Governance

Dal students denied more seats on senate

Motion to create equity seats was two votes shy of being adopted

Dalhousie University defeats motion to expand the number of student seats on senate.
Dalhousie University defeats motion to expand the number of student seats on senate.   Ian Froese

Students at Dalhousie University will have to wait for equity representation in academic matters. The university’s senate struck down a motion Monday night to increase the number of student seats in the senate.

Under the new proposal student seats would have grown from seven to 22. The 22 seats would include one student representative from each faculty with five additional equity seats, reserved for each:

  •      International student
  •      Mi’kmaq student
  •      African Nova Scotian student
  •      Lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender student
  •      Student with a disability

The Dalhousie Senate debated the issue for an hour before it was narrowly defeated. The motion needed 32 votes to pass. Of the 48 senators present at the meeting, 30 supported it.

After months of work – presentations, briefings and discussions, the Dalhousie Student Union’s academic-external vice-president says he’s disappointed but not discouraged by the result of the vote.

“The concerns raised by the senators was not around number or that there should be more students,” said John Hutton. “Everyone was pretty convinced by the data and agrees with that in principle, but just wanted to see a bit more clarification around relationships and process which is something we’ll take back to the committee.”

Hutton says if the motion had passed, Dalhousie would have been the first university in the country to have equity seats on a senate.

Gianfranco Mazzanti is one of five senators representing the engineering faculty. He opposed the motion.

Like many in the room, Mazzanti agreed the senate needs more students. But for him, the issues raised in the motion go beyond student representation.

“We need to look at a broader reform of the whole senate,” said Mazzanti.

He says concerns about diversity should be addressed in the senate before new motions are adopted.

“In this case, I’d rather have it done right than have it done quickly,” said Mazzanti.

The proposal is headed back to the senate’s Planning and Governance Committee, which will meet later this month to refine the proposal before it returns to the senate.

Dalhousie’s senate is a governing body responsible for academic oversight. The senate reviews everything from disciplinary policy to the university’s research agenda and course offerings. It’s made up of elected representatives from the faculties, senior administration and students. There are currently 78 members of the senate.

The acting chair of the senate says students have an important voice in the discussion and the motion needs more consideration.

“To use an NFL football analogy, the students have taken the ball 99 yards. They should be encouraged by tonight’s vote and consider how a revised proposal can become acceptable to the senate plenum,” said Kevin Hewitt.

Hutton agrees. He’s still optimistic about senate reform and says student voices need to be heard.

“Students care a lot about education and want to be able to shape their education in a way that suits their needs and interests as much as possible,” said Hutton. “That’s why students want to be involved. That’s where this is coming from.”