Monday, December 2, 2013

Senate Strategic Planning Update

David Porreca, FAUW President

This week’s post addresses issues and concerns relating to the November Senate meeting, when UW’s Strategic Plan was voted upon and approved. The UW Imprint and Daily Bulletin have already published news items relating to these events.

The discussion of the strategic plan generated a lively and vibrant debate, one which demonstrated Senate not to be a sleepy rubber-stamping body.  That said, there is some sense of disappointment in the end results. Let me explain.

The vote

Senate actually got to vote on the final version of the wording of the Strategic Plan, which had been called for at the October meeting of Senate.

Fears

  1. The fact that the Strategic Plan was printed, published and released as a public document prior to final Senate approval is, to me, the most unsettling portion of the events relating to this topic.
  2. The impact of emphasizing three specific research areas above others in the Strategic Plan is bound to colour perceptions of what research gets done at UW, including what donors see as our principal activities (e.g., will someone wanting to endow a research chair in a non-identified research area still want to send their monies to UW?)

Compromise

Concerns concentrated around the changes in wording of the Strategic Plan (detailed in our November 4 and November 11 posts) between the version Senate had approved by electronic vote in May and the one that was actually put forward at this November meeting. A friendly amendment was added to the motion to approve the Strategic Plan directing the team in charge of the implementation of the “Transformational Research” portion to refer to and take into account the university’s Strategic Research Plan, which is a much more inclusive document in terms of recognizing the broad range of research that happens on our campus. Hopefully this amendment functions to ensure the multi-million dollar internal CFI grant competition decisions are not influenced solely by the Strategic Plan statement.

Consequences

Water Institute Newsletter
Water Institute Newsletter, v. 4 issue 1, p. 5
  1. It has not taken long for evidence to arise that confirms some of our fears in relation to identifying these three research areas.  See page 5 of the Water Institute’s Fall 2013 Newsletter (pdf).
  2. After the vote was completed on the Strategic Plan itself, a motion was put forward by a colleague aiming to proclaim Senate’s own authority to govern the academic aspects of any future strategic planning at UW.  Here is the language of the motion, with amendments noted (deletions that passed during debate are struck through):

    Motion:

    Whereas the University of Waterloo Act 1972 grants the Board of Governors the power to conduct the university’s business and affairs “… save with respect to such matters as are assigned by this Act to the Senate, …”, and

    Whereas the same Act, in section 18, states that “The Senate has the power to establish the educational policies of the University … this includes the power … j. to undertake, consider and co-ordinate long-range academic planning”, and

    Whereas research and teaching are both fundamental components of the educational and academic functions of the University, and

    Whereas any strategic plan for the University will address the strategies and approaches to be taken to further education and research at the University, and will identify potential areas of opportunity or importance,

    Be it resolved that

    a. Senate asserts the powers granted to it under the Act which give Senate the final authority over all academic aspects of any Strategic Plan, including those to do with research and education.
    b. No Strategic Plan for the University shall be regarded as being in effect until an explicit motion to that effect is discussed and approved by Senate.
Debate revolved around the specifics of the wording of the motion, to the point that the eventual vote went (quite surprisingly, in my humble opinion) against the motion 30-28, with votes going along non-partisan lines. Of course, Senate does not have the authority to vote away its own authority over academic matters, which is enshrined in the UW Act. Plans are afoot with student Senators to craft a more acceptably worded motion for the January meeting of Senate to address the concerns of Senate’s role in governing the academic aspects of any future strategic planning that happens at our university.

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