By Rob South
For the past 10 months, Students’ Union Academic Commissioner Nic Porco was a man on a mission. His mission continues today: to gain students the franchise on all Faculty Promotion Committees at the University of Calgary.
To accomplish this mission Porco must gain the support of the Appointments, Promotions and Dismissals Committee–a feat he has not yet achieved.
"There appears to be no favourable discussion on the issue," said Porco about the current state of affairs.
According to the chair of APD, Doyle Hatt, the item has not moved forward since September because a number of items critical to the U of C’s operation had to be dealt with first. Doyle expects APD will now have more time to discuss the issue. At the last meeting of APD, a request was made for Porco to bring a revised proposal about student voting to the next meeting on Nov. 17, where a vote may occur.
"The academic staff of the university is really divided on this issue," said Faculty Association President, John A. Baker.
The issue of student voting centres around FPC’s responsibility to annually determine pay increments for each and every member of a faculty. Increments are small increases in pay that are based on a faculty member’s research, teaching and service to the university community. There are a limited number of increments to be distributed by the FPCs; currently the university requires FPCs to average one increment per faculty member they are evaluating, with the highest increment a professor can receive capped at two. This means the gain of one member to a faculty is another’s loss as they are dealing with a limited sum of money. In extreme cases, if a professor does not receive a pay increment in consecutive years, the prof will lose tenure and can be fired.
"Many faculty, I think, have a variety of worries about students having the vote," said Baker. "One of the worries is that students don’t have the full understanding of what it means to be a faculty member."
However, Porco believes student representatives have proven their merits.
"Students are an equal member on most other committees and they have all the other responsibilities of a voting member," said Porco. "I think that it is just a natural progression that we would be given the vote on [FPCs] and other committees."
Porco gained a strong voice of support in March when U of C Vice-president Academic Ron Bond wrote a letter to APD asking them to consider student franchise and stating his personal belief that accountability on FPCs would be improved if students were given the right to vote.
Currently some faculties, such as Law, have their student representatives vote, but some worry this is not feasible for larger faculties such as Social Sciences. The main concern is the FPC process for a larger faculty can take up to five days and a student may not be able to take this much time off classes.
"If you were on a trial or something would it be okay to miss a couple weeks and then come back to make judgment?" asked Hatt.
Porco agrees that student attendance is only "so-so" but he says that in the past other members of FPCs have gone in and out of meetings.
Both Bond and Baker agree that for the sake of consistency and fairness it is necessary for voting committee members to be present throughout the process.
Porco hopes steps can be made to ensure attendance and goes out of his way to point out the broad impact of the issue.
"This change will affect graduate students as well as undergraduates," said Porco.