What do Board of Governors and Senate really do?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western’s undergraduate Senators and Board of Governors representatives are some of the most influential decision makers on campus. Yet, most students have no idea exactly what they do.

“When I was on the Senate I would tell students that I was a senator and they would immediately ask me what that was,” Jacqueline Cole, former senator and current VP-university affairs for the University Students’ Council, said.

“After I explained it to them I found they actually had a lot of questions and concerns for me.”

The university’s 14 student senators are the voice of the student body to the university when it comes to academic issues and concerns.

“The primary function of the Senate is to ensure that the administration is looking out for the academic best interests of the institution,” current senator and former BOG representative, Matt Reid, said.

“Our predominant concern has always been student financial aid,” Reid continued. “We approve the budget at the very beginning of the process and that’s a really good place to lobby for financial aid.”

When it comes to the long-term plans of the university, however, BOG makes all final decisions. As the highest governing body of the university, BOG is responsible for rubber-stamping major infrastructure developments on campus such as construction of the new Student Services Building.

“At the BOG level I have to bring the student bodies perspective to the decision table and let them know if there’s anything greatly unjustified,” Richard Wong, one of two undergraduate representatives who sit on BOG, said.

Despite his influence with the most powerful figures at the university, Wong admitted students rarely come to him with issues they would like presented.

“Unfortunately you don’t often come into much student contact,” Wong said. “Student apathy is a huge issue on campus ... I wish that students would come talk to us more.”

Reid agreed, citing a lack of understanding amongst the student body for the under-utilization of both BOG and the Senate.

“If more people understood the governance structure then I think more people would utilize it,” Reid said. “Students don’t understand who they should be going to and the [University Students’ Council] has a real obligation to inform people as to what issues they should be taking to whom about.”

Another issue coming to the forefront during this election is the fact that BOG and Senate campaigns are not reimbursed by the USC " unlike councillor and presidential campaigns, which are afforded a budget.

“It’s completely hypocritical to say that we will fund councillor and presidential campaigns because we want to make sure that no student doesn’t run if they don’t have the money and then allow it to happen in the Senate and BOG,” Reid said.

The USC has said they do not fund the campaigns because BOG and the Senate are autonomous governing councils and not directly affiliated with the USC.

However, six senators and one BOG representative have voting rights at council meetings and all have speaking rights.

“I understand the reasoning [for not funding campaigns] ... but I would like to see reimbursement available because it would make for more participation in Senate as well as BOG,” Wong said.

“It’s not about being autonomous; it’s about making sure that we have the best representation on these governing bodies and if we aren’t willing to put money into it then we aren’t going to get the best people,” Reid added.

Cole " who has been on both sides of the debate as a former senator and current member of the USC Board of Directors " defended the USC’s position, but also made it clear its stance needs to change.

“I think that [the USC] hasn’t figured out what we want our relationship to be with students who are involved with the Senate and BOG,” Cole said.

“The USC plays a key role in advocating for students to get involved in university governance and if we want to take ourselves seriously I think that we need to support students who want to get involved.”

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