Queen’s Senate procedures ‘stifling’ important conversations, professor says

Question period policy allegedly contributing to waning engagement

A recent report reported low Senate engagement.
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The Queen’s Senate is seeing a lack of engagement and unstructured conversations—according to Senator Jordan Morelli, professor in the faculty of engineering and applied physics. He attributed this partly to the lack of an unstructured question period.

Question periods—in which senators pose questions to the Chair or other parties—usually end all meetings of University governance bodies. These are the only time during Senate meetings when topics not included on the agenda can be addressed.

Senators are asked to submit questions two weeks before Senate. There has never been an unstructured question period, in which senators can pose questions on the spot. Queen’s Secretary of the University and Corporate Counsel Lon Knox said this ensures the University Secretariat has adequate time to create the Senate agenda.

“Questions not included in the Senate agenda are those on topics not within the jurisdiction of Senate and are decided upon by the Senate Agenda and Summer Action Committee, which is a committee of senators,” Knox said in a statement to The Journal.

“Senators may ask questions at any point during a meeting, in response to any of the meeting’s agenda items.”  

Senate is one of the three highest governing bodies at the university, alongside the Board of Trustees and faculty boards. It oversees all academic matters affecting the entire university. Meeting agenda items include reports from faculties, schools, and from the Principal, Provost, and Vice-Principal (Research).

According to Morelli, who has been involved with Queen’s Senate for 14 years non-consecutively, the question period protocol is “stifling” conversations in Senate and contributing to waning Senate engagement.

“The problem is, to not allow questions from the floor really stifles—especially for people who are new to Senate—being able to feel like it’s a body where your questions are welcomed. It adds [a] barrier,” Morelli said in an interview with The Journal

“If we had an open question period where anybody could just ask questions on the spot, I think we would have more engagement.”

In a follow-up statement to The Journal, Morelli said, prior to 2015, the Senate Chair—the principal, so presently Patrick Deane—approved the submitted questions prior to Senate.

In 2015, the Senate and Summer Action Committee—composed of Senate Vice-Chair, Senate Chair, the AMS President, the SGPS President, one dean, three faculty senators, and one staff senator—were officially given the role of approving the questions.

That same year, policy was amended to include all questions must be “within the jurisdiction of the Senate” rather than “of sufficient importance to claim the attention of Senate,” which Morelli said, “had the stifling affect.”

“Senate is being usurped in a way that really makes it ineffective. And all of this stuff ties back to the same set of changes at the same time.”

Morelli said senators don’t expect the University to always have a prepared answer but would like to be able to ask their questions without enduring the procedural red tape.

“You’re always keeping your fingers crossed they mention something in [the Senate reports] which opens the door for you to be able to ask the question you really want to ask when there’s no real valid reason why you can’t just ask the darn question in the first place,” Morelli said.

The lack of unstructured discussions is not the only issue Morelli sees as “stifling” important conversations during Senate. He pointed to Senate’s reactive approach to issues and having to apply for a pass to attend as factors interfering with Senate engagement.

Senators with less employment security than tenured professors—such as adjunct professor on contract or administrative staff—may also factor into senate disengagement, Morelli said.

“It’s risky to be on collegial governance bodies when you’re not tenured or when you’re not in a continuing position—to the university’s detriment I would say […] Some of the voices we most want to hear are the voices that are intimated or scared to come on Senate.”

The internal Senate Effectiveness Survey Report for 2021-22 reported low Senate engagement but did not include all the qualitative feedback provided by senators.

One senator reported a “culture of lack of trust that permeates the meetings” between senators and senior administrators being cause for concern.

According to Knox, the Senate’s Governance and Nominating Committee (SGNC) will be compiling a report on Senate engagement over the years to be shared at Senate during the winter semester.

“The SGNC is undertaking a detailed review of several years’ of data related to the annual Senate Effectiveness Survey in an effort to ensure Senate is as effective as possible, as transparent as possible, and engages student, faculty, and staff senators in thorough discussion of all of Senate’s business,” Knox said.

—With files from Julia Harmsworth

This article was updated with new information on Nov. 28.

Corrections

A previous version of this article stated the question period protocol has changed in the last decade. There has not been a change in the last decade regarding the question period.

The Journal regrets the error.

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