Senate set to shrink

Amy McKinnon

ShrunkProposals are being considered which could see the Senate, the University’s academic decision making body, condensed into a ‘Senate Council’ almost one fifth of its present size.

The Senate currently has over 500 members and includes all University professors, some members of the Senior Management Group and a number of elected members of academic staff. However, only around 100 typically turn up for meetings, making it rare for the body to reach its voting quorum of one third of its members.

In response to this, a Senate Operations working group was established to make recommendations to address the fact that meetings of Senate were rarely quorate.

In April 2013, the group put forward proposals to form a smaller body – a Council of Senate – consisting of 75 members elected from the full senate, 12 student members, heads of schools and research institutes and a number of members of the Senior Management Group. This would put the total membership at 128, significantly smaller than the current full Senate.

Under the proposals, the number of staff elected from each college would be proportional to its size and members of the full Senate would be able to attend Council meetings, however only those elected to the Council would be eligible to vote.

Professor John Briggs, Clerk of Senate, hoped that if passed, the proposals would make the Senate more democratic and effective: “The Council of Senate will be a more democratic body.  At the moment, the composition of Senate is approximately two-thirds ex-officio… and one-third is elected. The Council of Senate, on the other hand, will comprise approximately one-third ex-officio membership (Principal, Vice Principals and Heads of Schools and Research Institutes) and two-thirds elected members.”

Professor Briggs was also keen to stress that the proposals would not see the abolition of the Senate: “The Council of Senate is constituted as a sub-committee of Senate, and a meeting of Senate can be called at any time to discuss any competent matters it wishes, including the abolition of the Council of Senate at some point in the future, if it so wishes.”

The move has been welcome by the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), as it formalises the position of the student representatives which sit on the Senate. At present, 16 SRC representatives sit on the Senate, but are not voting members. Under current proposals for a Senate Council, the SRC would have 12 members with full voting rights.

Jessica McGrellis, SRC President, said: “The change to a Council of Senate will make students full members of Senate. A welcome advance for the cause of student representation.

“Although the number of SRC reps on Senate has been reduced from 16 to 12, given the overall reduction from over 500 members to 128 members, the number of student reps has remained very high proportionally. Student reps will make up circa 10% of the Council of Senate which is a position of considerable influence.

“The current situation with Senate is pretty ineffective, but we feel that this is a positive step in the right direction, and this Council will help to make it a more effective governing body without diminishing the rights of any individuals.”