11 student senators have missed at least half of the Senate meetings

Campus News

Serial absences could be in violation of Senate policy

It’s 3:30 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. Do you know where your student senators are?

According to meeting minutes from the last six months, it’s a safe bet that most of them are not in attendance at  UVic Senate meetings.

Out of 16 student senators, 10 were absent at the most recent Senate meeting on March 2. Only two senators passed along their regrets. Since the Senate term began in October 2017, 11 student senators have missed at least half of the Senate meetings.

“The fact is that there’s so many student senators that either haven’t attended a single senate meeting or have only attended one or two and they’re still officially on senate,” said Natalia Karpovskaia, a fifth-year political science student. “[It’s] incredibly frustrating because there’s [16 student senators] and there’s only maybe four of us that attend regularly, and so those seats could be filled with students who actually want an opportunity to speak and voice concerns.”

Made up of 72 overall members—including the 16 elected student senators, 32 elected faculty members, and members present by right of office (including the deans of all faculties)—the UVic Senate focuses on the academic governance of the university with support from 12 standing subcommittees composed of current Senate members.

But of the 16 student representatives, few regularly attend.

Two senators have missed all six meetings so far this term — Pierre-Paul Angelblazer and Noor Chasib — and one has missed five — Mackenzie Cumberland. Four senators have missed four meetings — Kate Fry, Dheeraj Alamchandani, Carl Haynes, and Colin Saint-Vil. Another four have missed half the meetings — Kate Fairley, Alyssa Husband, Ngozi Nwoko, and Deepti Yadawad.

Only five senators have missed two or fewer meetings — Natalia Karpovskaia, David Foster, Diana Popova, Brent Cantarutti, and Hannah Koning.

“If students aren’t attending, then student voices aren’t being heard, and the system is failing.”

“My understanding in being a student senator is that you have an obligation to attend as many meetings as you can,” said Karpovskaia. “Our responsibilities are just to hold the university to making decisions behind closed doors, and making sure students know about them if they affect them directly.”

Work, illness, and, as student senator Colin Saint-Vil said, “the struggles of being a student,” were all reasons student senators cited for being unable to attend meetings.

“I’ve tried to go as often as possible, but I feel like I’m a bad senator because I haven’t gone as much as I would have liked to go,” said Noor Chasib, who found Senate meetings always coincided with other obligations. “I find that when [the senate] does meet, it just never works with my schedule, ever.”

When asked about his absences, Angelblazer echoed similar struggles with scheduling, which he said was further complicated when he stepped up from a Director-at-Large into the unanticipated interim Director of Outreach and University Relations position at the UVSS.

“I hadn’t foreseen the extra commitment of being an executive on the [UVSS] board on top of any prior responsibilities which has meant that I had very little time for anything in the fall semester,” said Angelblazer. “Sadly this included some responsibilities as a Senator .”

Angelblazer did mention his work on two Senate subcommittees, which usually meet once or twice a semester.

Cumberland declined to comment for the article.

File photo by Hugo Wong/The Martlet

Section 7 of UVic Senate’s official Rules and Procedures dictates that elected senate members are entitled to a leave of absence for “no more than three consecutive regular meetings of Senate.” The policy dictates that any further absence, unless granted permission by the Senate’s chairperson, will lead to a request for the senate member’s resignation.

Unless they explicitly requested permission from Senate chair and UVic president Jamie Cassels, three student senators are currently in violation of this attendance policy based on their consecutive absences: Pierre-Paul Angelblazer, Noor Chasib, and Mackenzie Cumberland.

Three other student senators have missed three consecutive meetings, and could be in violation of the policy if absent from the upcoming April 6 meeting — Alyssa Husband, Ngozi Nwoko, and Deepti Yadawad.

At a recent senate meeting, Karpovskaia raised concerns about the lack of accountability for senator attendance, mentioning a UVic Senate policy that details how many meetings a student senator can miss before they are asked to resign. She said UVic President Jamie Cassels informed her the attendance policy is more of a suggestion than an enforced mandate.

“Which is pretty absurd,” Karpovskaia said.

Carrie Andersen, Associate University Secretary, confirmed that no one in the past five years has been asked to resign under Section 7.

Until the university is able to incite change in student senator attendance, Karpovskaia argues the existing policy needs to be made clearer and needs to be more regularly enforced.

“I think that’s the only way to actually hold students to account,” she said. “It’s a really big deal that students don’t come, because technically there’s one representative from each faculty on campus, which means there is really a wide diversity of interests and perspectives and issue areas that [could] come together.”

There are two more Senate meetings in the 2017-2018 academic year, on April 6 and May 4, before it reconvenes with new student senators in September.

“It’s incredibly important for elected representatives to fulfil their duties,” said Fairley, who could not attend three fall meetings due to midterms, but notified the university secretary in advance on each occasion.

“If students aren’t attending, then student voices aren’t being heard, and the system is failing.”

With files from Jack Seaberry

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article and would like to make sure we keep writing articles like it, please consider supporting us on the Martlet 70 fundraiser’s GoFundMe page.
If you hated the article, though, you should still donate to the GoFundMe page (so we can hire better writers).