October’s university senate meeting involved a look at many issues related to students, including an overview of an updated copy of the university’s controversial sexual assault policy and a report on the progress of the university’s long-range plan, which had troubling findings in regards to student space availability and overall student satisfaction.
Imprint spoke to student senator Sacha Forstner, who voiced his concerns on the issues discussed at senate.
What do you think was the most important part of this senate meeting?
[We had a] brief discussion around the new sexual violence policy — Policy 42 — as well as … a mid-year update on the university strategic plan. There were some metrics the entire senate was critical of, a lot of the metrics around student experience and student space in particular were things we had concerns about. The percentage of student space on this campus, for instance, we have a target set in the strategic plan of bringing our total student space on this campus up to 55 per cent of what the Council of Ontario Universities recommends we have as a minimum. Three years ago, we were closer to that goal than we are today, and that has us concerned.
The Feds president [Chris Lolas], who sits on senate, raised a concern as well. The metrics defined in the strategic plan identify that when asked how satisfied they are with the concern shown by the university over the last three years, student respondents have dropped from saying 52 per cent being satisfied to 48 per cent saying they were satisfied as of now. That has us concerned too. We blame the fact that student satisfaction isn’t tied to university funding, so they don’t put a lot of time into it.
Do you know why you’re aiming for 55 per cent of the recommended amount?
That’s the target that was set, and it was before I was on senate. The strategic plan is set by the Board of Governors in consultation with senate, and that was passed in 2013 and takes us until 2018. The senate long-range planning committee largely steers strategic plan implementation and sets the metrics, but they did that almost as soon as the strategic plan was passed, and they’ve just been tracking those metrics for the last couple of years. I’m now on the long-range planning committee and I’ve had some choice words and complaints on some of these issues, but it’s an ongoing process, and all we can do is try to advocate for more space. My impression is they set this target because they believe that’s what’s realistic in our plans for space and expansion in the next five years.
What was your general sense on how things are progressing with the strategic plan?
I think the strategic plan is well-meant. My concern with it as a whole has always been two-fold. The first, it sets some broad institutional aspirations for where we ought to go as a university, however it doesn’t address how fragmented we actually are across the six faculties, and the fact that most of the relevant decisions that affect people’s lives on this campus are actually made at the faculty level. So achieving these broad aspirational goals actually requires faculties to have strategic plans that reflect our institutional strategic plans, and I’m not sure that that happens.
The other concern that I have is with the way we’ve set metrics to verify that the strategic plan happens. This is partly because this is all public facing. Failing to make a metric that we set is a big deal for this campus’ administrators. It makes them look very bad in front of the senate, and in front of the board, and in front of the general public. So it’s very much in their interests to make sure the metrics are things they can achieve, and while I respect that, I think in some areas we’ve gotten into a habit of either setting metrics that we would’ve achieved either way, regardless of any committees that were struck or new projects that were undertaken.
Or, we set metrics and then define how we measure those metrics so that we’re guaranteed to achieve it. A good example of the latter is how we define co-op hiring rates. The most recent strategic plan update says our co-op hiring rate has gone up to 97 per cent. This is partly because most of the people who are not getting co-op jobs aren’t counted as unemployed based in the formula they use to measure the employment rate. Because if, for instance, you don’t get a co-op job, and you decide you’re going to take another academic term instead, you’re now considered not participating in the way they measure the hiring rate. I think that that makes for some flashy statistics for marketing, I don’t think that necessarily reflects the reality of where we’re at as an institution, and that has some negative consequences for students because we’re effectively sweeping problems that we had under the rug, and then nothing gets solved.
Were there changes implemented to accommodate the requests of the student council for Policy 42, especially about prevention?
My impression is largely ‘no.’ There was some text added to talk about the importance and necessity of educating the campus community around sexual violence prevention and consent, and that’s a positive step forward. On the implementation side of things, they didn’t really provide any details as to how that will be done. That is an ongoing process, at this stage, honestly the reason for that is the time crunch. This policy has to be in effect by Jan. 1, next year. That’s partly why the university’s agreed to shorten the review period for this policy. It’ll have to be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2018. Normally you review a policy every two or three years, this policy will be reviewed after one, which means the review process will begin as soon as it takes effect, because it takes a year to review a policy. So this is going to be an ongoing process over the next year, trying to figure out how the policy should be tweaked and adjusted to serve the campus better.
What was the student council’s reception to the updated policy like?
They weren’t generally thrilled that the changes hadn’t been fully accommodated, but they recognized that it’s going to start being reviewed right away, and basically said to the Feds president to stay involved with the process.
The one concern we have as senators at this point is how involved students will be on the actual review committee. Students have been involved with this process from the beginning because the policy was created for students. We are worried that the review committee will have fewer students on it, there might be more representation from faculty members, more representation from staff members than there are from just undergraduate students alone. So that’s something we want to make sure we’re represented on, that’s something I certainly hope the student governors will be pushing for.
For further discussion on senate matters, see the latest opinion piece in the Scenes From The Senate column.