The Senate of Ryerson University is, along with the Board of Governors, one of the two central governing agencies of the University. Very roughly, the BoG deals with the financial affairs of the University and hires the President. The Ryerson Act gives the Senate the “power to regulate the educational policy of the University,” including to recommend the creation and termination of programs, the “divisions” (into departments/schools/Faculties) of academic units, and to “determine curricula,” qualifications for degrees and diplomas, etc. (This power to “recommend” is to recommend to the Board, who decide whether or not to fund a program that Senate has examined and approved on the basis of its academic merit.)
Senate also establishes much of the aforementioned via the establishment of policies covering matters as varied as what constitutes academic of non-academic misconduct by students (and how it is to be investigated, determined, and punished), policy establishing the general structure of curricula, policy re how to calculate and record grade point averages, what constitutes a Minor, and what must be included in a course outline and how it can be amended. All Senate Policies are listed by topic/title and by number on the Senate website.
The Senate is comprised of 51 elected members, 33 of whom are faculty, the remainder students and two alumni. There are 21 ex officio administrative voting members, as well. The three “uber” committees of Senate are the Senate Priorities Committee (SPC), the Academic Policy and Governance Committee (AGPC), and the Scholarly, Research and Creative Activity Committee (SRCC). Several other Committees (listed in the Senate By-Law) report either directly to Senate or report via one of these “uber” Committees. Perhaps most central of these is the Academic Standards Committee, which examines in detail new/proposed programs, program periodic reviews, changes to programs, etc. and makes recommendations to Senate.
Moreover, Faculty and Departmental Councils are creatures of Senate, and any changes in their powers must go through Senate. Finally, the Council of the Yeates School of Grad Studies (YSGS), while having a lot of autonomy, must bring its major policies and recommendations (e.g. re new grad programs) to Senate for approval.
Each of these “uber” Committees, like Senate itself, is made of members drawn from faculty, students, and ex officio members. It is a fundamental principle of most university Senates (though not often stated explicitly) that one central principle of “collegial governance” is that the members of the collegium (faculty and students) should always constitute the majority on major academic policy decision-making bodies.
Much of what comes to the floor of Senate has already passed through some prior sort of committee review. But that does not mean that Senate is simply a rubber stamp (though it sometimes acts that way). It has occurred several times in recent years that Senate has reviewed, critiqued, and seriously improved otherwise defective policies. In this sense, while there is a fair bit of material that is rather mundane or even tedious, members of Senate (especially faculty given their longer tenure at Ryerson than students) can and do play an important role in making policies fairer and more workable. Moreover, in the various committees where many ideas first appear, there is plentiful opportunity for alert faculty to catch and either revise or stop rather misguided ideas that could have widespread effects. Every so often, this includes proposals from administration which would, intentionally or not, curtail or usurp the powers of Senate. But those powers and the old idea of collegial governance are part of what make universities different from most other institutions. There are certainly hierarchical elements to universities, and supervisors and underlings. But there is also a simultaneously less hierarchical system the Senate is a crucial part of, and which gives faculty a special sort and source of power if we only use it wisely.
Though being on Senate is only occasionally dramatic or exciting, it is clearly an important role which faculty should be prepared to undertake at some point in their careers, and to take seriously.
David Checkland, September 2015
For additional information on the senate see the Senate website.
For additional information on Senate policies see the Senate policies page.