Open session (29 Jan 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.


1 comment
  1. Melissa said:

    Ok i’m baffled-why is an honorary degree being conferred during a senate session? And yes I agree with your point that it seems bizarre to lower the bar to get more students in to then kick them out-huh?

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