Senate meeting discusses multi-campus governance

At the Mar. 3 meeting of the Wilfrid Laurier University senate, the president’s task force on multi-campus governance was the centre of much debate.

The task force, established last year, exists to advise the university administration on decisions regarding the governance of Laurier’s multiple campuses from a financial, academic, and administrative perspective.

“The university was established under an act,” said Max Blouw, Laurier’s president and vice-chancellor. “That act envisioned a single-campus university – very traditional – but did not envision stretching to multiple sites.”

The task force consists of fourteen consensus points drafted by the members of the university secretariat. The consensus points outline the secretariat’s priorities to standardize Laurier’s policies across all campuses.

“The Laurier degree shall be singular. It will be one Laurier degree across all sites,” Blouw stated at the meeting.

With the Brantford campus growing and talks of a campus in Milton, the endorsement of the task force as presented was on the agenda at the senate meeting. When the time came to address the matter, a lengthy discussion was sparked.

At the meeting, representatives from Brantford expressed that some general anxieties were present on the campus, such as the desire to create unique departments within the Brantford campus.

“These are just some of the kind of things that arose from some of the speculation,” said Rob Feagan, associate professor of contemporary studies and geography at Laurier Brantford and a member of the Brantford divisional council.

At the senate meeting, Feagan presented an official document drafted by the Brantford divisional council in response to the task force. “Many of the consensus points lack specificity,” Feagan stated, reading aloud from the council’s response, which had been unanimously agreed upon.

The divisional council took particular issue with the ambiguity in the fifth consensus point of the task force, stating that “Academic discipline, rather than geographic location, will drive faculty structure.” The document points out that the University of Toronto’s St. George and Mississauga campuses operate on the same model.

The second sentence of the consensus point states that “The structure of academic sub-units (departments, programs, etc.) shall be determined by the particular goals and character of the academic unit or sub-unit and approved by senate, as appropriate.”

“From my perspective, that second sentence was critical, because it was open to multiple interpretations,” Feagan said.

One of the interpretations that concerned professors from both campuses was whether departmental meetings would be held in a singular location or rotate between the two to three campuses.

There was also an overwhelming worry that if departments were divided without taking geographic location into account, professors would be forced to travel between campuses to teach courses at multiple locations.

Several professors present at the meeting argued that the division of departments by academic discipline would standardize the undergraduate programs at both universities, possibly providing students with the opportunity to take courses at different campuses in the future.

Feagan was insistent that the secretariat review the document and re-consider the wording used for the fifth point.

“The task force is a single document not meant to be taken apart,” Blouw stated in defense of the document. “Taking apart the document will certainly not reflect the work of the task force.”

After over an hour of debate, the motion to approve the task force as presented was passed with only three individuals present opposed.

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