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Preserving shared governance

Editorial | U. Senate downsizing should not affect student representation

The University Senate is currently composed of 236 seats, each representing a specific subset of the University population. On Friday, the senate will vote on a proposal that would cut that number by 25 percent — effectively reining the body in to roughly the size it was 10 years ago. While the reduction may seem insignificant, the potential effect it may have on student representation and shared governance at the University is cause for concern.

Students in particular ought to care about this proposal. As an advisory body to the University, the University Senate has played an integral role throughout the years in implementing changes that have improved the lives of both faculty and students on campus. Originally made up of primarily faculty members, the University Senate has grown to comprise constituencies from across the board, including students, staff and alumni. In effect, these constituencies are able, through the University Senate affairs, to promote and defend their interests.

But the body has also grown in size as the University expanded over the years. Today, senate members point to this ad hoc growth as a threat to its efficiency, as well as overall success. With such growth, meeting attendance has declined, members often fail to stay active and this has affected the body’s ability to conduct business. The proposed downsizing then is necessary to keep the senate functional.

But the issue here is not the reduction, which in itself would undoubtedly accomplish the latter, and probably more. The real issue — and major problem in our eyes — is how these cuts will affect the proportional representation of the University Senate as a body. With one student member for every 900 students and one faculty representative for every 45 faculty members at the University, student representatives currently make up the smaller of the two constituencies, and so any general reductions in the size of the body will invariably hit student representation the hardest.

Student members of the University Senate have noted that, at its root, the proposed reduction represents a power-grab by current faculty members to disenfranchise deans of voting privileges. This in itself is a good thing — it makes little sense for affiliates of the University administration to be voting in a body that, according to its original purpose, is supposed to advise that administration. But regardless of this maneuver, steps must be taken to ensure that bystander parties — like students — are not also disenfranchised in the process. As it stands now, ridding deans of their voting power would increase the relative share of faculty and student voting power by a total of 9 percent — but the overall reduction could also infringe on student reps and their ability to serve student body interests. After the cuts, the ratio of student rep to students will decrease 1:1,200, while the ratio of faculty rep to faculty members will decrease to only 1:60.

For the years that they have held seats at the table, the University Senate has provided students across the University’s many campuses and schools invaluable opportunities for growth and development as up-and-coming leaders. Many of the University’s own student leaders have at one point or another been involved with the body, and through their involvement have helped to defend student interests in the face of transgression. This type of shared governance is an essential part of the way a university like our own should operate, and must be protected at all costs. Student representation at the University is already scarce enough. At Friday’s meeting, Senate members should take these facts into account when considering the new proposal.

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