Chakma at Senate

President Amit Chakma chairing a Senate meeting in 2016.

The quest for increased transparency continues at Western's Senate as a motion to open specific Senate committee meetings to the public was defeated by a close vote of 33-24.

At the last senate meeting on Dec. 9, student senators brought forth an amendment to open the meetings of the Senate Committee on Academic Policy & Awards, the Senate Committee on University Planning and the Operations and Agenda Committee. Since the proposed amendment was defeated, it was sent back to the Operations and Agenda Committee to be reviewed again.

Courtney Hardy, vice-chair of the student senators was pleasantly surprised by this divide amongst Senate members as from her experience, Senate is more resistant to change. 

The committee transparency debate has been a theme at Senate this year.

The Senate adhoc committee on renewal, a body set up in part to explore governance transparency and perception at Western in light of President Chakma's pay controversy in 2015, recommended that committees should explore opening their meetings to the public. 

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The committees and senior university administrators including faculty deans, however, have been resistant to change and have recommended against opening meetings to the public.

The student senators and others have continued to push for opening meetings in some form, especially since there is precedent of open committee meetings at other universities and in the government at all levels including municipal, provincial and federal. 

As a member of the Operations and Agenda Committee, Hardy said the next steps include creating a rubric with conditions that require a committee meeting to be closed and to come to the next senate meeting with more research and evidence.

Prior to the amendment vote, student senators distributed a report with examples of six other Canadian universities whose Senate committee meetings are open, also citing the Senate of Canada.

Sam Trosow, Faculty of Law senator, was in support of the amendment and believes the default should always be open meetings with the exception of circumstances that require closed meetings. 

He was very impressed with student senators taking a proactive position in this matter as the output of decisions made by these committees will largely affect students.

“I was disappointed though that there is still such a resistance among members of the Senate towards the notion of opening up a little bit more,” Trosow said.

According to university secretariat Irene Birrell who provided a summation of the arguments at Senate, “Closed meetings allow committees to have free-ranging candid conversations about issues before them, and [ensure] that policies or proposals that need to be referred back for more work are not prematurely made public.”

Birrell also said everything the committees deal with eventually makes its way to the Senate which is a public meeting.

It's important to note, however, that the agenda for the Senate meetings and what is brought forward to the governing body is set at these committee meetings and not having access to these meetings limits the Western community from knowing how and why something was brought or not brought forward to Senate.

Sheila Macfie, chair of the Senate Committee on Academic Policy and Awards (SCAPA), believes this matter of open and closed meetings requires careful deliberation and should not be rushed. 

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“I personally am not for or against [open meetings], but I do think we can’t leap into this without careful thought,” she said. 

Macfie said increased transparency should be examined on a case-by-case basis by the committee.

The agenda for the next senate meeting, which will be held on Jan. 20 will reveal more details being brought to Senate on the transparency issue. 


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