The Dalhousie University board of governors (BoG) met on Wednesday, Oct.19, via Microsoft Teams. According to the BoG’s bylaws, “all meetings of the Board normally shall be open to the public and no person shall be excluded therefrom except for improper conduct provided.” Thanks to this bylaw, the Dalhousie Gazette usually live-tweets the meetings. This year, the Gazette was denied access to the meeting.
In an email to the Gazette, Janet Bryson, Dalhousie’s associate director of media relations and issues management, said, “Given the continuing pandemic, the Board of Governors will continue to operate in an online environment, with meeting attendance limited to Board members, members of the President’s executive group and required presenters.”
A video recording of the meeting has been made available for one week following the meeting. The video will also be available on the Gazette’s website, allowing students who missed the one-week window to watch their board of governors discuss their university.
Students have a right to know what decisions are being made at their university, as Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) president Madeleine Stinson said, “they wouldn’t be a board of governors if there wasn’t a university full of students. They only exist because we created their existence. And their power means nothing without us.”
Here is our summary of the meeting.
Members and purpose
The board is broken up into different representative and administrative sections. There’s Order-in-Council; members who keep the board on the agenda and maintain order. This contains Chair Robert Hanf and Vice-Chair Cassandra Dorrington.
Ex-Officio are members who sit on the board because of their position at the university, they include University Chancellor Scott Bryson, President Deep Saini, and Senate Chair and Vice-Chancellor Lousie Spiteri.
Then there are representatives from different areas of University operations who sit on the board. Board-appointed representatives are Kristan Hines, Merle MacIsaac and Robert Richardson.
There are also alumni representatives, which include Paul Beesley, Cheryl Fraser, Arvin Ramlakhan and Devarsh Sood, who represent the interests of those who have graduated from Dalhousie.
The student representative is Stinson, DSU president, who advocates for current student interests.
Then there are faculty representatives, Ahsan Habib and Carolan McLarney, who are both Dal Faculty Association (DFA) members, according to DFA president Tara Perrot.
All of these members make up the board, who convene five times throughout the academic year to vote on changes to Dalhousie operations and report progress made since the last meeting. This latest meeting didn’t contain too much voting. Instead, we’ll mostly look at the reports given by various members.
After the board approved the agenda, which is no longer available online, Robert Hanf began the meeting with his report to the council. He started by formally thanking Aparna Mohan – who recently resigned from her position with the DSU and her seat on the board for personal reasons – for her service to the student union and the board.
He then spoke about the difficulty of studying and operating in the pandemic. “I want to recognize and applaud our students who graduated from Dalhousie this fall,” he said. Then he informed the board they have postponed the board annual retreat, which normally takes place in late fall, due to restriction limits.
“The board meetings will remain online for February and March, it is our hope we will be able to return to in-person meetings for April and March of 2022,” Hanf said at the end of his report.
President’s report, part one: The science advisory committee
Deep Saini gave his president’s report next. He announced he has constituted a president’s science advisory committee, co-chaired by Dr. Lynn Johnston from the division of infectious diseases at Dal and Jerry Aguinaga, the director for Dalhousie’s health and safety office. “We have always been guided by science and evidence when managing the university through this crisis,” he said.
Saini hopes this committee can guide Dal to a place he “hopes will be much more normal than what we have seen in the last 19 months or so.”
Part two: Campus vaccination rate at 96 per cent
Saini spoke next about the progress of the proof of vaccination status program. “We have reached a point where we have pretty solid data on that,” he said.
He reported 96 per cent of students, staff and faculty are fully vaccinated. For the remaining unvaccinated four per cent, Saini said they undergo bi-weekly testing and that the school is looking into other ways of managing those individuals. “Stay tuned,” he said.
Part three: Street parties
Next, Saini addressed massive student street parties, not just at Dalhousie but at universities across the country including Queens University and the University of Western Ontario. “It is clear that we need to do more proactively to discourage these parties from happening.”
Though he did not elaborate on specific measures, Saini said he looks forward to working with the student union to prevent large street parties from taking place again.
Part four: Enrolment
Student headcount is at a record high, according to Saini. He reported there are 21,190 students at Dal, a 3.8 per cent increase in students from last year.
This increase in enrolment is mostly made up of Canadian students and permanent residents. International enrolment increased 2.1 per cent.
“We continue to experience a decline in students from China, while we don’t want to see that decline there is some happy news as well. A 2.1 per cent increase in international students despite that decline from China means our enrolment is diversifying; we received students from over 140 countries,” said Saini.
The number of students coming straight from high school has increased by 16 per cent since last year.
Part five: Ranking
As part of Saini’s report, he shared that Dalhousie ranks between 250 and 300 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2021.
“With another jump, we can be in the top 200,” said Saini. At that point in the list, universities are grouped into packs of 50. For the Times Canada specific rankings, Dalhousie ties for 12 along with Université Laval and Queens.
The QS University rankings put Dal at 272 globally and 12 in Canada. However, this year QS has developed another ranking system that monitors performance in relation to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Dalhousie received a gold rating for environmental impact and a silver rating for equal opportunities.
Student Union Report
The next report was from Stinson, the student representative. The report can be found online in the DSU’s agenda for their Oct. 18 council meeting, at dsu.ca/council.
“I’m a very solution-oriented person, so if I ever bring something up it’s because I hope this board can make some sort of progress,” said Stinson at the beginning of her report.
Part one: Student representation
“Our board model doesn’t reflect the members of our community accurately. For example, there are six representatives on the board who are faculty and student representatives out of 24 [members]. It’s not a majority,” said Stinson. She said students feel disenfranchised by this, believing the board doesn’t represent them. The solution proposed by the DSU report is putting more student representatives on the board so it is more reflective of the school community.
Part two: Tuition meetings
The DSU also had some suggestions about the annual board of governors’ financial planning and tuition meeting, which occurs each April. In these meetings the board typically votes on tuition and fee increases.
“The tuition meeting, frankly, it sucks. Everyone is upset, it’s not at a great time and the reason it’s particularly bad for students is that occurs during exams. Not only do students worry their tuition is going up and their university isn’t listening to them, they worry it’s being done at a time when they’re so occupied with their academics that they don’t even have a chance to engage in the conversation,” said Stinson.
Stinson suggested changing the date of the tuition meeting to a time more in line with student availability.
Decolonizing the institute
The DSU report to the Board of Governors Report includes a list of truth and reconciliation calls to action that universities can pursue independent from government action. These include making curriculum and program changes that consider Indigenous history and culture.
The report also includes research from student Abbie Winters, who compiled a list of building names on campus with problematic colonial legacies. The list includes the Tupper, Kellogg and Forest buildings. “The way we name our institution signals to the community what values we have.”
The board then went on-camera – the only period of the meeting that should be attended by solely board members, per the bylaws – to discuss the reports. The next board of governors meeting will take place on Nov. 23 and will still be online.