Mark Jones, Senate Passes Motion to Get Legal Advice (29 February 2012)

As emailed to campus lists, 29 February 2012:

Dear Colleagues:

Senate passed a motion to get legal advice concerning its own authority on academic decisions by a vote of 28 – 20 at yesterday’s meeting, thanks to very strong student support both in and outside of Senate.

The motion responds to recent Administrative actions such as the recent freezing of BFA Admissions without consultation, as well as to Administration arguments in support of such actions.

It provides “that the Senate obtain independent legal advice from a law firm with experience dealing with public law issues” on questions such as “what is the authority and responsibility of Queen’s Senate with respect to decisions that are intrinsically academic in nature or that have significant academic impacts?”

My opening statement in support of the motion provides historical context and further explanation; see also my earlier post “The Reason of Dubious Legal Authority” (4 December 2011).

This passage is an important step toward safeguarding proper academic governance at Queen’s, but it is not the whole battle.  The first step was achieved only through unified action and support by students and faculty across Queen’s campus — in humanities, sciences, engineering, law, business, and more.  Further progress will depend on more of the same.

Just in the past month, we have seen the appearance of the Drummond Report basically endorsing the Province’s policy of simultaneously flogging and starving post-secondary education; we have heard of a “3 Cubed” policy paper generated from within Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities that reportedly calls for 3 out of 5 post-secondary credits to be earned online, and for universities to encourage students to complete four-year degrees in three by going year-round; and we have received email invitations to workshops encouraging faster development of blended and online learning at Queen’s.  Meanwhile, Queen’s now has a “business case” for the expansion of blended and online learning–it was completed late last summer, before our “Academic Plan” could even be completed.  But our “University Academic Plan,” approved in November, includes no discussion at all of blended and online learning (the 45-page draft section I proposed to the APTF on this subject was rejected without explanation).  In the past three months, we have seen the Dean of Arts and Science decline to obey a Faculty Board motion at the passage of which he himself was present, and against which he himself had voted, and which he had not declared to be invalid; and we have then seen the same dean initiate a restructuring of Faculty Board that could make more difficult the passage of similar motions in the future.

In times like this we clearly need a Senate and Faculty Boards whose authorities are taken seriously.  But for that to materialize, we need active and continuous participation of all concerned students and faculty in Senate, Faculty Boards, and their constituent committees.  So please:  attend and participate in your faculty board; participate in Senate, whether you are a Senator or whether you observe and advise your Senators (and make sure they attend); get yourself nominated for a Senate committee (application deadline: Mar. 16) or faculty committee.  We still have the documents that guarantee us a voice in Queen’s governance.  If Administration has assumed a disproportionate share of power in university affairs, it is not really the fault of Administration.  Nature loves a vacuum, and the vacuum in this case will be the place in governance we don’t fill.

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