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Please sir, could we have some democracy?

November 10, 2010

Below are two letters that I sent following the undemocratic decision made on the granting of Honorary Degrees at the November 1, 2010 Senate meeting.   A full discussion of the issue was not permitted at the meeting when Chairman Francois Houle accepted a motion to proceed directly to the vote before the intention of the motion or the rationale behind it had been properly explained and debated.

One letter is to all members of the Senate, and the other is to the University of Ottawa’s English-language student newspaper, The Fulcrum.

Video from the November 1 meeting can be found here.  The decision on the granting of Honorary Degrees is past the half-way mark.


1) Letter to Senate members

Dear co-Members of Senate,

I feel the need to express my disappointment in the decision-making process at yesterday’s Senate meeting.  Unfortunately, I still had several important points of discussion to raise on the Honorary Degrees motion at the time that the Chair accepted a motion to “call the question” and have us vote on whether to proceed to the vote on the original motion or not.  I did not feel that I was able to express my concerns about the original motion clearly or completely under the circumstances.  What’s more, there was in my view a significant amount of confusion surrounding the details of the membership of the Senate’s Executive Committee, the intention of the motion, and the lack of a motivating rationale for the motion.

According to the summary for an on-line publication of Robert’s Rules of Order, “the fundamental right of deliberative assemblies require (sic) all questions to be thoroughly discussed before taking action.”  Found at: http://www.robertsrules.org/
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I think we can agree on this principle.  I understand that it is important to be concise and direct when speaking at the meeting, and I do not wish to speak over or disrespect the Chairman or the assembly, but I strongly felt that sincere debate was not being permitted at yesterday’s meeting.

I understand that I have much to learn about meeting procedure and how to effectively and properly speak in turn, and I want our meetings to operate efficiently and smoothly, but above all I believe that our discussions and debates at Senate must be democratic and fair.

Following yesterday’s meeting, Mr. Houle informed me that, as Chairman, he was required to follow the Code Morin procedures once too many questions had been asked.  Otherwise he was following an established Senate practice regarding the meeting procedure.  To be using two different procedures at the discretion of the chair seems very unusual to me. 

I think it would be appropriate for us to all agree on a clear and easily accessible procedure to ensure that our meetings proceed fairly and efficiently from now on, so that we can avoid the regrettable circumstances of yesterday’s meeting.

I would request of Ms. Diane Davidson (VP Governance) that she or her office provide us all with the established Senate procedure that Mr. Houle and Mr. Rock (at the September 13 Senate meeting) have informed us of.  If this procedure is not well documented or readily available, then I would like to put forward, for your consideration, the proposal that we adopt Robert’s Rules of Order for our use at the beginning of the upcoming Senate meeting.

I would appreciate hearing from you (at this e-mail address) so that we can continue to discuss this matter.

Sincerely,

Joseph Hickey
Student Senate representative,
Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Sciences section

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2) Letter to The Fulcrum

Please sir, could we have some democracy?

At the November 5 meeting of the University of Ottawa Senate, our highest governing body on academic matters, a motion was accepted to change the rules surrounding the granting of honorary degrees.  The Senate, which is composed of 72 representatives from many sectors of the University community, is no longer in control of the final decision to grant honorary degrees.  Instead, the 7-member Senate Executive Committee is charged with making the decision.  Students have no guaranteed representation on the Executive Committee, and since the mandate for its members is a three-year renewable term, it is practically inaccessible to effective student representation even when a student does get appointed.  Shifting a decision that directly affects the reputation of the University from a committee with a (relatively) broad membership to a select executive with poor student representation is a move away from democracy.

What’s worse is that these arguments were not allowed to be heard out at the Senate meeting.   The Chairman, Francois Houle accepted a request to end discussion and proceed directly to a vote before the intention of the motion or the reasons for making it had been made clear by its originator, VP Governance Diane Davidson, who along with Mr. Houle and President Rock sits on the 7-person Executive Committee.

I have now attended two meetings of the Senate, and I’ve heard from several co-members that the Senate is “not a place for discussion.”  As chaired by Provost Houle at the November 5 meeting, this was certainly the case.

Even in Dickens’ day it would have been agreed upon that “the fundamental rights of deliberative assemblies require all questions to be thoroughly discussed before taking action.”  The opposite was true at our Senate on November 5, and this is a problem that must be corrected if students are going to have the authentic voice to which they are legally entitled in the collegial governance of our University.  Chairmen Rock and Houle need to make the procedural rules clear and accessible to all, and they also need to be more committed in their role of protecting the institution’s foundational principles such as collegial governance.

For video of the Senate meetings and reports on my work as a Senate member, please see my (newly created) blog at studentseyeview.wordpress.com

Joseph Hickey
Graduate student representative to Senate, Sciences section

* Corrections: The Senate meeting was on Nov. 1, 2010, and the Executive Committee of the Senate has 9 members.

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