Words by Camila Egusquiza
Most of us probably don’t know what the Academic Board is (I didn’t really know much about it until a few months ago). However, the Academic Board is an important entity at UWA that looks after the quality, integrity, and standards of our education. It responds directly to the Senate, the university’s governing body that has “the entire control and management of the affairs and concerns of the University, and may act in all matters concerning the University in such manner as appears to it best calculated to promote the interests of the University”.
So, who is on the Academic Board (and the Senate)?
The board is comprised of ex-officio members like the Vice-Chancellor and the President of the Student Guild, elected staff members, and four nominated students.
Thus, bringing membership to a total of 104 people.
As you can imagine, the turn-up to meetings with this many people presents a challenge. Another challenge this high number presents is that different people attend different meetings, depending on the agenda.
At the start of the year, a Working Party, comprised of existing Academic Board members (like the President of the Student Guild), was created to address this issue. In order to make the board more reliable, consistent, and fair, the Working Party proposed a restructure to reduce the size of the academic board from 104 members to 35 members. All current membership categories will be reduced by approximately one-third, with some categories (Level Es and Heads of School) being reduced even further. This includes cutting the 6 student representatives’ positions that currently sit on the board (including the President of the Student Guild and the President of the Postgraduate students’ Association) down to 2.
The proposal, to make up for the student losses, also aims to diversify student representation in Academic Governance by opening up positions in committees that rest under the Academic Board to the wider student population. Currently, positions in committees are elected from the existing pool of members of the Academic Board. In other words, this would allow positions in minor committees to be filled by students not already on the Academic Board.
However, the proposal was rejected and is currently being revised with the feedback given to be presented again to the board.
Pelican reached out to Amitabh Jeganathan to understand the Guild’s perspective on this matter.
Overall, Mr Jeganathan felt concerned that this cut would negatively affect student representation. When asked if he thought that opening up positions in minor committees to the wider student population would make up for the losses, he said no.
The Academic Board is more influential than other minor committees when it comes down to decision-making. The influence it has is higher and, therefore, more relevant to enact change. Including more students in other committees may be beneficial, but it does not make up for the losses because power distribution will not remain the same.
The Guild President also said that the way the university is structured is very different to the Guild; therefore, it would be hard to include more students in these committees because many positions in the Guild do not relate directly to education, such as PAC (Public Affairs Council) and SOC (Societies Council). Mr Jeganathan also felt worried about delegating this role to OGCs because it is demanding and might not be what they signed up for. When asked if members of the Guild’s Education Council could take on these roles, the Guild President expressed that student representatives are often not respected and disregarded by other members but that it could be a possibility.
In regards to concerns about respect, a representative of the Working Party said that being in these minor committees could help students get more experience and ultimately become empowered to take on bigger roles like being on the Academic Board. They acknowledge that the board is an intimidating place for students and something to work on together.
Although this self-awareness is refreshing, the fact that high management positions (like the Vice-Chancellor) are part of the board might hinder this progress. Every member of the board is meant to have the same amount of respect and is entitled to the same amount of time, but it is hard to factor this in when considering the power imbalances that the members have outside the board. For instance, will a student’s opinion be held in the same regard as the Vice-Chancellor’s? Even as students ourselves, we would find that hard to do.
This leads to the question of why are high management positions on the Academic Board when they are also on the Senate? Many members sit in both, blurring the differences between the two. Last year, we saw some conflict between the board and the Senate, reminding us of the roles they each should have and the rules they should follow. If the Academic Board is meant to advise the Senate on academic matters, should most members be involved with both?
Coming back to the main issue, the cuts to the number of student representatives on the board are proportionate to the other cuts made in other membership categories. However, what we need in this case is perhaps equity and not equality. Even with all the cuts proposed, students will continue to be a very small minority on the board. Considering we are the ones who devote so much time and financial sacrifice to our education, our opinions and concerns should be a priority.
Students have often been underrepresented and not given the chance to contribute to the moulding of our education. But things are changing. Considering the boycott of the senate dinner not so long ago (more on this later), and the inspiring protests against the course cuts we saw last year, we might be gaining momentum.
“It feels like management is always saying if we give you guys a seat, everyone will want a seat, but it’s important to give students a seat on the table.”
In addition to this, Mr Jeganathan said the Guild will continue to advocate for these cuts not to be made and is considering a “Saving Student Representation Campaign.”
It is important to note that the Working Party’s representative, the Pelican spoke with, expressed that the restructure is not meant to limit student representation and that they are open to working with students to reach a compromise. In light of this, perhaps what we need is to continue to advocate for a seat at the table and show up to meetings to prove that student representation can achieve many things. This does not involve just the Guild but all of us. We come to UWA to get an education, and we deserve to have a say in that.