Veronica Kitchen’s June 2020 Senate Report

Veronica Kitchen is an Associate Professor of Political Science and an elected Arts Senator who produces a great summary after each University Senate meeting and has agreed to share them here. Her reports understandably focus on items relevant to Arts faculty and are not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all the agenda items, nor should they be viewed as a substitute for the official minutes on the University Secretariat’s website.

[We’ve cut a few very Arts-specific items this time, because this was a long one!]

Items of interest [especially] to Arts on the Regular Agenda

  1. Graduate studies is changing calendar language re: students who are required to withdraw, and making it possible for students who are required to withdraw for academic reasons to voluntarily withdraw instead (thus making admission to another graduate program easier).
  2. Approval of a new Major in Communication Arts & Design Practice
  3. New transfer credit agreement between Arts & the University of Essex, in which students will get a BA and an LLB in Human Rights Law. Open to students taking a human rights minor.
  4. Changes to academic progression and admission to major rules in light of the increase in CR/NCR on student transcripts.
  5. Endorsement of the process in practice for minor changes to academic programming in light of COVID & remote teaching.  

Return to Campus 

Return to campus now has its own agenda item, instead of being delivered by the President. There is a new Integrated Coordination and Planning Committee to regularize return to campus. This will now be delivered in three segments by working groups of the ICPC.

My notes are approximate; it was hard to process the volume of information being delivered on live video while also following the powerpoint and typing useful notes in a different window (a moment of reflection for our students who have to do this for hours a week on a single device…). There was some talk of releasing the slides; you should check the Senate website for that.

Return to Campus: Research – Charmaine Dean

This working group has 4 sub-groups (we only heard about 2 today): 

  1. Restarting labs and activities
    • Phase 1: Graduate students nearing degree completion 
    • Phase 2: June- July – pilot of buildings with moderate occupancy
    • Phase 3: end of July – most research hindered by remote access restarts
    • Phase 4: human subjects research re-starts – in accordance with provincial guidelines
  2. Global transformation
    • This group is thinking about post-COVID recovery: supply chains, industrial recovery and how UW fits in, as well as which goals of the strategic plan need immediate attention
  3. Entrepreneurial issues [Veronica wasn’t 100% sure on the name]
  4. Staff support of research and the community

Return to Campus: Academic and Student Activity – Jeff Casello 

Spring 2020: Through the confirmation deadline, spring term numbers remained strong. 4% above spring estimate (but before 50% tuition refund date). This good news is inescapably related to the lack of jobs in co-op (bad news). 

Fall 2020: Most activities offered online. Residences & facilities (athletics, library) – will be open in compliance with public health directives that are prevailing at the time – so some of this is not yet finalized. 

Currently at 133% of targets for new admissions (122% for domestic, 180% for international) – but note that Math increased enrollment targets to ensure robust confirmations. This varies somewhat across campus. 

At this stage, we want confirmations to be 10% above targets – because we expect attrition of at least 6-8% before count dates. No return on the holdback (15%) until at least October. We should be concerned that the numbers are *this* good.

Co-op placements down 45%. 

Residence: 3350-ish capacity -– there will be no double rooms. Right now we should be able to offer residence to all those who have applied for it – assuming that guidelines permit. 

There will be central scheduling for final assessments.

Return to Campus: Resources – Kate Windsor

This group consists of representatives from key departments who will be essential for return to campus: health services, safety office, registrar’s office, etc.

This group gets info from other groups, and takes info back to them to develop principles and policies. High priority focus for the moment: 

  • Space & facilities management
  • Human resources & relationships, health support
  • Management of student return 

Deliverables include a health and safety guidance document for return to campus. What conditions will enable us to return safely? They are liaising with public health as they work through some of these decisions, and these guidelines are being checked over by public health. Also working on common signage and a training module.

President’s Report

1. Longer-term considerations re: COVID

Some of these will include: 

  • A greater focus on digital and remote work, teaching, and learning
  • Protecting co-op as a key differentiator
  • Revising / Revisiting the Strategic Plan.

The President also talked in passing about the Ontario Modernization Framework for Higher Education, which seems to confirm that virtual learning will feature prominently. No word on how this plan will be resourced. SMA3 should be back on the table soon.

2. Anti-racism

This was an interesting and important discussion centering on the University’s plans and efforts in anti-racism, and specifically on the controversy surrounding the use by a White UW instructor of the n-word in class, and the statement released by the President on June 6. 

The President began by condemning racism in all its forms, and noting that it was time for UW to bring anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism to the forefront. The President discussed the creation of the President’s Anti-Racism Task force (one of the co-chairs will be a student) and the appointment of Dr. Christopher Taylor as the anti-Black racism advisor to Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (HREI). There was some concern about the fact that Dr. Taylor has a definite term appointment, and notwithstanding his suitability for this position, it may put him in a difficult power relationship with the university. 

The President noted that the June 6 statement was being revised. FAUW’s statement on this matter before Senate asked why it couldn’t just be removed pending a new statement (and while it was still up at the time of the Senate meeting, it has since been replaced). (There was more to the statement than this; it’s available on their website). The discussion of this particular incident touched on a number of issues, including the disappointment about how this has been rolled up into an academic freedom issue (not unimportant) but that we also need to understand the chilling effect it has on anti-Black racism scholarship and activism, Black faculty members, and scholarship on Blackness more generally on campus. The University statement invites surveillance of Black faculty members, and delineates them as not part of the university. There was a call for a formal welcome of the scholars it affects back into the community, and for a repudiation of the previous statement, not simply a retraction. 

The discussion also touched on the legitimate outrage of students about this particular use of the n-word, and how they may (or may not) understand the academic freedom issues at stake. We need to discuss with students when they join the university what they can expect in the classroom and how academic freedom intersects with other legitimate and valuable ideas. 

Finally, there was some natural concern about the university’s commitment to anti-racism and these initiatives; the President reiterated it, pointing to initiatives like Indigenization, the student mental health task force, and gender equity that have already been initiated at UW. 

Other business

FAUW brought forward a discussion that had been reported to them after the May 27 meeting of the Renison College Board of Governors, at which it was reportedly debated whether or not supporting research and research faculty at Renison is sustainable. FAUW was concerned that they had heard that there was a proposal to defund research to reduce program costs. FAUW does not represent Renison faculty, but was concerned about these allegations because of the way they would reflect on UW, and because of the recent two-year cyclical review update which talks about research intensivity at Renison, and which was approved by SUC and Senate. 

Renison’s President Fletcher responded, first expressing disappointment about how this matter came to Senate – as a reported conversation via a faculty association that does not directly represent Renison faculty. Her response included a verbatim reading of the minute of the Board of Governor’s meeting in question, which I can’t reproduce accurately here. But the gist of her response was that this was a conversation about how Renison will weather the storm of COVID. As others did, Renison created a business recovery task force. This task force discussed the “missional emphasis” of the College, which was historically teaching. Over time, there has been a shift to more research work and more research active scholars have been hired. Unlike UW, Renison does not receive funding for research. So, the task force asked about the weighting of teaching and research in workloads. The BoG enthusiastically affirmed the importance of both missions. The funding of sabbaticals and other research activities have usually be funded by surpluses. In years there are no surpluses, they will have to find other ways to fund these parts of the mission.

There was no further discussion. 

Well, that’s the end of the Senate year. Have as great a summer as possible given the circumstances, and see you in the fall!

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