Senate expands student representation in new academic equity ad hoc committee

Originally proposed by a student senator, an ad hoc committee on Academic Equity and Inclusion has been created by UBC Vancouver Senate. The body also approved the committee’s terms of reference and composition at its January meeting, but details about the committee’s focus and members are still to be decided.

Broadly, the committee will make recommendations on advancing diversity and inclusivity on the academic, social and institutional level. Given the vague nature of this aim, the concrete objectives will be finalized by the actual ad hoc committee when it is fully formed.

“The Nominating Committee recognizes the broad nature of the above terms, and hopes that the Ad-hoc Committee itself will be able focus its work on those areas where it feels results are obtainable this triennium,” reads the agenda docket of Senate’s January meeting.

Even at this early stage, student senate caucus’s Co-Chair Marium Hamid believes that the ad-hoc committee — with its focus on academic equity and inclusion — will fill an important policy gap within the university’s highest academic body.

“Despite valuing difference and the importance of equality, no work in the Senate has ever been done regarding this,” she said.

UBC Vancouver Senate

Student Senator Jakob Gattinger, who introduced the committee proposal, also believes that the committee’s ad hoc form and high ratio of student representation will allow it to be a dynamic force in a sometimes stagnant institution.

“Senate is an echo chamber sometimes, and it’s hard to get non-Senate voices listened to seriously,” he said. “The fact that more than a third of this committee will actually be composed of students is a good thing in that sense that we will be a unit.

“The committee should in theory have the ability to get direct action out of it.”

Like other Senate committees, the ad hoc committee on Academic Equity and Inclusion originally had two student members out of six senators and five non-members.

But after a series of amendments at the January meeting, the composition now includes four student members at a minimum, with at least two more coming from outside Senate. Non-Senate members will be selected via application to the Senate Nominating Committee, which will be brought up at the February 28 meeting.

Hamid then stressed that while students have an important role on this committee, its success will also hinge on faculty and administration engagement. In addition to its regular members, the committee will also regularly welcome “relevant stakeholders” from across the UBC community.

“Having a good mix of faculty and admin keeps them more accountable to us,” she said. “It’s only when we start including the faculty and admin staff that the onus of doing all of it is off all of our shoulders.”

Overall, while Gattinger is pleased that committee proposal succeeded, he noted the time it took to approve the motion reflects deeper flaws within Senate’s structure. He introduced the proposal in September 2017, but the committee won’t be fully formed until the next Senate meeting on February 28.

Gattinger hopes that flexible ad-hoc committees can speed institutional change along, but acknowledged that unilateral changes in Senate aren’t possible overnight.

“We’ve found that non-standing committees have been an effective way to move the needle,” he said. “It’s [also] an opportunity for students to get involved whether they’re on the committee or not.”