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Op-ed: Dr. Edward Kendall

Collegial governance starts with engagement, says professor of biosciences

By Dr. Edward Kendall

If nothing else, the recent labour action emphasized the disparity between the aspirational goals of the faculty and the current direction of Memorial University.

Is this surprising?

Strategic direction at Memorial, for the most part, has been initiated by senior administrators.

We have adopted the habit of identifying these positions as leadership positions, and well, leaders lead!

Collegial governance structures, on the other hand, aim to use consent models to identify priorities and set strategic direction.

Committees a proxy

In this “crowd wisdom” approach, the presumption is that the crowd is fully informed.

This latter requirement has special meaning for governance at universities since the topics are broad and the initiatives many.

Given this, it is unlikely that each member can be fully informed, and so expertise is concentrated in representative committees.

These committees are consulted as a proxy for a referendum on potential initiatives. It is no secret that at Memorial these committees have struggled to maintain good representation.

There have not been great numbers of faculty volunteering for them.

“The Planning and Budget Committee of Senate is key for supporting that fully informed model so essential to collegial governance.”

Perhaps the work of the committees is not well understood or there are too many other service demands, but on Senate committees alone there are many vacancies.

It may take multiple calls to fill faculty- and department-level committees.

The Planning and Budget Committee of Senate has not achieved quorum in a monthly meeting since May 2022. It has had to adopt drastic measures to action reports that were time sensitive. This committee does interesting work.

It provides advice to Senate and the administration on university plans and frameworks, it examines applications for new centres and makes recommendations to the Board of Regents, and it comments on annual budget allocations.

This committee also actively reviews progress on key areas, such as community outreach and performance in the centres.

It is a key committee for supporting that fully informed model so essential to collegial governance.

Fully informed status

Of course there are plenty of other examples.

The Research Committee considers the infrastructure to support research, policies related to knowledge transfer and commercialization and framework, the impact of major proposals and prioritizes initiatives.

This committee makes recommendations to Senate, the Board and the administration on matters that impact every researcher.

The Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies sets the standard for entrance and continuance for undergraduate studies.

It reviews all the course/program proposals and determines their suitability for the calendar. It also arbitrates on academic misconduct.

There are a dozen Senate committees each with a specialized task to become fully informed in their assigned area and, in turn, to advise Senate.

In this way, Senate achieves the “fully informed” status and subsequent decisions made by crowd wisdom have a great footing.

“If you are a faculty member at Memorial and have ideas, the committee members will want to hear them.”

Having said all this, Senate is considering a renewal process. This is something else faculty members can engage with when the time comes.

The recommendations are in draft form and are curated by an ad hoc sub-committee of the Senate Executive Committee.

If you are a faculty member at Memorial and have ideas, the committee members will want to hear them.

Faculty members do not have to be a Senator to serve on one of these committees. Each year a nomination form is circulated by the Committee on Elections, Committees and Bylaws.

It is likely sent to faculty through each dean’s office. So, that’s a once-a-year call. Also, Senate bylaws permit filling empty committee positions by appointment.

There are numerous vacant positions, so this avenue may be considered. By the way, this also applies to Senate itself, where there are eight vacant academic staff member positions.

Time to participate

We have declared that we want a more collegial democratic governance system.

We can work toward that now by finding time to participate in governance.

This requires your engagement in Senate, in Senate committees, in Faculty Councils and departments and in their committees.

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