Senate Summed Up: In-person instruction on the table for fall 2021, provost says at February 10 meeting

The UBC Vancouver Senate met last night to discuss plans for the fall 2021 term, a withdrawal date extension and proposals to provide specific support for Black students and faculty.

Here are the highlights.

Planning for the fall term

Provost Andrew Szeri discussed three options the university is considering for winter 2021 course delivery.

The first option would consist of mostly in-person teaching, assuming that physical distancing expectations have been relaxed. The second option would allow for some smaller courses in-person — around 18 per cent — with the rest online. The third option is another mostly online term.

“Our recommended approach is that we preserve flexibility while watching how immunization campaigns unfold,” Szeri said.

Szeri said the university will develop room scheduling plans for both the first and second options and added that the university does not have to decide until mid-May.

Senator Santokh Singh said May could be too early to decide, due to delays in Canada and BC’s vaccination schedule.

“My worry is that we might not have enough of the immunization done by mid-May and ... if one has to make a decision by the time, it might be a little bit difficult to have a concrete decision made,” Singh said.

Associate Provost Teaching & Learning Simon Bates said the May deadline is due to the registration timeline.

Senator Natasha Rygnestad-Stahl asked what plans UBC will make for immunocompromised students if classes are in person.

Szeri said there are existing processes for immunocompromised students, but protocols for fall have yet to be determined.

Term two withdrawal date extended to April

Senators extended the 2020 term two withdrawal deadline. Now, students can drop a class with W standing “provided such a request is made on or before April 14th, 2021, or the last scheduled day of instruction for the course, whichever is earlier.”

Senator Ingrid Price recommended changing the original wording from a single date for all students to give another date for students whose classes began earlier than January 11.

Heated discussion surrounded the change, with student senators in particular advocating against the amendment due to potential confusion it could cause for students.

Joanne Fox, chair of the Teaching and Learning Committee, indicated that this had been considered in the development of the motion, but they had decided to go with one date to simplify the motion for students.

Senator advocates for more Black-specific awards, more Black faculty

In the last portion of the meeting, Senator Austin Uzama presented three motions regarding awards for Black students, hiring Black faculty and expanding the Faculty of Arts African studies program.

Uzama proposed that the Senate should recommend that the Board of Governors provide funding to hire at least 10 to 15 Black academics, an expansion of awards made available to Black students and the creation of awards that target Black international students.

“It is time to move beyond the awareness piece and focus on the inclusion part,” Uzama said.

Szeri said that in all three areas, the university has work underway. In the hiring of faculty, Szeri said there is a proposal coming in the budget process for a program to support the hiring of Black and Indigenous faculty members. He said that there are also conversations happening around awards and the development of academic programs.

“I’m pleased to see these motions,” Szeri said. “I think they align well with actions that we have underway and I’m happy to support them.”

Senator Steven Pelech voted against all three motions. Senator Charles Menzies voted against the motion that the faculty of arts consider expanding its African studies program, calling it an overstep of the Senate to direct a faculty to explore a program.

Pelech said he was “uncomfortable” with hiring based on skin colour and said that Black studies programs could struggle to draw interest given the small Black population in BC. Several senators opposed his claims, with Senator Sally Thorne saying that hiring is based on merit.

In a previous Senate meeting, Pelech had expressed concern over discrimination with allocating an award specifically for Black students.

“Philosophically, this is not a good direction the university should go,” he said.

The three motions all passed.