Senate Summed Up: First meeting with new student senators sees voting changes paused, teaching eval data

The UBC Vancouver Senate makes decisions that affect your academic experience.

That’s why we’ve recapped what senators talked about at their meeting last night, from changes to the way Senate votes to revisions to teaching evaluation and appeals processes.

Opposition to roll call votes? Present.

Faculty senators criticized a proposal to make roll call votes — where the registrar records how each senator voted — the norm at Senate starting this September.

Faculty Senators Steven Pelech and Charles Menzies expressed concern about the “weaponization” of roll call votes to dissuade senators from voting a particular way on contentious matters. Dean of Pharmacy Michael Coughtrie echoed the sentiment, calling the use of roll call votes so far this year “abhorrent.”

Currently, Zoom votes are conducted by a show of virtual hands. The process is similar in person, but with physical hands — and only close votes are counted. A senator can ask for any vote to be a roll call vote as long as it passes a simple majority vote.

The proposed change would’ve made roll call votes the standard.

Over the past few meetings, student senators have asked votes on topics including anti-racism and Proctorio to be done by roll call, often only with a scattering of senators dissenting.

Student Senator Eshana Bhangu, among others, agreed with faculty that the agenda committee could consult further before bringing it back to Senate.

Senators voted in favour of referring the matter back to committee.

Early recommendations to change Senate appeals

The ad hoc committee tasked with reviewing Senate appeals processes offered a preliminary report of its recommendations.

Senate committees hear student appeals about admissions, academic standing and academic discipline, and have been long criticized by student senators who say decision makers don’t get adequate fairness and sensitivity training.

The committee, chaired by Student Senator Natasha Rygnestad-Stahl, urged mandatory adjudicator training and better communication to students making appeals.

The full report is expected to come to Senate in May.

A new look for teaching evals

Student evaluations of teaching are changing this year, notably in name — UBC is rebranding them as student experience of instruction reviews.

The name change is meant to reflect that a thorough assessment of teaching needs data from sources beyond student evaluations. With the new name, the focus shifts to student experience.

A working group has also revised survey questions which are slated to be used starting this September.

According to Simon Bates, associate provost of teaching & learning, and Moura Quayle, vice-provost and associate VP academic affairs, COVID-19 impacted teaching evaluations from 2019/20. There were fewer responses in 2019 winter term two than winter term one, but the second term had ratings that were generally the same or higher than the first.

Other changes include moving away from mean and standard deviation as summary statistics to interpolated median; a measure of central tendency; dispersion index, a measure of spread; and the percentage of favourable responses, referring to “agree” or “strongly agree” responses.

Senator Hisham Zerriffi raised ongoing concerns about bias in teaching evaluations, but there was little new discussion at Senate. Bates referred back to the working group’s submission to Senate last year.

“It’s absolutely the case that context matters,” Bates said. “We may find, for example … no statistically significant or persistent differences in terms of instructor gender in the aggregate data. But that doesn’t mean that the lived experience of all faculty members is going to be exactly the same.”