TWEETCAP | Feb. 7 Senate meeting

Campus News

President Cassels faces questions about supporting the Wet’suwet’en; the Senate hears a presentation on university rankings, discusses exam cancellation policy

With one addition to the agenda, UVic’s President Jamie Cassels called the Senate and gallery to order.

Cassels’ second executive announcement was to inform the Senate of a change of title for Robina Thomas of the Office of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement: she is now the Executive Director and Advisor to the President.

“[This] doesn’t change the structure of the position,” said Cassels, “but reflects the reality of the job much more clearly.”

Formalities out of the way, Cassels moved on to the coronavirus outbreak. UVic has completed stage one of its risk-response protocol (informal working groups that monitor the risk) and has continued to the second stage, which is response coordination.

“[This is] a more formal process where the president assigns leadership and we pull together the group of people who are most closely able to deal with the risk,” said Cassels. Dr. Susan Lewis, Acting Associate Vice-President Academic Planning and Dean of Fine Arts, is Chair of the Response Coordination Committee.

After the virus update, Cassels announced that he had been asked to discuss Jan. 15.

“What happened on January 15th?” Cassels asked the room. Several senators chuckled and one called out “snow day” in reference to last month’s campus closure.

Then, Cassels reminded everyone of the controversial divestment policy voted in by the UVic Board of Governors on Jan. 28.

“What that policy does,” said Cassels, “is target all industries — all investments — in terms of carbon footprint, in terms of the intensity of the greenhouse gas emissions [of] the investment and makes a commitment to remove funding from high emitters and move it into cleaner greener investments.” 

“Next step for us … is to move forward with the commitment and the Strategic Framework to develop a comprehensive campus-wide climate action and sustainability plan,” Cassels said.

Then, he opened up the floor for questions. 

“UVic is an institution that works to act as an institutional leader on Indigenous issues and reconciliation. So I’m just wondering when UVic is planning to release a public statement standing with Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs and the Indigenous youth and condemning the physical and cultural violence that’s being done by the RCMP right now?” one senator inquired.

“This is an issue that has arisen on a number of occasions that involve a very, very complex set-up of legal and political relations amongst a number of different Indigenous governments and a number of non-Indigenous governments — different legal issues,” said Cassels. “The university is a place that should create the opportunity for people to debate, interrogate, have critical conversations around the type of issues raised by that kind of situation. But it’s my view that it’s not the role of the corporate institution to tell people what to think.”

“With all due respect President Cassels, white supremacy and colonial violence isn’t something that’s up for debate,” replied the senator. “I think it’s morally reprehensible that as an institution you’re not taking the bigger step to state that you’re actively against this violence.”

Another senator interjected to ask if UVic would be making a statement about UVic students arrested while “peacefully occupying space” (during an overnight protest at the B.C. Ministry of Energy office).

Cassels replied that the university had communicated with the University of Victoria Undergraduate Student Society regarding any academic and counselling needs those students might have. In response to the first question, he said that he recognized there were “different views” on the Wet’suwet’en issue.

“I’ve stated my view,” Cassels said. “I think that in many, many ways this university does demonstrate its commitment to respect and reconciliation [and] the elimination of colonial violence.”

There were no more questions. As part of the President’s Report, the Senate received a presentation on UVic’s position in university rankings from Vice-President Research Lisa Kalynchuk and Executive Director Academic Resource Planning Tony Eder. 

Cassels’ Global Reputation and Rankings Project launched in September 2017.

“We know, and it continues to be true, that UVic is not adequately recognized for its high-quality research and outcomes,” said Kalynchuk. A large part of this issue is that, internationally, UVic struggles in reputational rankings.

Following the presentation, Cassels moved on the meeting to reports and proposals from committees.

The only exception specifically mentioned in the posted materials is for students with pre-arranged travel plans that conflict with a rescheduled exam.

UVic does not make religious exemptions for students of all faiths, and removed Wiccan holidays from the UVic religious observances calendar in October 2019. 

For the 2019–2020 year, UVic received funding from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training (AEST) for 16 105 FTE students. Due to the continuation of several program expansions, the 2020–2021 enrolment targets from AEST are set at 16 270 FTE; however, AEST does not include international student enrolment, making UVic’s actual targets higher.

Lewis raised a proposal added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting concerning the coronavirus outbreak.

The meeting concluded with the approval of the Academic Calendar Important Dates, Senate Meeting Dates and other Important Dates for May–December 2021.