Senate Meeting (November 16)

President Chakma speaks in front of senate, Nov. 16, 2018.

Western's Senate reasserted its jurisdiction over a free speech policy racing for approval for January, bringing the school's balance of powers into question.

In September, Ontario universities were ordered by the provincial government to create a freedom of expression policy by their standards, starting a four-month process to draft and approve it before the deadline — Jan. 1 — with budget cuts hanging over slow or unwilling schools. Western University originally planned to have a Senate subcommittee write the policy, the larger Senate body make amendments, while giving the Board of Governors the last chance to change and approve it.

Now, if the Board also wishes to change the policy, a new committee between the bodies must be convened to iron out disagreements in the days before the deadline.

In their last meeting, senators debated whether they had fair sway in the procedure. The Board is Western's financial body, and they could touch the policy due to its potential budget penalties; the Senate, the university's academic body, argued free expression was an issue of academic freedom and was also in their purview. In Friday's meeting, only a handful of senators voted against giving Senate approval power over the policy alongside the Board.

Amanda Grzyb, a professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, brought the motion forward.

"This is something that affects our teaching, our research, our expression, students' expression and the ability of students to organize events," she said in an interview.

Michael Milde, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, was the chief voice of opposition. He said Senate could bring any concerns forward after the policy was passed by the Board, so allotting approval power to the Senate was unnecessary. But he, Grzyb and other senators did not disagree over the policy's substance: like last meeting, members were only complementary of the work that the subcommittee, of which Milde is the chair, had produced. 

As Milde stood before Senate to take questions, no members directly agreed with him. President Chakma largely abstained from the debate, who as a member of both the Board and the Senate is now responsible for recommending the Board assent the policy as Senate has approved.

Senator Sam Trosow became particularly upset with Milde's objections to the motion, calling them "bureaucratic and depressing." He and Grzyb cited The University of Western Ontario Act, a sort of constitution for the university, which allows Senate to influence any matter that affects the academic reputation or effectiveness of the university.

As she raised the motion, Grzyb raised concerns that the Board will disagree with Senate's choices on the policy. In particular, the government mandates the speech policies must also bind student governments; the Senate policy does not stipulate that. She said the Board's financial prerogatives may cause them to try and abide Ontario's order to the letter, else Western may face budget cuts.

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Martin is the Senior News Editor at the Gazette. You can contact him at martin.allen@westerngazette.ca, or @mtrallen on Twitter.

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