UVic Senate meeting recap

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Spare chairs propped open the doors to the UVic Senate chambers as members and non-members alike gathered for their last meeting of the 2013-14 year, held on May 2. The senate gallery was filled with non-members who brought some reports to the senate floor, a few newly elected senate members, and a few curious observers, including Sally Eshuys, who works in research administration.

“This is the only time I get to hear about the things on the academic side of the university,” she said, “so it’s a good way to learn about the other things that are going on.” 

University president Jamie Cassels began by addressing the B.C. government’s April 29 announcement that $160 million in this year’s education budget will be redirected towards training for high-demand occupations, ones expected to come from the five liquid natural gas plants that the province is looking to secure. Cassels said “not to worry” even though there is no new funding allocated for universities. Although trade options will have a sharper focus in K–12 schools alongside normal arts and science classes, Cassels told the senate that “this is not about pipe-fitters versus poets; this is about poets and pipe-fitters.” This sound bite, referencing UVic’s diversity, garnered applause  from amongst the entire senate floor. Cassels assured the crowd that UVic already offers courses and programs that are applicable in B.C.’s growing trade market.

Then the senate unanimously approved a motion requiring many students to declare their majors earlier. The new policy, which will take effect in May 2015, will require future students to declare their major at the end of their first year if they are in the faculties of Science and Social Science, and by the end of their second year should they be in the Humanities. The few that raised their hands did so just to mention that their faculty colleagues were fully in favour of the motion. According to supporters, declaring in a more timely manner will help build student engagement by focusing students towards groups and events that would align with their choice of major. The process of declaring one’s major will soon be  online, and students can still change their majors as they see fit.

What happened next was described by Peter Bell, a two-term graduate student senate member, as “amazing.” The senate was to approve 15 new scholarships and prizes, including faculty-specific scholarships celebrating UVic’s 50th anniversary. One scholarship, valued at $1 000, was allotted for each faculty, but considering the drastically different sizes of the faculties, some members did not believe it fair to have only one per faculty. A motion to table the scholarships was put forth. Tensions (and the arms of the UVic Senate members) rose as the vote was counted. To everyone’s shock, it ended with a tie.

“I had never seen something like that before. You know? They even had to check the rules,” said Bell. A tie, according to procedure, results in the motion failing and so the scholarships continued on as planned. It provided a thrilling end to Bell’s last senate meeting after serving as a member for two years.

“It’s amazing how much the people really matter, and you think it’s a big bureaucracy; and it is, but it is more about the individual people,” said Bell.  No elected undergraduate representatives were present at the meeting, and Bell acknowledged that participating isn’t easy.

“As a student, a lot of the issues that are being discussed are inside baseball . . . the people who really contribute are the ones who really love this stuff.”  

For meeting minutes and more information, visit uvic.ca/universitysecretary/senate/.