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UNB’s academic planning process a source of contention at Fredericton Senate

Tuesday night’s lengthy senate meeting, stretching almost three and a half hours, included the Nominating Committee’s recommendations for the President Search Committee, the approval of next year’s academic undergraduate calendar and the approval—to some extent—of the university’s academic planning document.

Students will not be voting members on the President Search Committee

Vice-president academic George MacLean, on behalf of the Nominating Committee, named Jennifer Andrews and Viqar Husain as their recommendations for the President Search Committee, which was approved by the senate.

This approval, however, means that there will be no student voting member on the search committee—which student senator and UNBSU vice-president internal Chris McGinn brought up prior to the vote.

McGinn protested the potential solution of a student non-voting member, stating the UNBSU felt it was “a large commitment for a chance of voice;” he also recommended student senator Andrew Ward be considered for a voting role on the search committee.

Although members of senate sympathized with McGinn’s concerns, Andrews brought up that the selection process for the university’s new president was “incredibly important to the faculty,” stating, “we’re going to be here for a long time before and after this.”

Senate passed a second motion following this discussion to recommend that a student from UNB Fredericton be placed on the search committee as a non-voting member.

Fall Reading Week scheduled on 2018-2019 academic undergraduate calendar

MacLean also presented the 2018-2019 academic undergraduate calendar, which includes the Fall Reading Week approved by students in last year’s UNBSU referendum.

There was some contention around when the Fall Reading Week should occur; this led into a discussion of the timing of March Break, which always falls closer to the end of the term.

The motion to approve the academic undergraduate calendar was passed.

Academic Plan subject of a lengthy discussion

The bulk of the senate meeting, however, went towards discussion around the academic planning committee’s motion to approve UNB’s first-ever document of academic planning. This bi-campus Academic Plan, which will help to shape UNB’s strategic plan, is meant to determine the priorities of the university and its future goals, including budgeting, resources, funding and investing.

The academic plan, now in with recent updates, was originally intended to arrive in May 2017. It has since undergone many changes because there was dissatisfaction among faculty about various aspects—including a perceived lack of consultation in the development process.

MacLean proposed a motion to approve the bi-campus and Fredericton campus sections of the planning document and to simply receive the Saint John campus section, due to the potential impact the motion could have on the UNBSJ Senate, which is voting on this same document tomorrow.

What followed was a long discussion of the motion, with Campbell departing halfway through for a prior appointment, leaving acting vice-president research David MaGee to serve as chair.

Andrews brought up the issue of transparency, saying that senators had not had adequate time to review the document—sent out at the end of last week—or consult with their constituents, questioning why the draft was not available to the entire university community.

Many faculty members had issues with the document’s content—whether with the wording, the lack of consistency in representation of specific initiatives proposed in different faculties, or the inability for departments to see themselves in the document.

Anthropology department chair Sue Blair expressed her desire to find a mechanism that would allow for the amendments advocated for by faculty, questioning why the document needed to be passed by the senate now.  

Campbell responded that the budget will be informed by the academic planning, and as the budget planning process is beginning in December, decisions regarding the academic planning document should be made prior to the next senate meeting in January.

Dean of libraries Lesley Balcom sits on the Academic Planning Committee and offered “a note of caution” to expectations of what would arise from further delaying the document.

“We’re not putting forward anything we think is perfect…I think the accomplishment of this document is that it’s being put forth today in UNB Fredericton and tomorrow in UNB Saint John,” said Balcom.

Two counter-motions were made during this time, but each failed to pass. The first from associate law professor Nicole O’Byrne, who motioned to table the vote until the next senate meeting.

After O’Byrne’s motion failed to pass with only 12 votes in favour, she seconded law professor John McEvoy’s motion to approve the bi-campus section of the academic planning document and to receive the sections concerning the individual campuses, so that more work could be done to the Fredericton document.

McEvoy’s motion received little support, but did approve an amendment proposed by history department chair Jeffrey Brown and seconded by Blair.

Brown proposed that senate approve the bi-campus and Fredericton sections and acknowledge the Saint John component, but recognize it as a provisional document and therefore accept revisions advanced by faculty and deans, report on changes and improvements every six months, and present a mandatory formal report to senate not 12 months after this motion.

The motion passed unanimously and seemed to satisfy the majority of senate.

“Despite the short turn around to get feedback, the Faculty of Arts senators met and discussed the many problems with the current draft,” said Blair in a statement to the Brunswickan.

“We understand the need to have some kind of document, but also the need to have specific, guided mechanisms and timelines to review, consult and revise. In this context, provisional approval seemed the best compromise.”

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