Lessons From Western: Improving Collegial Governance Requires Cultural Change

In 2015, Western University was in the news because of a controversy over its president, Amit Chakma, double-dipping his salary. That controversy eventuated in a confidence vote for Chakma and Board Chair Chirag Shah at Western’s senate. While both Chakma and Shah survived the vote, Shah resigned at the end of the year.

The whole process led Western to re-examine its approach to collegial governance. Senate struck an ad hoc committee on Renewal and charged it with assessing and making recommendations on collegial governance at Western. That committee issued its final report in 2016.

The report is really useful, both for the history and environmental scan of collegial governance with which it begins, and for the recommendations with which it concludes.

The main finding of the committee was that the most important ingredient for healthy collegial governance is the university culture. Strengthening collegial governance requires cultural change.

Here is a digest of the recommendations the report offers to that end (many of which are readily transferrable to other universities):

  1. Improve the visibility of Senate’s decision-making processes.
  2. Improve efforts to educate and inform the entire Western Community about Senate and university governance.
  3. Articulate the roles and responsibilities for Senators.
  4. Enhance education of and communication among Senators.
  5. Make Senate a more proactive body by dealing more efficiently with transactional business and increasing time spent in strategic discussion.
  6. Conduct regular periodic reviews including: a) a full structural review every 10 years, b) an annual Senate performance evaluation conducted collectively and via individual Senators’ self-reflection and c) reviews of standing committees’ Terms of Reference every three years.
  7. (a) All individuals who meet the Act’s definition of Academic Staff2 should be eligible to vote for members of Senate. In addition, those Academic Staff who also have at least two years of continuous service should be eligible to run for a Senate seat. (b) Members of those constituencies which do not meet the definition of Academic Staff (e.g., post doctoral fellows) or those who do not hold the rank of Assistant Professor should be considered for seats on relevant Senate committees. (c) An additional seat on Senate should be created in the administrative staff constituency.
  8. The roles and responsibilities of committee members should be specified in all committees’ terms of reference. New committee members should be briefed on these at the first meeting of their term.
  9. The Terms of Reference of three standing committees should be revised concerning membership, mandate, and transparency of their operations.
  10. Strengthen the connections and cooperation between the Senate and Board of Governors.

Read the whole report, and details about the above recommendations here.

A limestone building fronted by a square tower and topped with a Canadian flat is viewed from below. Above the sky is a cloudless deep blue. In front of the building is a row of conifers.
University College building on the campus of the University of Western Ontario. Photo taken on August 21, 2006. Source: Photo Balcer. Wikimedia Commons