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Senate Highlights – June 12, 2017

- June 16, 2017

Following each meeting of the Dalhousie University Senate, Dal News highlights some of the presentations and decisions made.

Senate is the university’s senior academic governing body, with membership consisting of elected representatives from Dal’s Faculties and the University Libraries, elected student representatives, a representative from the University of King’s College and Dal’s senior academic administrators. Senate is responsible for approving new programs; granting degrees/diplomas; managing the reviews of Faculties, centres and institutes; and setting academic regulations and the academic calendar.

Senate meets on the second and fourth Mondays of the month, from September through June. Learn more about Senate and its business at the Senate website.

New Program Proposal for Bachelor of Arts, Major/Double Major/Combined Honours in Cinema and Media Studies

Senate heard and subsequently adopted a motion to create a new Bachelor of Arts Major/Double Major/Combined Honours programs in Cinema and Media Studies. Krista Kesselring, associate dean academic in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, presented the programs to Senate. She said that while predicting enrolment in new programs is tough, interest in the Film Studies minor over the past several years suggests it will be popular.

"The popularity of the minor here and the popularity of similar programs elsewhere gives us reason to hope that this will, in fact, draw in new students to Dalhousie who wouldn't otherwise have come," she said.

The new programs, to be introduced during the 2017-2018 academic year pending approval from the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, will offer students the chance to develop communications skills, media literacy and global awareness. Rather than focussing exclusively on film, the new programs will expand to include online video and other media (video games, television, etc.).

Core Cinema and Media Studies courses will continue to be taught by faculty in the Fountain School of Performing Arts, while some electives (as in the Film Studies minor) will draw on expertise in other programs such as Russian, English, and Contemporary Studies.

Revised Senate reviews of faculties: policies and procedures

Kevin Hewitt, chair of Senate, provided a rundown of revisions made to the Senate Reviews of Faculties: Policy and Procedures document in light of feedback from the last Senate meeting. Several changes were made:

  • Three sections were added to the policy to note where faculty should respond to equity, diversity and inclusion. The policy was previously silent on these matters.
  • Under tenure and promotions, it was felt that standards and associated metrics on applications received and approved were an important consideration by the Faculty and Reviewers.
  • Senate Review Committee reports will now be made broadly available for information to all faculty and staff with each Senate Faculty Review Report, Response and Action plan hosted on a password-protected site following Senate discussion.

Senate then voted to approve the revised policy and procedures document as presented.

Revised Student Ratings of Instruction (SRI) Policy and Procedures

Katherine Harman, Senate vice-chair and chair of the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee (SLTC), presented a motion to revise one aspect of Dal’s SRI policy: instructor ability to control the evaluation period for the assessments.

A revision to the policy and procedures introduced last year provided for a flexible evaluation period to allow faculty to determine when evaluations opened. It also reduced the mandatory window for evaluations to be open to one week.

While the intention was to increase faculty engagement with the process, in reality the vast majority of courses were evaluated only for the minimum one week. As Dr. Harman pointed out, the overall SRI response rate fell in both the Fall and Winter terms for those courses that did not open early.

Given that a higher response rate is key to the validity and reliability of SRI data, the SLTC proposed a motion to revise the policy and procedures to revert to a two-week mandatory evaluation period for all SRIs in the Fall and Winter terms. Senate approved the motion.

Steps to make diversity and inclusion a reality at Dalhousie University

This week’s Senate meeting included not one, but two, presentations about diversity and inclusion strategies.

Dr. Benita Bunjun, faculty at Saint Mary's University, presented on several considerations to strengthen inclusion and diversity of faculty within the culture of Dalhousie University. She emphasized the need to challenge the singular focus of equity groups by recognizing the intersections and hierarchies across equity groups. She also discussed the need for consistent, long-term strategies of hiring Indigenous, Black and faculty of colour by strengthening affirmative action hiring and retention policies. She said affirmative action policies are only successful when senior administration invest in the necessary institutional capacity, support, training and mentorship.  

Dr. Bunjun specifically focused on several studies that spoke to the institutional barriers experienced by Indigenous and faculty of colour, such as isolation and alienation resulting in low retention and resignations. She encouraged stronger accountable leadership to shift the culture of the university and advocated for long-term cluster hiring practices of underrepresented groups at multiple ranks. Dr. Bunjun, drawing on a study of 10 universities, explained that "cluster hiring expands the pool of qualified candidates bringing forth faculty diversity, institutional excellence, interdisciplinary collaborations, research and mentorship opportunities, and increased faculty retention."

The second presenter was Order of Canada recipient Fred Wien, professor emeritus in Dal’s School of Social Work. Dr. Wien has been engaged on issues impacting Indigenous communities in the Maritimes and nationally for more than 40 years. He said there have been several positive developments in the area during this period, including the creation of more organizations advocating for Indigenous rights and social services, greater recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and a rise in the number of Mi’kmaw youth reaching the post-secondary level.

Change hasn’t been easy or quick, though, and northern communities remain worse off than many others. He praised some of Dal’s policies regarding Indigenous populations, but said he’d like to see the university hire more Indigenous — and especially Mi’kmaw — persons as employees at all levels. Dr. Wien said a good way to accomplish this is for a Mi’kmaw person to work in human resources, at the centre of the hiring process.

Concluding Senate for 2016-2017 academic year

The Senate meeting scheduled for June 26 has been cancelled, as Senate has officially concluded its business for the 2016-2017 academic year. Scheduled Senate meetings will resume in September.

Senate Chair Dr. Hewitt thanked members for their engagement throughout the year and, in particular, members whose terms were ending, including the chair of the Senate Learning and Teaching committee, Katherine Harman, who received a plaque to honour her significant contributions.

Learn more about the Dalhousie Senate at its website. Minutes for past Senate meetings are available on DalSpace. Minutes for this meeting will be posted once approved by Senate at its subsequent meeting.


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