Senate staff pledge to upload committee meetings more promptly after transparency concerns

Senate staff said they would work to get committee minutes uploaded to the Senate website more promptly, after concerns about transparency over the last year.

​​Despite the fact that most Senate committees meet monthly, few minutes from meetings are uploaded online in a timely manner. Though some Senate meetings are held in-camera, the majority are not, meaning that most minutes should be available on the Senate website.

Unlike the Board of Governors and AMS Council, Senate committee meetings are not accessible to the public — meaning that meeting minutes are the only way for interested parties to learn more about what goes on during those meetings.

The lack of accessible committee minutes was a hot button issue during the 2021 AMS elections.

Eshana Bhangu, co-chair of the Student Senate Caucus said Senate staff are responsible for taking minutes, updating the Senate website and managing committee meetings.

“They’re just overworked, understaffed and this previous year has been extremely busy because of COVID,” she said.

Bhangu emphasized that past meeting minutes are available within the Senate office, but they have not been uploaded due to staffing and capacity issues.

“Committee chairs really need to be working with the Senate Secretariat [on this],” Bhangu said. “Just because people aren't asking about it every day doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility towards this. And I think it's definitely important in ensuring transparency.”

Associate Registrar Christopher Eaton emphasized the short-staffed nature of the Senate.

“We currently have two staff members on medical leave and a third on vacancy. Those staff should be returning soon and we filled the vacancy for this month, so we should be in a faster place to get [the minutes] up in a more timely manner,” Eaton said.

Eaton said that once minutes drafted by a Senate secretary are approved by the body, they need to be examined again in order to ensure that no confidential information is present before they are uploaded online.

“This is a relatively new rule for the Senate that came into place in 2019. The idea there was to try to encourage further transparency, while still reflecting the fact that there are some things in meeting minutes that for legal reasons, for privacy reasons, for competitive reasons can't be made public,” he said.

Between the time of The Ubyssey’s interviews with Bhangu and Eaton, the Senate website had been updated. On July 11, 12 and 13, outstanding meeting minutes were uploaded for the Nominating, Academic Building Needs and Teaching & Learning Committees, respectively. However, links to meeting minutes for the Teaching & Learning Committee are broken.

Eaton acknowledged that it is important for the public to be aware of what the university’s governing bodies are working on.

“I'll be following up with all of the committee secretaries to ensure that they understand the importance of this work.”