Senate Summed Up: Motion to cut academic ties with Russia referred to committees

UBC Vancouver Senate met on Zoom last night to discuss an emergency motion to halt all academic relations with Russian organizations and the discontinuation of the university’s rapid testing program.

Here’s what you might have missed.

Motion to cut academic ties with Russia referred to committees

Senator Charles Menzies introduced a motion to halt all academic relations between UBC Vancouver and Russian governmental entities as a response to Russia’s invasion and targeting of civilians in Ukraine.

“It's only symbolic but I think it's an important act of symbolism in the current state of affairs in the world,” said Menzies.

Following a lengthy discussion, the motion was referred to the Academic Policy Committee and the Research and Scholarship Committee for further consideration until the next Senate meeting.

Thirty-three senators voted in favour of the referral, with 21 opposed.

If passed, the motion would impact research projects, future student exchanges and other administrative partnerships between UBC and Russian organizations such as public universities.

Dr. Hisham Zerriffi, a senator from the faculty of forestry, said he supported the principle behind the motion but felt it was unclear what the implications would be for ongoing research projects and current students. He also pointed out the need for consistency behind Senate’s decisions when there wasn’t a similar action taken for other conflicts like those in Yemen, Palestine, Syria or Iraq.

“Just because we haven't done it in the past doesn't mean you shouldn't do it now. But if we're going to do it, I think we need to have a serious conversation about how we do it and be consistent in it,” said Zerriffi.

Dr. Claudia Krebs voiced her support for the motion while acknowledging similar sanctions might negatively impact Russian researchers and the academic community.

“UBC’s research collaborations with Ukraine have also seized because research in Ukraine has stopped due to a war,” said Krebs.”We also need to look at the consequences for those who are living and experiencing this war ... [It] will take years to rebuild those universities, to rebuild that scholarly community.”

Senators question lack of consultation on rapid testing program

Dr. Kate Ross, associate vice-president enrolment services & registrar, gave an update on Senate’s COVID-19 enforcement policy and the now-discontinued rapid testing program. Several senators criticized the lack of Senate consultation leading up to the Board of Governors decision and questioned the process.

Ross said as of February 23, there were 348 students on academic hold and 145 students who were about to be deregistered from activities such as lectures, labs and tutorials for non-compliance with the vaccine declaration process.

“After the Board decision to stand down the program, all students who were placed on hold, except for those who continue to be under [the Provincial Health Officer’s] orders, have been removed,” said Ross.

“We have completed a ‘lessons learned’ within Enrolment Services in the event that we would need to implement something similar in the future,” said Ross. “To just to give you an example, we know that the rapid testing program monitoring and tracking is very difficult to manage other than on an honour system.”

Ross added that the Senate’s regulation will need to be modified now to cover “programs and areas where it still is enforced by the PHO orders to have mandatory vaccinations."

Senator Sathish Gopalakrishnan asked Ross why Senate’s approval wasn’t sought before the rapid testing program was discontinued.

“It just seems awkward that certain decisions are made in Senate and then rescinded without [the] consultation of the Senate … it seems like an executive decision overriding a Senate decision and that seems wholly inappropriate,” said Gopalakrishnan.

Ross said she couldn’t comment on Gopalakrishnan’s concern as she wasn’t part of the Board’s decision making process.

Student Senator Dante Agosti-Moro echoed Gopalakrishnan’s frustrations with the lack of Senate consultation before the decision and asked if anyone at the meeting could provide senators with additional information about the process. Student Senator Georgia Yee added that this showed the need for a process that allows the Senate to convene on short notice to provide feedback on urgent governance matters.

“It’s very concerning to me, particularly looking at principles of collegial governance and such, that the Senate was given no more than a few hours notice [from] the rest of the rest of the university,” said Agosti-Moro.