Dalhousie University Senate approved a proposal last semester that made it one of the more progressive in the country in terms of representation. The motion – the end result of a process of about three years in the making – increases student representation on the senate and also codifies ensured seats for certain equity-seeking groups in the senate constitution.
The senate defines equity-seeking groups as “persons who experience barriers in employment” in its document titled Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.
“This motion is about being a more inclusive institution, to bring more voices to the table,” said Kevin Hewitt, the chair of the Dalhousie senate and an associate physics professor.
“We are obviously in the bicameral governing body, making decisions on academic mission and student related issues. Better decision making would help the university in general.”
Notable features of the proposal are two designated seats: one for a faculty member selected by the Black Faculty and Staff Caucus and one selected by the Indigenous Council, respectively. The number of student senators will increase from seven to 11.
Per the senate highlights webpage from the Oct. 23 meeting when the proposal was passed, the proposal also includes the creation of “two designated seats for Senators at Large, to encourage representation for members of the university community who currently have no voice at Senate and provide flexibility in the choice of the member profile.”
These seats will give the senate much more flexibility and ability in assigning representation to marginalized voices the next time it needs to make a change, as opposed to going through another three-year process like the one it just completed.
“It means that diversity is being put on the forefront and centre, and that’s really incredible,” said Amina Abawajy, president of the Dalhousie Student Union. Also, “it means that student representation is increasing, albeit by two per cent, but it’s still a win for students. It ensures that students have a greater voice at one of the highest governing bodies of Dalhousie.”
The original motion was actually to increase the number of student representatives on the senate from seven to 22. But due to other rules about the composition of the senate, adding that many students would’ve necessitated an increase in the total number of senators to over 200, which would have been too many for the senate to operate efficiently, says Hewitt.
Even the 97-member senate that will come about as a result of this new proposal is a significant increase on the old number that had over 70 members.
The senate currently requires that 75 per cent of its members are faculty, and that faculty outnumber administrators by at least a three-to-one ratio.
“We want to ensure that faculty still holds the majority, as faculty members are tasked with, and responsible for connecting the academic mission to students. And so we strongly believe that it should stay within the faculty purview,” said Abawajy.
Hewitt is appreciative of the DSU deciding to compromise, especially since the original proposal to increase the number of student senators to 22 had actually been passed before the senate realized it would have swelled to a prohibitive size.
“This year, with the new crop of DSU leaders, Masuma Khan and Amina Abawajy, we were engaged – going to several meetings with them, trying to move forward, trying to find a compromise that would increase their voice but at the same time leave us with a senate that was optimal in terms of its size,” he said.
“So it was their compromise to say, ‘we will accept going forward an increase that’s not as great as previously proposed,'” and allowed them to create a senate of 97.
Abawajy wants to make sure that the students get the credit they deserve for compromising on their position, and also for being the inspiration for the larger diversity motion.
“It was started by a motion that was put forward by John Hutton, who was the VP Academic and External at the time, but previous to that there had been a lot of conversations around what this could look like,” she said.
“I know a lot of work had been put in by the VPAE Jacqueline Skiptunis before that. And so I would say it’s a culmination of work that’s been done by the union, and it’s great to see that the result is a win for students.”