April 19, 2012
An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan Senate
In my opinion, as the author of the only peer reviewed history of the University of Saskatchewan, the proposed revisions to the bylaws of the U of S Senate are a further step in a decade-long multilevel process of substantially increasing the number of university administrators and giving them greater powers though the development of complex bureaucratic procedures, while turning faculty members into employees and students into customers. Now the plan is to reduce senators to silent observers, acquiescing to the top-down dictates of the university cum corporation.
The original senate was the supreme academic body of the U of S. The majority of its members were elected by Convocation. Over time university and appointed members came to outnumber elected members. The University Council was originally the executive of the Senate. In 1909 the Council became a faculty council and it evolved into the major academic body. Thus historically the Senate had become a rubber stamp, though it retained and occasionally used certain powers such as determining affiliation.
The 1968 University Act maintained the Senate’s powers, but in a 1970 amendment many of these powers were transferred to Council. In the 1968 Act the Senate became a means for the university to explain itself to the public and provided a forum for the public to present non-binding suggestions to the university.
Inspired by the 1990 report of the Governance Committee of Issues and Options, whose primary author was Peter MacKinnon, the University of Saskatchewan Act of 1995 gave the Senate two special powers. The first is to “recommend to the board or the council any matters or things that the senate considers necessary to promote the interests of the university or to carry out the purposes of this act.” The second is to “do any other thing that the senate considers necessary, incidental or conducive to exercising its powers, to promote the best interests of the university or to meeting the purposes of this act.”
The proposed bylaws begin with a noble statement that seems to support the Senate’s function as the university’s window on the province and the province’s window on the university. But the bylaws then severely restrict the ability of members of the senate to exercise the powers granted to it in the University Act by greatly reducing the types of issues that may be raised and by giving too much power to the executive to determine which of the now restricted allowable issues may actually be discussed. In my opinion, in the interest of preserving the mandate of the Senate, as reflected in the 1995 Act, the proposed revisions are regressive and I urge senators to give them serious reconsideration.
Professor Emeritus of History
University of Saskatchewan