Therefore, in the short-term regarding this one honourary degree nominee, the chair of senate has done the right thing, which is truly impressive.

While substantive problems have now been remedied, unfortunately due process foibles have gotten worse since my previous posting two days ago, with at least three additional major due process gaffes.

The first new due process problem concerns appeals of rulings by the chair. Immediately after my previous blog posting, I formally appealed the ruling of the chair to senate:

I hereby appeal the ruling of the chair regarding debate on the nomination of an honourary degree recipient to the full Senate because (1) the Annex to Senate Rules of Order – Motions in Order at a Senate Meeting clearly implies that the opportunity to debate main motions is required and (2) Senate did not waive the ten-day notice of motion requirement per article 7 of the Senate Rules of Order.

Proper procedure is to refer an appeal of a procedural ruling by the chair to the full senate for an immediate vote without debate. The chair of senate, who is also the university president, did not do this, but instead sent a letter to all senators stating that debate will be allowed at the next in-person meeting of senate, a debate that would occur minutes before the honourary degree is conferred [her letter is not appended herein because it repeatedly identifies the nominee]. The chair should not have such prerogative. Appeal of a ruling by the chair needs to go to an immediate vote, which in this case should have been via e-mail.

The second problem is that the chair of senate still refuses to call a vote to waive the 10-day notice requirement for motions. Senate Rule of Order article 7 is quite specific that, “A Senator may place a motion before Senate without proper notice (see Rule 6) only if all of the following conditions are met…” There is only one exemption for this waiver, namely, “Procedural and courtesy motions do not require advance notice.” The motion to award a degree is neither a procedural nor courtesy matter. Why have rules if the chair of senate defies them, even when challenged?

The third problem is that the chair in her e-mail insinuates that the original motion to award an honourary degree was somehow not a “main motion”. Given that it was the only motion that she and the honourary degree committee proposed, how could it not be a main motion and therefore how could the chair have ever precluded debate on the motion?

The chair of senate attempted to justify not following the Senate Rules of Order by reporting 47 votes in favour and only one opposed to her original (main) motion. Unfortunately, this was a procedurally-flawed vote, lacking a waiver of the 10-day notice requirement in which several senators (including me) declined to vote because of the lack of debate. The purpose of rules of order is to provide minority rights, be it rights of the one dissenting senator or rights of the multiple senators who refused to vote because of the lack of debate and abrogation of due process.

While I cannot discuss closed sessions of senate, current and former senators should recall past debates about nominees for honourary degrees and ask whether such debates have ever mattered.

Having been critical of due process gaffes by the chair of senate, while being positive with regards to substance, I should further mitigate my criticisms by admitting that both the chair of senate and the clerk of senate have so many important tasks that due process is probably very low priority for them. Senate does not have legal counsel advising it and has no parliamentarian. One long-term solution for this would be for senate to appoint a parliamentarian from its ranks – not the chair, clerk, secretary, nor anyone from the administration, but a regularly elected member of senate or somebody from outside of senate and from outside of management. The parliamentarian would only provide advisory opinions, nothing binding on senate. Credibility of the parliamentarian would be earned over time based on the wisdom of their opinions. We should earn respect of our peers, not simply be appointed to privilege. Please let me know if any sitting senator would like to second such a motion for appointment of an advisory parliamentarian. And please join me in thanking the chair of senate for allowing the right to debate the current honourary degree nominee, even if it is a right that nobody ends up invoking.



This week, the Carleton University president, who is also chair of the university senate, had the senate vote to approve an honourary degree recipient without any opportunity for debate. This is not only a clear breach of shared collegial governance, but also a breach of parliamentary procedure. A point of order appealing this egregious lack of meaningful consultation was dismissed by the chair. I am therefore blogging about this matter to highlight the breakdown of due process that increasingly pervades Carleton University governance and am doing so before the procedurally flawed honourary degree is conferred on Friday 29 January 2016. As my colleague Patrizia Gentile assiduously remarked, “Due process is not an annoying step – it is imperative if we are going to proceed as a functioning institution.”

The call for a vote on the nominee for an honourary degree was sent to all senators via e-mail on Friday 22 January 2016 at 3:40 pm (i.e. start of the weekend), with a request to vote before 4:30 pm on Monday 25 January 2016. The e-mail calling for a vote was not marked confidential or closed. I am therefore posting a copy of that e-mail here, but redacting the name of the honourary degree recipient and the link to a very brief biography in order to save the nominee from embarrassment. This nominee had never been discussed at regular meetings of senate nor had been discussed at the special meeting of senate on 15 December 2015. On 22 January 2016, I immediately protested this lack of debate in an e-mail to the clerk of senate, university president (who is chair of senate), and chair of the honourary degrees committee, but heard no replies. Therefore on 26 January 2016, I e-mailed the secretary of senate with a point of order, appealing the non-decision by the chair of senate, requesting that all members of senate vote on whether a motion that did not allow for debate was a breach of the Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, which Carleton’s senate supposedly adheres to. The secretary of senate forwarded my point of order to the university president and clerk of senate, to which all senators received the president’s reply (link here), a reply that was also not designated as closed or confidential.

The president’s reply to all senators on Wednesday 27 January 2016 stated that there is no requirement for senate to debate motions prior to voting. The university president/chair of senate wrote (with emphasis in the original).

There is no rule in any of the documents governing Senate that states that there must be debate prior to a vote. Senate has previously approved matters arising by email. Motions are often passed at Senate without debate.

While there is usually no debate with procedural motions, this should not be the case for substantive matters. Sometimes senate voluntarily skips debate because there is nothing to discuss, but that is different from not being provided the opportunity to debate main motions. My protest was never about voting via e-mail. My protest was solely about lack of debate, which, while not quite as satisfactory, can occur via e-mail. The university president’s equating of my point of order with whether to award someone an honourary degree (vis-à-vis both motions supposedly having no required debate) is downright insulting because senate rules do, in fact, appear to require debate on the motion to approve someone for an honourary degree. The Annex to Senate Rules of Order – Motions in Order at a Senate Meeting, states in relevant part:

I. Main Motions

Most of these motions, [sic] will be concerned with the substantive work of Senate and hence are called main motions. Once a main motion has been introduced, it becomes the focus of attention; it must be dealt with in some way before another main motion is introduced.

There are also a number of procedural motions that can be introduced during the debate on a main motion.

The motion regarding the honourary degree nominee seemed to be a main motion and hence the above senate rule implies that there will be a debate. The university president and the clerk of senate also failed to abide by the ten-day notice of motion requirement, which is memorialized in the Senate Rules of Order, article 6.

In all fairness, I suspect the person nominated is a decent person for an honourary degree. But senate needs to meaningfully debate this. Such a debate could occur electronically, but this did not occur. I also must question why the committee who nominates honourary degree recipients was caught so flat-footed. What is urgent about this matter? Did the university president simply suggest this nominee at the last second? Should senate have to suffer for such tardiness? Why can the honourary degree not be conferred later?

In general, is Carleton University simply handing out many honourary degrees as political or fund-raising favours? The current university president has certainly overseen the awarding of many more honourary degrees per annum than her predecessors. Sometimes this is good, especially when the Carleton community gets to hear enlightening talks and speak one-on-one with luminaries. I still treasure meeting with and listening to Muhammad Yunus, for which I thank President Roseann Runte, Dean Jerry Tomberlin, and everyone else instrumental in bringing him to campus. Carleton also has given honourary degrees to people who have simply given the university large donations. There is much to be debated here. Too bad the university body that approves degrees, the university senate, never was granted the opportunity to collegially debate the person who is being awarded an honourary degree on the afternoon of 29 January 2016.

The current situation of not allowing debate at the highest levels of university governance seems utterly autocratic and embarrassing, especially when the opportunity for such debate appears to be codified.