Senate slip-up

Published

Euan McTear

Glasgow Guardian can reveal that more than 250 decisions were made or approved by Glasgow University’s Senate since 2008 without the meetings being quorate. This means that meetings have not been sufficiently attended to make votes constitutional.

In the five year period from the academic year 2008/09 to 2012/13, Senate approved or endorsed 256 decisions despite all 25 meetings held during that time being inquorate and therefore against the constitution of the University.

There are approximately 500 members of Senate, one third of these members are required to attend for a meeting to be considered quorate. All ordinary Senate meetings since before 2008 have not been quorate.

The issue of meetings not being quorate led to the creation of a ‘Council of Senate’ at an extraordinary meeting of Senate on February 6 of this year. The Council of Senate will be made up of 128 members, including 12 student representatives, and will vote on most matters. It is expected that the Council will be more likely to meet its quorum of 80 members. Senate will, however, continue to exist and can review the Council of Senate at any time.

While decisions approved in the future by the Council of Senate may be quorate, those taken in the past five years have not been.

Controversial motions approved by an inquorate Senate in that time have included:

  • ·  the withdrawal of four Liberal Arts programmes of the Dumfries campus
  • · the closure of Centre for Drug Misuse Research
  • · North American grade equivalences not be supplied on transcripts
  • · the rejection of an SRC proposal to lessen the severity of cheating penalties
  • ·  the continuation of Turnitin
  • · the American terminology of MyCampus be continued to save costs
  • · changes to the student advisers structure
  • · Honours exams to be scheduled in weeks 32-34
  • · all honorary degrees nominations
  • · action being taken if students are absent for more than 2 weeks
  • · the reduction of grants for Open Programme courses
  • · approval of double and multiple degrees with partner universities
  • · that independent work should be exempt from the schedule of lateness penalties for other courses
  • · the continuation of the two semester system
  • · that dictionaries not be checked for notes in large exams (with a declaration form to be used instead)

The University has been aware for some time that meetings of Senate have not been quorate and mentions in its Guide to University Governance that the typical attendance is around 100 members.

Even this figure has been rare in the meetings from 2008/09 to 2012/13 with an average attendance from the five year period of 95. Attendance was seen to be decreasing further with each academic year, with an average attendance of 115 in 2009/10 falling to 101 in 2010/11, then to 90 in 2011/12 and finally to an average attendance of 76 (less than one sixth of Senate) for the academic year 2012/13.

All decisions taken during these poorly attended Senate meetings have been allowed to stand, as the University explains: “The approach that has been taken has been to assume that, as the agenda is circulated in advance of meetings, matters which are controversial and not unanimously supported will attract sufficient members to ensure a quorum and that the range of views held is expressed and that, if sufficiently opposed, proposals are not approved.”

With the aim being to “ensure decisions are constitutionally competent”, Senate addressed the issue of its not being quorate in its June 2012 meeting. It was noted that: “Without primary legislation that amended the University’s constitutional position, the Senate quorum remained at a level which was not likely to be often reached. While other Scottish ancients had dealt with the problem through the establishment of smaller Colleges of Senate with delegated authority, there was no consensus at Glasgow in support of that arrangement.”

Although it was acknowledged that the status quo was unconstitutional and that other Scottish Ancients had already made amendments, the inquorate Senate of 80 attendees agreed to postpone any revision until the following year.

The decision to approve the Council of Senate in February of this year was quorate. 221 members of Senate voted at that extraordinary meeting with 208 votes for, 11 against and two abstentions.

Additional reporting by Hannah McNeill, Sam Wigglesworth and Chris McLaughlin.